Nonbinary Arizona lawmaker blasts GOP colleague for 'weaponizing religion' in daily House prayer

By Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 - 10:27am

Person in suit talking
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Arizona state Rep. Lorena Austin on Feb. 18, 2023.

A nonbinary Democratic lawmaker lashed out Monday at a Republican representative for using his prayer on the Arizona House floor for "weaponizing religion to condemn our constituents.''

Rep. Lorena Austin said it was inappropriate for Rep. Lupe Diaz, who also is pastor of Grace Chapel in Benson, to use the opportunity of offering the daily prayer to talk about the decision of President Biden to declare March 31 as Transgender Day of Visibility. That meant it also came on Easter.

"His judgment is going to come upon those who are sinners and unrighteous,'' Diaz said of God. "And we find that true in the Old Testament when he judged Sodom and Gomorrah.''

Diaz said that God shows no partiality.

"But in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him,'' he continued. "So what that tells me is that those who work unrighteousness are not accepted by him.''

Austin, in her own floor speech, said the complaint about Biden, which also has played out on a national stage, ignores the fact that Biden has made the same declaration of March 31 for years.

It is Easter, Austin said, which has moved around the calendar, being set in Western churches as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. In fact, Austin said, Easter will be on April 20 next year.

Arizona state Rep. Lupe Diaz
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Backed by other Republican lawmakers, Rep. Lupe Diaz (Benson) offers comments on the importance of the Bible, followed by the daily prayer on April 26, 2023.

The state House does begin each day with a prayer. And individual lawmakers of all faiths can ask to deliver it.

But what Diaz did in his four minutes, Austin said, was not a prayer.

"I want to remind members of this body that this is not a church,'' Austin said.

"This is the Arizona House of Representatives,'' Austin continued. "And a prayer is not a sermon.''

Diaz, in his comments about the presidential proclamation, said what happened Sunday shows "the contrast of light and darkness.''

"Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins,'' he said.

"That means that there is right and wrong,'' Diaz continued. "And for our president to go ahead and proclaim yesterday as, and really, really highlight the fact that it was Transgender Day of Visibility, it contrasts that light and darkness.''

And he said that "our nation is declaring itself as an unrighteous nation with this proclamation.''

"We should not be using prayer as a vehicle to condemn people who may not share your views,'' Austin responded at the end of the daily session when individuals can give brief floor speeches.

"The Jesus I learned about and the God I learned about was a benevolent one,'' said Austin. "It was one that did not condemn others for being who they area but welcome them,'' calling Diaz's comments "disheartening.''

Austin cited a recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute, which said about two thirds of those who leave a faith tradition said they did so because they stopped believing in that religion's teaching. It also said nearly half of those questioned who had left their religion cited negative teaching about the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Diaz did not respond to multiple messages asking him to comment about what he said on the House floor.

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