For years now, members of the Central Florida Freethought Community has been trying to deliver secular invocations everywhere they can. It’s a way to show people that atheists are perfectly capable of delivering inspirational, inoffensive speeches in lieu of religious prayers. You can see the list of invocations right here.
There’s one place that barely shows up on that list, though: Orange County. There was only one invocation delivered there, in 2015, but it was for a budget meeting, not the larger city council meeting.
It’s like the atheists’ white whale.
Part of the problem is that their policy is for commissioners to choose the invocation speakers. It’s not hard to see how that could go wrong; if all the commissioners are Christians, they could very well choose like-minded individuals while blocking out everyone else.
Joseph Richardson of CFFC has been trying to speak there for years, and in November of 2017, he finally secured a meeting with one of the commissioners, Betsy VanderLey. Over time, they got to know each other a little better, and she finally invited him to deliver the invocation yesterday.
Not only was it an amazing speech on his part, VanderLey introduced him with a rousing speech of her own about the importance of religious freedom — which includes the right to not believe in God. And afterwards, Richardson even got a freakin’ certificate of appreciation like he won a relay race in elementary school. (He appreciated the gesture, though, because it sent a message to the audience: “He belongs here.”)
I love how she says, “There is, in fact, no real freedom unless we allow freedom of choice. Without that choice, we only have coercion and power.”
Here’s Richardson’s invocation:
It is an honor to be here today to represent the Central Florida Freethought Community and your atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other non-religious constituents. Nevertheless, I hope my comments will resonate with every resident.
As you are well aware, Orange County’s population is very diverse containing a wide variety or ethnicities, beliefs, cultures, gender identities, financial statuses, and other qualities. It is these differences help make us a vibrant, interesting, and growing community.
But it is our similarities, our hopes and dreams, our love for our friends and family, our desire to build a better future for our children, our common humanity that bring us together and allows us to cooperate to improve the lives of all our citizens.
Each one of you, by your commitment of time, energy and resources, helps to make this vision real. We have a bright future ahead of us in Orange County, individually and together as a county united. And we are counting on your abilities and integrity to lead us to that future.
May your decisions and actions today and every day be guided by our common goals, by a sensitivity to our differences, and by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
He put it so beautifully, and the reception was respectful all around. Kudos to Commissioner VanderLey for making it happen. It shouldn’t have taken this long to include an atheist in the mix, but Richardson made the moment count.
Conservative Christians can’t say atheists have no business delivering invocations when this is what it looks like in practice.