Atheist Joseph Richardson is still in the middle of a seemingly never-ending battle to deliver a secular invocation at a meeting of the Winter Garden City Commission in Florida.
He’s been trying to do this for years with no luck. (Another atheist delivered an invocation in Winter Garden once, in 2015, but the commissioner who invited him won’t invite Richardson for some reason.)
When he made public comments about this in January, someone in the crowd shouted out “Fake news”… as if explaining how the constitution works was no longer legitimate. The commissioners said nothing to the heckler.
Richardson’s latest attempt to get the commission to change its ways involves an online petition, currently signed by 480 people. (When you include paper signatures, it’s over 1,000.)
In it, he explains how current policy allows individual commissioners to select someone to deliver the invocation each meeting. Even though he’s on the list, no one’s selecting him, and he believes this is deliberate because others on the list have spoken multiple times.
The Commission has expressed its desire to reflect this diversity in the invocations, but this is not borne out in the data: as time has progressed, the frequency and overall percentage of non-Christian invocations has remained disproportionately low, with Protestant Christian prayers now accounting for over 95% of all invocations.
… several invocators have never been selected to offer an invocation, while other invocators have given as many as four invocations in the last three years. The fact that commissioners are permitted to choose invocators without restriction means that they can continue to choose their favorites while ignoring other willing volunteers.
The petition asks the Commission to consider any number of possible ways to fix this problem:
1) Change the policy to either drop the invocation, allow any Winter Garden resident to be on the list of possible speakers (in order to widen the pool of potential non-Christian speakers), remove the commissioners’ ability to select speakers, or rotate through the list fairly.
2) Replace the invocations with a moment of silence.
3) Get rid of the invocations entirely.
All of this would make the ritual more neutral. Because that’s the end goal. It’s not to impose atheism upon everyone. It’s to prevent Christians from dominating these government practices.
“We’d like to see them have Muslim invocations. We’d like to see them represent everyone who lives in Winter Garden, and we know there are a lot more than just Protestant Christians and a few Jews or Catholics that live in Winter Garden,” Richardson said.
Well, one opponent isn’t having it. Lauren Bennett thinks only Christians matter and she launched a counter-petition to make sure no one but Christians are allowed to deliver these invocations. The language she used didn’t include the phrase “I don’t give a damn about Jews, atheists, and Muslims,” but the sentiment is the same.
This petition is to ask our city of Winter Garden leaders to uphold our tradition of Christian Prayer before meetings and to keep “Light up Winter Garden”, our Christmas tradition the same as it has always been and in downtown Winter Garden where it has always been.
Her petition makes the mistake of saying it’s a “Christian Prayer.” The Commission’s current policy is an attempt to promote Christianity without saying it explicitly like Bennett does. She inadvertently gave away the game.
It’s also telling that she uses the word “tradition,” since that’s something you can only rely on when you’re in the majority. Of course she likes “tradition.” The more Jews and atheists and others are excluded from a government practice, the happier Lauren Bennett gets. It’s Richardson who’s fighting on behalf of everyone else.
In other words, atheists are fighting for inclusion and acceptance, while Christians are defending exclusion and bigotry.
The strange thing is how easy it would be for this controversy — and a potential lawsuit — to disappear. Just let Richardson give the invocation and make sure everyone who wants to participate can do so. But these elected officials refuse to do it.
(Screenshot via YouTube)