Florida politicians oppose atheists' request to 'pray' at town meeting
Commission's draft letter insists that invocations are for faith-based groups only.
The Brevard County Board of County Commissioners will decide Tuesday whether they will deny an atheist group's request to open one of their meetings with a secular invocation.
The Central Florida Freethought Community requested to have one of their members lead the "prayer," but a draft letter from the Commission's chairperson indicates that their request may be denied.
The Community is composed of atheists, agnostics, humanist, and other nontheistic persons. Founder and Chairman David Williamson referenced a May 2014 Supreme Court decision that allowed prayers in public meetings when making his invocation request.
"In the recent Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Court emphasized that a government's prayer practice must be 'nondiscriminatory' and it must make reasonable efforts to include invocations from all members of the community, regardless of their faith," he wrote.
"Note that Humanism is recognized as a religion under the First Amendment in numerous cases and excluding a particular faith group from consideration is unconstitutional."
The commissioners have not formerly responded to Williamson's request, but a draft letter from Chairwoman Mary Bolin Lewis rejects the solicitation.
"The invocation portion of the agenda is an opening prayer, presented by members of our faith community," she said.
"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.
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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 Commission respectfully takes issue with the claim that members of your organisation are being excluded from presenting their viewpoint at County Commission meetings."
The chairwoman offered to let the Central Florida Freethought Community speak for three minutes during the public comment portion of the commissioner's meeting.
Williamson argues that rejecting his request is discriminatory.
"I would equate that to separate, but equal," he told Florida Today, referencing the United States' Jim Crow-era laws.
City councils across the country have allowed atheists, Wiccans, humanists, and many others to lead secular invocations following the Greece v. Galloway decision.