Earlier this month, an atheist finally delivered an invocation address before a meeting of the Orange County (FL) Board of County Commissioners.
Sure, it took place at a Budget Workshop.
Sure, it happened after 14 months of trying.
Sure, it probably had something to do with the fact that he used to be a senior Orange County employee… But still! Go Warren Geltch!
Thank you and good morning, Mayor and Commissioners.
As you know, one of the great things about Orange County is its vast diversity. Every individual in our community is important and deserves to be treated equally, no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, or non-religion.
Morally, no one can justify inequality, discrimination, or intolerance. The record shows that through great leadership, and often difficult struggles, our sense of morality has changed and progressed over the course of our nation’s history. But such changes don’t come easily, and they don’t come quickly. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 90 years after our country’s inception. Women couldn’t vote until 144 years after our nation’s inception, in 1920. Since then, we have expanded civil rights, minority rights, women’s rights, gay rights, but significant hurdles remain.
There is still inequality, discrimination, and intolerance. So how do we continue positive trends pertaining to morality? Well, to have a good moral compass, we must possess two core values: The first core value is empathy. We must be able to place ourselves in another person’s shoes to understand them and get to know them. Without getting to know them, it’s easy to demonize others. When we do get to know them, we generally find that they still want the same things out of life that we do.
The second core value is conscience. We must feel good when we do the right thing and feel bad when we do the wrong thing. We must be held accountable and responsible for our own actions. That includes treating others how we ourselves want to be treated, and not just making the best we can for ourselves, but for everyone in life, because every life is precious.
Without empathy and without good conscience, we will not progress.
Mayor and Commissioners, you are about to approve a new budget today. Undoubtedly, you will consider many issues during the next fiscal year. The public trust requires that every issue be considered on its own merit, undergo a thorough analysis, and decided through rational problem solving guided by ethics and integrity.
In conclusion, on behalf of the Central Florida Freethought Community, I want to thank you, Mayor and Commissioners, for allowing us to present this secular invocation this morning.
Geltch even got a hug from Mayor Teresa Jacobs afterwards:
And this snazzy certificate:
While the video doesn’t show any conflict, Central Florida Freethought Community President David Williamson shared with me his thoughts about the address. Mostly, he didn’t believe it should have been this hard to make it happen (and he’s right about that):
It has been 14 months since the CFFC requested to participate in Orange County Commission meetings alongside religious clergy as invocation-givers. We were, instead, finally invited to a Budget Workshop meeting. While we accepted the offer since it was the polite thing to do, we are confident that, if it weren’t for Warren Geltch, retired Assistant Orange County Administrator, I predict we would have been forced to challenge Orange County’s invocation practices in court.
The CFFC hopes Orange County Commissioners welcome our next speaker more promptly and to offer an invocation at a Regular Board Meeting. We also expect a Commissioner to spend the standard 1 to 3 minutes proudly introducing our speaker as they do for every other religious clergy member in recent history. What we ask for is simple: equal treatment under the law. Simply stated, this means no preference will be given to religious speakers over non-religious speakers.
You have to wonder why anyone would complain about an invocation that inoffensive that they couldn’t have something like it at their general board meetings.
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