Vol. 21 No. 9 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Florida Atheist Gives "Invocation" Before City Hall
By Tom Clark
My journey started in early February, when I asked to be put on the list to perform a "secular invocation." I filled out the paperwork, faxed it immediately, and waited two weeks without a word. I called to find out that it was put into the City Attorney's hands. They didn't know what to do, because no one ever asked before who wasn't clergy. I waited until mid-March--still nothing.
On March 23, the City Attorney issued this memorandum: "Please be advised that invocations at public meetings give rise to a number of legal issues. In conclusion, this office recommends that the City Council re-examine its current practices with respect to invocations at public meetings. The implementation of a 'moment of silence' is the course of action least likely to subject the City to judicial challenge."
The council would not go for that at all; they wanted an invocation. The City Attorney put on the agenda the following words: "The invocation shall not refer to any term that is commonly associated with a specific religion, sect or deity, such as 'Jesus Christ,' 'Allah,' or 'our Father in Heaven.' "
It works for me! But at the second reading the council caved in to public pressure and deleted the sentence.
Of course, it's not the best result, but a victory anyway. On October 18, 2004, I was finally allowed to give my secular invocation to the City Council of Cape Coral, Florida. I am now known in the newspapers, on radio and TV as Tom Clark the Atheist. I wear the moniker with pride.
My next move is the County Commission meeting.
By the way, I am running for City Council. We will see if a "Devout Atheist" can get elected in the Bible Belt of Florida.
Tom Clark's Invocation
What makes this country great is not that everyone thinks alike but the diversity of its people.
We are gathered today, both religious and secular members of our community, with the shared belief that we must treat each other with dignity and respect.
In this invocation I don't ask you to bow your heads, but to look up at what you can accomplish by working together in a civil manner.
I don't ask you to close your eyes, but to keep them open wide to the problems that we face as a city.
With your talents and insight you can lead this community to a better future.
As you work together on behalf of all who live in this city, may you draw strength and encouragement from one another through compassion and reason.
Remember, being a member of the majority doesn't necessarily make you right, just part of a group that thinks alike.
Tom Clark, a new Life Member of the Foundation, is Vice President of the American Civil Liberties Union, Lee County Chapter; President of the Cape Coral Neighborhood Watch (population 180,000); Treasurer of the Lee County Libertarian Party, and member of the Neighborhood Accountability Board that helps juveniles make restitution to keep them from being adjudicated.
November 2004 Excerpts