What's at Stake
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit challenging Brevard County’s policy of excluding nontheists from offering pre-meeting invocations.
Brevard County persistently rejected atheists, humanists, and other nontheists who wanted to deliver solemnizing messages at the commencement of board meetings. The lawsuit alleges that such rejections violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as provisions of the Florida Constitution, and that the plaintiffs felt pressured and coerced to participate in prayer and excluded from the meetings. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Central Florida Freethought Community (a chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation) and its chair 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.
In September 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that the discriminatory policy was unconstitutional, saying “‘[T]he great promise of the Establishment Clause is that religion will not operate as an instrument of division in our nation.’” The opinion continues, “Regrettably, religion has become such an instrument in Brevard County.”
Status: Brevard County appealed the district court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. We have cross-appealed on the issue of Commissioners directing meeting attendees to rise for opening prayers.