Secular invocations: Warren Geltch & Jake Smith

Warren Geltch
Orange County Commission, Orlando, Fla.
July 16, 2015

Thank you. 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 nonreligion. 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 positive changes usually don’t come easily, or quickly. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 90 years after our country’s inception. Women couldn’t vote until 1920 — 144 years after our nation’s inception. Since then, we’ve expanded civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. However, 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 the other person’s shoes to understand them and see their point of view. We must really get to know them. When we don’t know them, it’s easy to demonize them. When we do get to know them, we may find that we all primarily want the same things out of life.

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 accountable and responsible for our own actions. That includes treating others how we ourselves, want to be treated, and making this one life the best we can, not just for ourselves, but for everyone, 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, be analyzed thoroughly 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 for allowing us to present this secular invocation this morning. Thank you.

Warren Geltch retired as an assistant Orange County administrator in Orlando in 2010 after 35 years of public service. He started his government career as a purchasing agent for the University of South Florida, where he earlier earned a B.A. in marketing. He also holds an M.B.A. from the University of Tampa.

Jake Smith
DeLand, Fla.,
City Commission
July 20, 2015

Hello and good evening, mayor and city commissioners. My name is Jake Lee Smith and I am a student at Stetson University. I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to allow me to open this commission meeting, offering a different perspective to the community and its legislators.

As a council whose mission statement advocates the importance of representing a city with “diverse citizens” that “demonstrate a strong sense of community,” I and others in attendance appreciate your open-mindedness here tonight.

The city’s mission statement also goes on to say that we will “remain dedicated to preserving and enhancing those assets which make DeLand distinctive,” and that “We, as citizens of DeLand, will continue to strive to maintain DeLand’s heritage as the ‘Athens of Florida.’ ” It is my personal belief that the primary assets which make DeLand distinctive lie within the hearts of each and every one of us here in this great little town. This distinct community maintains great historic roots, and a rich heritage.

I myself benefit from this city’s rich heritage, as I currently attend Stetson University here, one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country. We always must, of course, seek to preserve our history, and never forget to look back at where we came from.

However, it is equally important to look to the future, learn from the past, and keep our eyes open to progress. A great example of progress in DeLand sits before us all, Ms. Jessica Davis, the first African-American woman to be a city commissioner in this council’s 133-year history.

This shows that within all communities is the potential for improvement, and one of the greatest improvements a community can make, is that which comes from within. It’s not all about infrastructure, budgets, building codes and taxes. No, at the core of any great town, are its great people. And as the mission statement claims, we seek to always remain a city that values the diversity of its citizens — regardless of what we look like, whom we love or what life philosophies we pledge ourselves to.

In closing, I would like to leave you all with a few important words from one of the most revered speeches in cinematic history:

“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful. . . . More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.” (Charlie Chaplin, “The Great Dictator,” 1940)

Thank you very much.

Jake Smith is a junior English major and psychology minor at Stetson University in DeLand. He’s president of the Stetson Association of Secular Students, which he started as a freshman, as well as vice president of communications for Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and a founding officer of the university’s first-ever interfaith organization, Stetson Engage.

Freedom From Religion Foundation