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Last year, Iowa activist Justin Scott delivered a secular invocation in the Iowa State House. It was a perfectly inoffensive speech in which he celebrated the “Holy Trinity of Science”: Reason, observation, and experience.

He was fortunately that there was a state representative, Timi Brown-Powers, willing to sponsor him. She submitted his name so he could deliver the remarks, and that’s all it took.

That’s why his request to do the same thing in the State Senate should have been uneventful. Justin emailed State Sen. Craig Johnson (below) in mid-December hoping for a similar sponsorship.


He finally got a response yesterday: Not a chance, said Johnson.

In their email exchange, Johnson explained that his personal religious beliefs prevented him from recommending an atheist like Justin to deliver any sort of invocation address. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.


Like many things that come before me, I have to be accountable to myself and my constituents and in this case I am requesting you approach another legislator who may be better able to help you with this request.

If you know of another legislator that could help you with your request I will assist you in getting their contact information.


Craig Johnson
Senator — District 32

​Thank you for the prompt response but I’m confused about your statement about being “accountable to your constituents”. I’m a constituent of yours. How would sponsoring me for this make you unaccountable to your constituents?

For the record, I feel that as my elected official you should represent all constituents regardless of difference in religious worldview. Isn’t that the religious liberty we celebrate in Iowa and across our country?


Thanks again for contacting me today…

To be clear, I am accountable to myself and my constituents who understood and understand me to be a legislator with Christian beliefs.

I respect your enthusiasm for your beliefs but I can no more sponsor this request than I could sponsor a bill for abortion.

I am respectfully declining to sponsor your request.

If you have a thought on another legislator who could possibly help with your request, I am willing to get their contact information to you.

Thanks again for contacting me with your concerns.

Craig Johnson

Who knew recommending an atheist to give an invocation was the equivalent of, in Johnson’s mind, murdering a baby?

The implication here is that Johnson won’t recommend a Muslim or Jew to deliver the opening remarks, either. The only constituents he cares about are his Christian ones. There’s nothing “respectful” about that.

It’s not like Justin was asking him to renounce his faith or do something that would violate a biblical law. He contacted his state senator and asked for the opportunity to do what citizens of any faith should be allowed to do. Hell, he did it last year, so this should have been even less of an issue.

Here’s a question (a version of which Justin asked the legislator): If an atheist politician told a Christian pastor what Johnson told Justin, would that be okay? If not, what’s the difference in those situations?

Just because a politician is Christian doesn’t mean he gets to ignore his non-Christian constituents. But there appears to be no reprimand in sight for Johnson despite his obvious bigotry.

Maybe more of Johnson’s constituents should email him, request to deliver their own invocations, and have Justin write them.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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