(RNS) — Six years ago this month, when Arizona State Representative Athena Salman, an atheist, delivered the invocation to open the day’s legislative session, it started an odd culture war, with faith leaders on one side supporting her and Republican lawmakers rebuking the Tempe Democrat for failing to appeal to a higher power.Instead, Salman invoked humanity. “Remember the humanity that resides within each and every person here,” she said, “and each and every person in the city, and in all people in the nation and world as a whole.” Her prayer was found to have violated House rules.
Christians and Muslims were part of an interfaith group of clergy who stood in solidarity with Salman at a “Standing for Our First Freedom” gathering at the Arizona State Capitol as they read aloud Salman’s invocation.
Looking back on those events, Evan Clark, an atheist and humanist who helped organize the demonstration, said it was an example of how interfaith networks can “stand with our community when a small or large attack happens.”
Now Clark, the executive director for Los Angeles-based Atheists United, is among a handful of secular groups challenging interfaith organizations that include people of different religious and spiritual backgrounds to make space for those who espouse no faith at all, including atheist and secular networks.
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