Oh Just Skip It

Thanks to the fine resource of memeorandum, I learned that yesterday, a state legislator in Arizona delivered a secular invocation to open that day’s session of the Arizona House of Representatives. He expressed nice enough sentiments. But today, another state legislator asked for a double prayer today, because the previous day’s prayer wasn’t really a prayer at all.

At which point there was chastisement from other legislators who subscribe to the Navajo religion about how they listen to Christian prayers all the time, and the defense to the double prayer was “When there’s a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don’t ask for time to pray…” which I interpret as “This is a special forum in which atheists are not welcome to participate.”

Ugh, I’ve heard enough.

I’m well aware that there can be legislative prayers under existing law, as unprincipled as that law may be. But just because there can be something doesn’t mean it should be. By way of analogy, we could have a military draft in this country right now, if we wanted to. That doesn’t mean we should.

A legislature is not a house of worship. Whether the Constitution allows it or not, it’s a bad idea to have legislative prayers. It only causes hurt feelings and divisiveness. There’s nothing to stop individuals from praying on their own time. What effect will the prayer have? What bad thing will be avoided, or what good thing will happen, that would have happened differently otherwise?*

Church and prayer and faith are private matters, between the individual and the god they worship. When you’re on the public’s time, conduct the public’s business.


* What do you want to bet Oklahoma’s legislature prays at the opening of its sessions? Prayer didn’t stop the tornadoes.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I’m pretty sure the hurtfulness and division are the point, it’s a pointed reminder to those hurt and divided by them that they are in the out crowd.

  2. If they should ever open with a Jewish prayer, do they have to thank Jesus twice the next day?

  3. These same legislators who call for a double dose of invocation are probably of the same type as the legislators who are shocked, shocked when courts tear up their too-cute laws that “just call for a minute of silence during the school day.”

    If you give a mouse a cookie…

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