This week, Athena Jeanne Hale delivered an atheist invocation during a meeting of the DeLand City Council in Florida.
She reminded the council members that their job was “to create as much good as possible for the individual citizens of DeLand and the general public.”
Thank you, Mayor Apgar, Commission Members, Staff, and members of the community for inviting me to give a Humanist invocation this evening.
My name is Athena Jeanne Hale, and this is a special honor for me, as an alumna of Stetson University, and as someone who happened to move to DeLand four years ago today with my wife so I could attend Stetson.
As we gather here to discuss our city and its challenges and needs, let us remember why we chose to take up this mantle of public service: to create as much good as possible for the individual citizens of DeLand and the general public.
We must view diversity and inclusion as our greatest assets in the significant work we do. In order to serve all our constituents we must keep the universal values of human dignity and rights at our core.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a Spirit of Brotherhood.”
When we think of these concepts, we usually do so in broad international terms. However, one of the primary architects of the Declaration and the person most responsible for its drafting and adoption, U.S. delegate and our former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would disagree. She argued that local governments are at the front lines of human rights work. In remarks before the United Nations in 1958, she asked:
Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood [they] live in; the school or college [they] attend; the factory, farm or office where [they] work. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
As we embark on our work tonight and every night, in whatever capacity we find ourselves, let us all remember that we hold universal human rights and dignity in our own hands, and those we serve are counting on us to protect and defend these values for all of us. Thank you.
Athena told me she believes she’s the first openly trans person to give a Humanist invocation in the state. Even if she’s not, it was a wonderful speech and one more cities ought to hear.
Incidentally, the Central Florida Freethought Community is organizing several more of these invocations all over the state. You can see their running list — along with a compilation of transcripts of secular invocations around the country — right here.