Last night, during a meeting of the DeLand City Commission in Florida, Jake Lee Smith delivered that city’s first-ever secular invocation:
Hello and good evening, Mayor and City Commissioners. My name is Jake Lee Smith and I am a student at Stetson University and I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to allow me to open this DeLand City Commission meeting, offering a different perspective to the community and its legislators.
As a council whose mission statement advocates the importance of representing a city with “diverse citizens” that “demonstrate a strong sense of community,” myself and others here in attendance appreciate your open-mindedness here tonight.
The DeLand city mission statement also goes on to say that we will “remain dedicated to preserving and enhancing those assets which make DeLand distinctive,” and that “We, as citizens of DeLand, will continue to strive to maintain DeLand’s heritage as the ‘Athens of Florida.’” It is my personal belief that the primary assets which make DeLand distinctive lie within the hearts of each and every one of us here in this great little town. This distinct community maintains great historic roots, and a rich heritage.
I, myself, benefit from this city’s rich heritage, as I currently attend Stetson University here in DeLand — one of the oldest institutions of higher-education in the country. We always must, of course, seek to preserve our history, and never forget to look back at where we came from. However, it is equally important to look forward to the future, learn from the past, and keep our eyes open to progress. A great example of progress here in DeLand sits before us all, Ms. Jessica Davis, the first African American woman to be a city commissioner in this council’s 133-year history.
This shows that within all communities is the potential for improvement, and one of the greatest improvements a community can make, is that which comes from within. It’s not all about infrastructure, budgets, building codes, and taxes. No, at the core of any great town, are its great people. And as the mission statement claims, we seek to always remain a city that values the diversity of its citizens — regardless of what we look like, who we love, or what life philosophies we pledge ourselves to.
In closing, I would like to leave you all with a few important words from one of the most revered speeches in cinematic history.
“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful… More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.” [Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator, 1940]
Thank you very much.
That’s as classy a speech as you’ll ever hear at these meetings. I damn near forgot Smith was an atheist.
The speech was part of a larger campaign organized by the Central Florida Freethought Community to bring secular invocations to cities throughout the state following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Greece v. Galloway.
This is the 18th invocation they’ve organized so far and the 12th different location.
And you’ll love this: At the end of his invocation, the Commissioners thanked Smith by giving him a lapel pin featuring the seal of the City of DeLand.
That seal — the subject of warning letters from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation — includes a Christian cross depicting a verse from Corinthians.
How’s that for irony?
(Thanks to David for the link)