After atheist’s invocation, Tavares (FL) City Council lets Christian give replacement prayer
This is not the first time atheist Joseph Richardson has been "corrected" by government officials
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He gave an excellent speech, urging the commissioners to “unite in the spirit of reason, compassion, and the pursuit of justice.” He reminded everyone to make sure their actions were “guided by the principles of inclusivity, fairness, and respect for the autonomy of every individual.”
Perfectly fine. Completely non-offensive.
But then, immediately after Richardson was done, Phil Clark, the city’s utilities director, was invited to deliver a second invocation. A replacement invocation. A Christian invocation. Because, apparently, the secular one didn’t count.
Clark’s brief speech referenced “Heavenly Father” and asked God to “forgive us for our sins… in Jesus Christ’s name.”
Even more shocking? This isn’t the first time this has happened to Richardson. In fact, this is the fourth time a local government in Florida has felt the need to “correct” his supposed error. It’s previously happened in the city of Apopka (2015), the city of Eustis (2017), and Lake County (2022). A similar corrective measure occurred in the Arizona legislature in 2017 when a state legislator gave a secular invocation, only to see one of her colleagues request and receive permission to deliver a Christian one right after.
In 2019, after Richardson gave a secular invocation in the city of Ocoee, the mayor literally apologized afterwards, saying, “This is something that was brought to us to do, not that we do it.”
Atheist invocations don’t need a Jesus-infested “do-over.”
Maybe even more damning is the fact that Clark was ready to go with a pre-planned sermon even though the agenda for the meeting only listed a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community as giving the invocation.
This wasn’t an on-the-spot decision. This was decided in advance.
Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is getting involved.
In a letter to the Tavares City Council, attorney Chris Line calls the council’s actions “discriminatory and unconstitutional.”
We write to ask that the Council immediately apologize to Joseph and ensure that the discriminatory conduct exhibited at the February 7 meeting does not recur. If the Board cannot treat invocation speakers equally, instead favoring Christianity and denigrating nonbelievers, the practice of having an invocation needs to be eliminated entirely.
FFRF is also requesting public records regarding this makeup invocation, including all communications between council members and Phil Clark.
David Williamson, co-founder of the CFFC, told me the treatment of Richardson shows a clear “pattern of discrimination.”
… Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when we see more of it nearby. Our invocations are inclusive and appropriate to solemnize the occasion. To treat non-theists differently than others who provide an invocation is clearly discriminatory and we have already shown that we won't stand for it…
We intend to be at the next meeting to speak during public comment and express our great concerns for this practice and request an apology.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)