June 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A member of the Oviedo, Fla., City Council was apparently displeased over a secular invocation offered preceding a May 3 meeting, so she countered with a Christian prayer.

Six years ago, the city adopted a policy that restricted pre-meeting invocations to city staff. But the city council routinely went beyond its own policy and invited local clergy to offer invocations. They were almost always Christian.

The Central Florida Freethought Community got wind of this, and David Williamson, the group’s co-founder, requested permission to offer an invocation to the council, which was granted.

But when Williamson delivered the invocation, something unusual happened: As soon as he finished speaking, council member Judith Dolores Smith started reciting her own, highly sectarian prayer.

“I believe, Lord God, that you’re the king of the universe, and that there’s nothing new under the sun, and all of our problems cannot be solved by man,” Smith said. “We need your intervention. And I asked you tonight, Lord God, if you would give us wisdom you gave Moses who led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Give us wisdom to lead these citizens of Oviedo. And, Lord God, as you promised – your son promised when he left this world – that you would send the comforter, the Holy Spirit. I pray that you would send the Holy Spirit, Lord God, to heal this city. … I just thank you, Lord God, and I thank you and give you the honor, the glory and the praise. Amen.”

Smith clearly felt the need to “correct” Williamson’s secular invocation with an overtly religious statement. The only sanction Smith faced was a mild rebuke from Mayor Megan Sladek, who reminded everyone of the need to be respectful.

Williamson, who was among the plaintiffs in an Americans United-sponsored lawsuit that successfully ended a discriminatory invocation policy in Brevard County last year, registered an objection with the council and then departed.

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, AU observed, “The religious landscape of our nation is changing. Growing numbers of Americans say they have no particular religion. For the first time in history, the number of Americans who belong to a house of worship has dipped below 50%. Government officials, from the city of Oviedo all the way up the members of Congress in Washington, D.C., need to come to grips with this reality and acknowledge that pluralism that defines our nation – and that this is a good thing. The first step is fairly obvious: Be respectful of everyone’s religious or non-religious beliefs and don’t act like a jerk.”