Updated, 5:15 p.m., Tuesday, March 22:
Every Jacksonville City Council meeting begins with an invocation — but the one before this evening’s meeting was different from all the others before it.
For the first time, the message was delivered by an atheist: First Coast Freethought Society founder Earl Coggins. Years ago, Coggins said, his attempts to deliver the invocation were rejected.
“Jacksonville has a diverse population," he said in an interview before the meeting. "We have a lot of different cultures, a lot of different world views out there that we all need to get in touch with and learn how to be friends with each other and not fearful of each other.”
In the invocation, Coggins thanked the Council, especially President Greg Anderson, for their inclusion. He also quoted the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colossus," as well as the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
He said, "This afternoon, I invoke intellect, empathy and cooperation as a way in which to make this city a great and peaceful place to coexist."