BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A Florida county has rejected an atheist request to be added to the rotation of those who deliver the invocation at public meetings.
The Brevard County Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny the request of David Williamson of the Central Florida Freethought Community, who had sent correspondence to Chairman Mary Bolin Lewis asking that the group be added to the list. The county stated that Williamson’s group does not qualify for the invocation because it is defined as a “prayer presented by members of [the] faith community.”
“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 response from the commissioners and the county attorney outlined. “The invocation is also meant to lend gravity to the occasion, to reflect values long part of the county’s heritage, and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens in Brevard County.”
Instead of seeking to utilize the prayer portion of the meeting, the county suggested that Williamson’s group speak during the public comment period.
But Williamson is disappointed by the decision and is now seeking legal counsel to possibly to take the matter to court.
“It’s a slap in the face to be told specifically, ‘You cannot participate,'” he told local television station WESH.
“It was very disappointing that the vote was 5-0,” he added to Florida Today. “Everyone can be treated equal, except when it comes to religion, it appears. What we were seeking is inclusion.”
As previously reported, earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayers presented primarily in the name of Jesus at public meetings are not problematic as long as they do not seek to proselytize. The case had centered on invocations that are offered at town hall meetings in Greece, New York, just outside of Rochester, which are presented in Jesus’ name more often than not since the town is largely comprised of Christian and Catholic churches.
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote on behalf of the majority. “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.”
But following the ruling, Dan Courtney of the Atheist Community of Rochester asked that he be allowed to present an invocation at an upcoming meeting, and was granted his request.
“We, as citizens, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of our destiny are not, as the great philosopher Immanuel Kant warned, mere means to the ends of another, but we are ends in ourselves,” Courtney said during his invocation.
One lone objector stood outside holding a sign that simply read “Jesus saves.”
“Our country has a rich history in the public arena for calling on the help and guidance from God, the Almighty, the Supreme, the Maker,” the man, who remained anonymous, stated to reporters. “It’s only recently that rich history has come under attack by the atheist.”