March 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Members of the Brevard County, Fla., Board of County Commissioners heard a secular invocation on Jan. 26 for what is believed to be the first time.

The invocation was led by David Williamson, a director and co-founder of the Central Florida Free­thought Community. William­son’s invocation was noteworthy because the board had previously denied him and other nontheists the op­portunity to offer secular invo­ca­tions to open its meetings, sparking a nearly five-year-long legal battle. That lawsuit ended a year ago when commissioners agreed not to dis­crim­inate against people who don’t belong to mainstream, mono­theistic religions in their selection process for invocation speakers.

Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and the Freedom From Reli­gion Foundation sued on behalf of Williamson and other individuals and groups. A federal appeals court struck down Brevard County’s invo­c­ation policy in 2019, and the case was settled a few months later. The settlement opened the door for Williamson to offer a secular invo­cation.

“As we begin the day in service alongside one another, we remember the solemn responsibility we have to our shared community,” Williamson said during the invocation. “With that in mind, we remember all those who live in or visit the community and who will be affected by decisions made here today – possibly for generations to come. Whether visiting the Space Coast for just a day as a visitor to a local beach or business or for an entire career of public service, while we are sometimes participants in it, we are always benefactors of our democracy and the important work of bodies such as this.”

Added Williamson, “Knowing that our words, our decisions, and our actions directly impact so many others, we strive to make compassion the foundation for our important work here today and that we serve with integrity and kindness towards one another and to all those you serve as our representatives in local government.”     

Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal di-­­ ­rector of Americans United and lead counsel in the case, remarked in a media statement, “David set a high standard that we hope is emulated by future invocation speakers, in Brevard County and throughout Am­erica: He offered words of en­couragement by focusing on the shared values that unite our com­munities. Elected officials across the country should follow the wise example Brevard County has now set by ensuring that no one is denied an opportunity to solemnize govern­mental meetings because of their beliefs about religion.”