Atheists Sue Florida County Over Invocation

| by Maura Turcotte

In Florida’s Brevard County, County Commission meetings begin with a short invocation to open the public gatherings. People of all faiths are invited to speak, but non-believers are prohibited, which has many upset.

As FloridaToday reports, the County Commission restricts its invocations only to members of the "faith-based community." As a result, a coalition of atheist, agnostic and humanist groups have come together to sue Brevard County over this exclusion.

"After more than a year of politely asking for equal treatment and being denied, we are left with no other option," David Williamson of Oviedo, founder of Central Florida Freethought Community told the Orlando Sentinel.

Ironically, the federal lawsuit was filed the same day the County Commission voted unanimously to maintain its policy of excluding non-believers from giving the opening invocation. The Central Florida gathering once again approved the resolution that limits atheists and agnostics to speaking only during the public comment portion of the meetings, reported FloridaToday.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others in the coalition argue the county’s rules violate the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Additionally, they believe that prohibiting non-believers from giving the invocation ignores the Supreme Court decision from 2014 that ruled any type of prayer — including secular — can open public forums as long as there is no governmental preference of one belief system over another, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The Central Florida Freethought Community additionally commented in a statement that the rule is one "of discrimination ... based solely on religion, and relegates non-believers to second-class status."

"We just want equal protection, under the law," Williamson told FloridaToday.   

Many area residents also agree with the coalition. Lisa Warren, who lives in Melbourne, Florida, told commissioners, "Promoting one religious system above all others is not appropriate."

Yet another resident remarked to the commissioners that he wondered "why we need an invocation at all. It just baffles me," FloridaToday reports.

Sources: FloridaToday, Orlando Sentinel / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons