Another prayer controversy brewing, this time at AZ Capitol

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House rules require the day start with a prayer that specifically refers to a higher power. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) House rules require the day start with a prayer that specifically refers to a higher power. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A new debate is brewing at the Arizona Capitol, where a state lawmaker claims he's not allowed to give the opening prayer because he doesn't believe in God.

It's been a tradition at the Arizona House of Representatives for years; someone gives an official prayer to start every session.

Lawmakers have been taking turns giving the invocation or they invite somebody else to do it.

However, the policy on prayer took an unexpected turn last month and not everyone is happy about.

Rep. Juan Mendez. D-District 26, is a self-proclaimed atheist. He said he is no longer allowed to give the opening prayer if he doesn't make reference to God or a higher being.

"Everyone is accustomed to giving a prayer down here every day; they want me to be included, and I want to be included," Mendez said. "Apparently they don't like what I am saying."

According to a memo sent out recently by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-District 13, House rules require the day start with a prayer that specifically refers to a higher power.

The memo states:

"Prayer, as commonly understood and in the long honored tradition of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a solemn request for guidance and help from God."

[RELATED: Click here to read the entire memo (PDF file)]

Just last week the Phoenix City Council voted to ban all types of prayer before council meetings, after a satanic group signed up to give the invocation. City attorneys told council members they couldn't exclude the group, so they adopted a moment of silence instead.

[RELATED: Satanic prayer update: Council members wants voters to decide about reinstating prayer]

[RELATED: Phoenix City Council replaces prayer with moment of silence]

Mendez said it's wrong for Republican leaders to dictate what type of prayer is acceptable.

"Of course, I feel discriminated against; my constituents feel discriminates against," Mendez said. "But I don't know what that translates into."

Montenegro said attorneys have assured him that requiring the opening prayer make reference to higher being is not only constitutional, it is backed up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court has already given us guidelines on how to conduct prayer," Montenegro said. "We're doing what the Supreme Court told us what prayer is."

Mendez has already been contacted by several attorneys to discuss possible legal action

The lawmaker said that the 2014 Supreme Court ruling Town of Greece vs Galloway includes provisions that protect the rights of atheists.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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