Judge Rules Florida County Can’t Disallow Atheists From Delivering Invocations at Govt Meetings

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton has ruled that Brevard County, Florida’s board of commissioners can’t disallow atheists from delivering invocations at public commission meetings.

“By opening up its invocation practice to volunteer citizens but requiring that those citizens believe in a ‘higher power’ before they will be permitted to solemnize a board meeting, the County is violating the freedom of religious belief and conscience guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause,” wrote U.S. District Judge John Antoon II.

He said that the county’s practice of only allowing religious residents to deliver the prayer is an “instrument” of division and is unconstitutional.

“The County defines rights and opportunities of its citizens to participate in the ceremonial pre-meeting invocation during the county board’s regular meetings based on the citizens’ religious beliefs,” Antoon wrote. “[T]he county’s policy and practice violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and … the Florida Constitution.”

As previously reported, Brevard County’s board of commissioners voted unanimously in 2014 to deny a request from David Williamson of the Central Florida Freethought Community after he sent correspondence to Chairman Mary Bolin Lewis asking that his group be added to the county’s invocation list.

The County replied that Williamson’s group did 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.

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“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.”

The County, still seeking to accommodate Williamson somehow, instead suggested that the Freethought group speak during the public comment period. The board voted unanimously in favor of formalizing the matter into a policy, which angered atheists who opined that the rule was discriminatory.

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

He therefore sued the board, and on Friday, Antoon ruled in Williamson’s favor. Antoon said that the situation did not align with the prayer practice considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Greece v. Galloway.

“What happens in Brevard County is a far cry from what happens in the town of Greece. Brevard County does not allow everyone to give an invocation,” he wrote. “Instead, it limits the prayer opportunity to those it ‘deems capable’ of doing so–based on the beliefs of the would-be prayer giver.”

Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox told Florida Today that he will recommend that the commissioners appeal the decision.

“We don’t agree with the judge. We don’t agree with the reasoning at all,” he said. “I’m highly recommending that they appeal it, because I think the judge was dead wrong.”

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  • meamsane

    So, the judge is claiming that atheism is a religion? And who is the deity of this religion?

    • Michael C

      So, the judge is claiming that atheism is a religion?


      The judge ruled that the absence of a religious belief shouldn’t disqualify a citizen from equal treatment.

  • mr goody two shoes

    Simple solution there called ear plugs or better yet play christian music into your ear buds while the atheists spokes person babbles when their mouth stops moving there most likely done.

    • ThroatwobblerMangrove

      Or, you could listen to what the atheist has to say – just because it doesn’t relate directly to your faith he is very likely to be engaging you in some other important way.

      • InTheChurch

        What do they have to say that is life changing?

        • ThroatwobblerMangrove

          How would you know unless you took the time to listen? One thing I am pretty sure about is they wouldn’t be likely to discuss their atheism.

          • InTheChurch

            We listen and read their babble on this forum everyday. They don’t say much because they lack much. They don’t discuss their atheism? That’s all they have.

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            It’s an invocation at a government meeting. What makes you think it’s going to be all “rah rah atheism”?

          • InTheChurch

            They have a religion to push, an agenda to push and world view to push. Why else?

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            You don’t show up at a government meeting to tell people to be atheists.

            Also, Christians proselytize, atheists don’t. Who REALLY has the agenda?

          • InTheChurch

            Our agenda is easy; people sin, we have a savior for those sins, he died on a cross and rose 3 days later. He will forgive you for those sins, cleanse your soul and make you whole again. it’s not about me, it about Him. Conversion is up to the person, free will. No one is forcing you to convert or change. But, there are consequences if you do or don’t. That is up to you. So what is the agenda of an atheist? Why are you on a christian forum?

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            That’s fine, and how do you propose to accommodate those in attendance who don’t believe exactly as you do? People who, after all, are not in a church and should not be expected to have to worship?

          • Quince

            Are the comments you type here the same tone and content as you would make in a prayer before a city council? Mine wouldn’t be. Just because atheists or any people make comments in a forum in response to a news article doesn’t mean that’s what they would say in another setting.

            I actually read some atheist invocations. They are nice.

          • InTheChurch

            Why change? Be the people you are all the time. Why the extra masks? If I was invited to do an invocation, I would pray the same like I do at home, church, at a camp meeting, a convention or when we gather. They would hear me speaking in tongues and laying of hands. Maybe evening some dancing in the spirit. I don’t change for anyone and anything.

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            Can you not strike a balance where you can be faithful to your beliefs but also accept that there are others in the same room with you who have different beliefs? Not every situation is one where you have to hammer home what you believe and everyone else doesn’t matter.

          • InTheChurch

            Freedom of religion. I am free to worship. You might not worship the same as I do. You have the right to worship how you like. Again, I will not change my worship for anyone or anything. I love the first amendment.

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            And why do you need to worship at an invocation of a government meeting? Is it necessary?

          • InTheChurch

            Because we are seeking the wisdom and knowledge of the Almighty. We are seeking the guidance of the I Am. We worship because of who He is. And it is as important as oxygen in our lungs. And if the Spirit moves us in worship, let it be. Time to get our church dancing shoes on. You should try it. Find a church that moves and dances, you will be amazed what your spirit can do under the anointing of the Almighty. If you attended a dead and boring church, that will explain why you question God.

