February 2018 Church & State - February 2018

Fla. Commission Suspends Prayers At Meetings

  Rokia Hassanein

A Florida County Commission has suspended opening its meetings with prayers while it appeals a Nov. 29 permanent federal court injunction against the county’s practice of refusing to allow non-theistic invocations at the start of the county commission meetings.

U.S. District Judge John Antoon II issued the injunction after striking down the Brevard County Board of Com­missioners’ divisive prayer practice in a lawsuit, Wil­liam­son v. Brevard, brought by Americans United and allies in 2015 on behalf of several Brevard County resi­dents and organizations that wanted to give non-theistic invoca­tions.

Brevard County Commission Chair Rita Pritchett said the ruling “is a big attack on Christianity,” while Ameri­cans United welcomed the decision and the injunction.

“It is unconstitutional for any governing body to discrim­inate against people who don’t believe in God,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director and lead counsel in the case. “Yet that is exactly what Brevard County did through its invocation policy. We’re pleased that the court put an end to the county’s discriminatory practice.”

In his ruling, Antoon found that the prayers violated both the U.S. and Florida constitutions and determined that the county’s policy “discriminates against non-theists (atheists, agnostics, humanists and others who do not believe in God).”

In lieu of official prayers, Brevard County commission­ers are observing a moment of silence.

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