Florida Atheists' Lawsuit Sues To Allow Atheist Prayer In Brevard County

Patrick Frye

Florida atheists are suing Brevard County Commissioners, since they want the ability to make a secular humanist prayer or speech during the invocation before any public meetings. The Brevard County Commissioners have banned any atheist prayers or speeches from being made during this time, and instead offer the ability to speak in the public comment section of meetings. The atheist's lawsuit claims the board's policy violates the U.S. Constitution, with the Central Florida Freethought Community claiming "this is discrimination, and it relegates non-believers to second class citizens."

In a related report by the Inquisitr, Oklahoma's Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument should be removed from state grounds, but the Oklahoma state governor is refusing to allow this to happen.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared that "sectarian prayers before public meetings do not violate the Establishment Clause as long as they are open to everyone." In a 5 to 0 vote, the Brevard County Commissioners decided in 2014 to ban atheist prayers before meetings. The board also wrote a letter to David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, explaining their decision.

"The prayer is delivered during the ceremonial portion of the county's meeting, and typically invokes guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority, a higher authority which a substantial body of Brevard constituents believe to exist," the Brevard County Commissioners said, according to the Washington Post.

This past week, Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith discussed a clarification policy which upset the Florida atheist groups.

"The board wishes to formalize a policy on invocations that is not hostile to faith based religions, and that does not endorse secular humanism, or non-belief of traditional faith based religions, comprised of constituents who believe in God," said Smith, according to News 13.

The atheists' lawsuit is at a federal level and will include several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Central Florida Freethought Community.

"The groups are adamant that this is discrimination, and it relegates non-believers to second class citizens," said Williamson. "To deny anyone the right to participate as equal members of the community that portion of the meeting is abhorrent."

Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, says the board's decision is unconstitutional.

"If a government decides to have a forum that is open for public voices, then it must make it open to all voices – they don't get to pick and choose. When the Board of County Commissioners blocks one group from having their voices heard, they are essentially saying to these citizens that their beliefs make them unwelcome in their own community. It's unfair, discriminatory, and unconstitutional."

"The business of the community is secular, and these folks are admitted secularists, so they can take part in the secular business anytime they wish," said Smith.

According to Invocations Online, Brevard County has not allowed secular humanist or atheist prayers to be said during their invocations. It is claimed that 93.9 percent of the public prayers have been from Protestants, while the remaining prayers have been from Catholics, Jews, and Mormons.

Do you think Florida atheist groups should be allowed to say an atheist prayer or speech during invocations?

[Image via Chaparral]