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            Isn’t that the purpose and function of your church?

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            He seems to be saying, “If an atheist says it, I refuse to listen”. Even though it could be something completely unrelated to matters of faith.

        • Tangent002

          Who goes to a government meeting to have their life changed?

          • Quince

            Yeah, and who goes to a government meeting to pray?

          • InTheChurch

            I’m talking about the invocation or prayer

      • Quince

        Or maybe what they have to say would be pleasant and postive and encourage people to treat everyone as valuable members of the community.

  • InTheChurch

    Couple of things, they will not say anything of substance so nothing to worry about. You can sit and get started while they are babbling. Stay outside talking with your friends. Go on Youtube and catch up with the latest trends. Since it’s not a real prayer, no need to respect it.

    • james blue

      Why does a prayer need to be respected?

      • InTheChurch

        Why does an invocation from an atheist needs to be respected?

        • james blue

          Never said it did. You made a distinction that an atheist invocation doesn’t need to be respected because it’s not a prayer, so why does a prayer need to be respected?

          • InTheChurch

            The acknowledgment and dependence on the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Atheist prayer is for themselves.

          • james blue

            Why should an atheist or a person of a different faith acknowledge or respect prayer?

    • Quince

      It seems like listening to what other people have to say should be a good thing.

      • InTheChurch

        If it was worth listening to, yes I agree. But an invocation from a godless person, oxymoron. Like a christian Democrat or gay conservative. Not much to those speeches.

        • ThroatwobblerMangrove

          What if it was a Christian Democrat or a gay conservative making an appeal for peace, or ending world hunger?

          • InTheChurch

            Did you vote for Hilary? if you did, you listened to a christian democrat

          • ThroatwobblerMangrove

            I don’t live in the US, but if I did, I would have voted for ANYONE besides Trump.

  • ZappaSaid88

    Greece vs Galloway held that invocations are allowed as long as there is no discrimination in choosing the speaker. This seems to be a clear violation of that decision.

  • Quince

    I went out and read some of the atheist invocations given in other places. They are very nice. They focus on working together to do good for the community and caring about everyone. There is nothing wrong with them. There isn’t anything bad about listening to other people.

  • Reason2012

    Antoon ruled in Williamson’s favor. Antoon said that the situation did not align with the prayer practice considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Greece v. Galloway.

    Except that an atheist is NOT “praying”. It’s a “prayer” practice, not a “we hate Christianity” practice.

  • Darren E Butler Sr

    This has to be the most idiotic expression/application of jurisprudence I have ever seen in my life. And lately I’ve seen a lot. The dictionary defines “prayer” as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. The dictionary also defines “atheist” as a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods. Therefore, based on these two basic definitions, why would someone, who TRULY BELIEVES (pun intended) they are an atheist, want to participate in any kind of prayer expression whatsoever? If you truly believe in the non-existence of a deity, higher-power or any other term you choose to apply, then it seems to me that wanting to participate in any type of ‘faith-based-religious” expression is the antithesis of the claims you make about yourself. The plaintiffs have amusingly presented themselves as poster-people for the encapsulation of an identity crisis and hypocrisy all wrapped up in one little absurd package. I have always had difficulty in taking atheism seriously. How do you waste time contending against something/soneone that you say does not exist? If that is true how are you fighting “it”? Furthermore, the judge in this ruling is simply a pawn of another ridiculous socio-political agenda hiding behind fancy-schmancy legalese. The case should have been tossed based on the common sense of the definitions previously stated alone. For a country that is supposed to be so advanced, developed and enlightened, this is embarrassing….

  • Today’s atheists, Satanists, Muslims, etc. have all been enabled and emboldened by the First Commandment violating First Amendment.

    Like a moth to a flame, Christians are intent on employing the genesis of their problems as the solution. In this instance, the First Commandment violating First Amendment.

    Religious Freedom and Christian Liberty are not the same thing. They are, in fact, hostile to each other. The former is born of the First Amendment. The latter is born of the First Commandment. In 1789, the First Commandment and Christian Liberty were formally sacrificed on the altar of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom.

    It’s one thing to allow for individual freedom of conscience and private choice of gods, something impossible to legislate for or against. It’s another matter altogether for government to enable any and all religions to proliferate through the land and evangelize our posterity to false gods. This is what the First Amendment legitimizes. It is an unequivocal violation of the First Commandment and the polar opposite of the following First Commandment statute:

    ‘[Y]e shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves. For thou shall worship no other god: for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou … go a whoring after their gods….’ (Exodus 34:13-15)….”

    It’s the First Amendment that the sodomites, lesbians, and atheists hang their hats on and that they’ve been able to utilize for their cause. It’s likewise the First Amendment that so many Christians hang their hat on as if there’s something intrinsically Christian about it when, in fact, it is entirely antithetical to the Bible. It’s thus suicide for Christians to appeal to the First Amendment in any fashion whatsoever.

    For more, see online Chapter 11 “Amendment 1: Government-Sanctioned Polytheism” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective.” Click on my name, then our website. Go to our Online Books page, click on the top entry, and scroll down to Chapter 11.

    Then find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a complimentary copy of a book that examines the Constitution by the Bible.