March 2020 Church & State - March 2020

Fla. County Alters Prayer Policy To Settle Lawsuit

  Fla. County Alters Prayer Policy To Settle Lawsuit

The Brevard County (Fla.) Board of County Commissioners agreed on Feb. 11 not to resume its past practice of discriminating against people who don’t belong to mainstream, monotheistic religions when selecting invocation speakers to open board meetings.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve an agreement to settle Williamson v. Brevard County, a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 by Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of nontheists whom the board had barred from offering secular invocations.

The settlement agreement implements a July 2019 decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which made clear that government officials must not engage in religious discrimination when selecting people to deliver opening invocations. 

“This settlement protects the religious freedom of everyone in Brevard County,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United. “No one should be excluded from participating in local government because of their beliefs about religion.”  

The plaintiffs in the case include the Central Florida Freethought Community and its director, 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.

The case litigation team included Luchenitser, Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Legal Fellow Alexander Gouzoules at Americans United; Legal Director Rebecca S. Markert and Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel of FFRF; Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida; and Daniel Mach of the national ACLU.

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