FEDERAL APPEALS COURT: Brevard County Commissioners’ Invocation Policy Discriminates Based on Religion
By Space Coast Daily // July 8, 2019
Americans United, ACLU and FFRF Challenged County’s Unconstitutional Invocation Policy on Behalf of Nontheists
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously ruled that the Brevard County Commissioners’ policy of using religious beliefs to determine who can offer invocations at public meetings is unconstitutional, discriminatory and a violation of religious freedom.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 45-page opinion, made clear that government bodies can open their meetings with prayers.
But it said the Brevard County Commission has improperly discriminated and that commissioners “may not categorically exclude from consideration speakers from a religion simply because they do not like the nature of its beliefs.”
The ruling came in the case Williamson v. Brevard County, which was brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of several nontheists whom commissioners have barred from offering invocations.
“The discriminatory procedure for selecting invocation speakers followed in Brevard County is unconstitutional and it must be rejected,” wrote Judge Stanley Marcus in the opinion.
“We need go no further today than to say this: in selecting invocation speakers, the Commissioners may not categorically exclude from consideration speakers from a religion simply because they do not like the nature of its beliefs.”
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in September 2017 agreed with the plaintiffs that the commissioners’ practice of excluding nontheists violated the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs in the case include the Central Florida Freethought Community and its director, David Williamson; the Space Coast Freethought Association and its president, Chase Hansel; the Humanist Community of the Space Coast and its president, Keith Becher; and Brevard County resident Ronald Gordon.
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