FFRF, local activists seek resolution from Fla. county after invocation insult

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Florida chapter are still seeking resolution after being publicly insulted by the Lake County Board of County Commissioners.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter last month to the Board of County Commissioners after a secular invocation delivered at the Dec. 6 meeting by Joseph Richardson, director of the Central Florida Freethought Community, was immediately followed by a “corrective” Christian prayer. FFRF requested either that invocations be respected regardless of content or the practice be discontinued entirely.

The Board of County Commissioners has neither acted to correct this mistake nor has it made any official comment regarding the insult.

Richardson returned to address the board at its Jan. 23 meeting to protest the inequitable treatment.

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“I’m here today because the situation remains unresolved,” he said. “There has been no response to FFRF’s letter of complaint. Further, I emailed Commissioner Sean M. Parks in December offering to meet with him and also received no response. Finally, another CFFC [Central Florida Freethought Community] board member, Mr. David Williamson, came here asking for clarification and he was referred back to the Sentinel article where Commissioner Parks said, through a spokesperson, ‘He would apologize.’”

FFRF and Richardson are renewing their demands for the Board of County Commissioners to acknowledge the mistake, apologize for said mistake and assure that it will not happen again.

Since the board has not issued comments in any official capacity, it is reinforcing the exclusionary message it has sent to the 22 percent of Lake County residents who identify as nonreligious (with overall almost 30 percent of Americans so identifying). The dismissive treatment has shown before, and is showing again, that secular opinions will not be respected in Lake County, and that the only accepted citizens are those who identify as Christians. The lack of response is not only inappropriate but also unprofessional, and needs to be rectified as quickly as possible.

If the board insists upon having invocations before meetings, it must straightforwardly accept secular invocations, too. Failing to do so will run the risk of lawsuit, as FFRF and other groups successfully sued the Brevard County Board of Commissioners in 2015 for censoring invocations by nontheists.

“Why does the board need to pray over liquor licenses, sewers and variances, anyway?” asks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We would, of course, prefer that Lake County join many enlightened governmental boards by dropping the divisive practice of religious invocations altogether. But, as the Supreme Court has ruled, atheists and religious minorities must be allowed to deliver invocations if religious invocations are also permitted. We await a formal apology.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based nonprofit with over 39,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,900 members in Florida and the Central Florida Freethought Community. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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