When an atheist gave an invocation at a city commission in Eustis, Florida in 2014, it was mostly uneventful (though he was introduced, incorrectly, as “pastor”). Last year, however, when atheist Joseph Richardson delivered an invocation at a meeting, one commissioner decided to give a second invocation… as if the first one didn’t count because it didn’t address the Christian God.
So when Richardson delivered another invocation Thursday night, on behalf of the Central Florida Freethought Community, the question of how it would be received was still up in the air.
… Before I begin my invocation tonight, I’d like to take just a moment to remember the Roque family and the loss of their six-year old son, Ryker. This tragic accident is something that no family should have to go through. And I’m sure this entire chamber grieves with them. Please join me in a few moments of quiet reflection or silent prayer as you wish.
If anyone would like to help the Roque family in a tangible way, please consider contributing to their GoFundMe to help defray their medical bills.
Mayor and Commissioners,
This past Tuesday was the 232nd anniversary of the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom, a day we’ve come to know as “Religious Freedom Day.” Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute was one of his three proudest achievements. We know this because of his specific instructions to include it on his gravestone along with “Author of the Declaration of American Independence” and “Father of the University of Virginia”.
This statute was the prelude to the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing everyone the freedom to believe in the religion of their choice or to reject them all.
Barely two pages long, the statute is worth reading from time to time to remind us of the importance of this freedom and the reasoning behind it.
This is the enacting clause just as he wrote it:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
This is the crux of the natural right that Jefferson asserts: that each of us is free to believe or not; that none are required to support the religious opinions of others; and that all are guaranteed full participation in civil matters regardless of religion or lack thereof.
Jefferson’s radically inclusive statute has stood as a lighthouse for 232 years directing us toward a successful collective life. Regardless of our individual beliefs, let us now welcome each other to participate in these communal efforts, respect each other as we work out solutions, and wish each other the best as we go our separate ways.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Afterwards, you can hear Commissioner Anthony Sabatini, the same guy who previously delivered a second invocation to counteract the atheist one, respond to Richardson’s words by saying “God bless you.”
I guess he couldn’t stand to let an atheist have the last word.