A lawmaker put in charge of delivering the opening prayer at yesterday's session of the Arizona House of Representatives surprised his colleagues by using the opportunity to talk about his atheism and quote Carl Sagan.

USA Today says Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) put in a request to have Secular Coalition of Arizona director Serah Blain speak before the house during yesterday's "prayer time," but his request was somehow misplaced, so he decided to address the House in her stead.

"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads," Mendez told his fellow legislators at the start of yesterday's invocation. "I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people of our state."

He continued:

This room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.

Carl Sagan once wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy - and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.

Mendez went on to point out several Secular Coalition for Arizona members watching from the House gallery, and said he hoped Arizona's non-believers would now be able to "feel as welcome and valued here as believers."

The Phoenix New Times reports that one of the Coalition members in attendance "said she was 'witnessing history.'"

In related news, the Supreme Court this week announced its plans to review the constitutionality of holding prayer sessions at legislative meetings.

[photo via Mendez for AZ]