By Joe Palazzolo
At a recent meeting of the Osceola County, Fla., board of commissioners, many attendees bowed their heads in silence as they listened to an invocation delivered by an atheist.
“Habit, I guess,” says David Williamson of Central Florida Freethought Community, who, in lieu of calling on the almighty, invoked the spirit of goodwill during his roughly one-minute speech.
Mr. Williamson, the first nonbeliever invited to perform the county ritual, is among a handful of atheists around the country who have given or are scheduled to give invocations before local-government meetings. The speeches have championed self-government, the human condition, intellectual openness and minority viewpoints.
At the same time, several town boards that had done away with prayers that include references to specific faiths are trying to revive them.
The groundswell is a reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that sanctioned prayers before meetings of the town board in Greece, N.Y. The court rejected arguments that the overwhelmingly Christian prayers gave preference to one faith and violated the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion.