Florida county unanimously bans atheists from delivering invocations at public meetings

The county commission in Brevard County, Florida, voted unanimously on Wednesday to prohibit atheists from offering invocations at public meetings, Hemant Mehta reports.

The commissioners voted to send a letter to David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, indicating that his group doesn't qualify to deliver the invocation because it is defined as "an opening prayer, presented by members of our 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 letter reads. "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."

As county resident Joseph Richardson noted during Tuesday's meeting, if a government activity requires the exclusion of "atheists, humanists, or any segment of your population, no matter how small, from full participation in government activities -- if any government activity requires such an exclusion, then that activity is patently unfair, unequal, unconstitutional, and should no longer be a part of the government."

He went on to compare the exclusion of atheists by comparing the commission's decision to relegate atheist statement to a "Public Comment" session at the conclusion of meetings to pre-Civil Rights era separate-but-equal statutes.

David Kearns, a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, followed by noting that the commission's decision to only allows religious groups to offer invocations could have unintended consequences. "You could have the Spaghetti Monster people here," he said. "You're going to have the Wicca here. You're throwing down the gauntlet against people who might not believe precisely as you do."

The commission responded to Kearns assertion by asking him where he got the impression that only specific groups of faiths would be allowed to offer invocations. When he responded, "the newspaper," Commissioner Trudie Infantini said, "you may want to do other research than the paper, I'm just going to throw that out there. Because sometimes I've found it to be a little bit less than accurate."

"My staff and I, we search -- I don't have any specific religion in mind, we will go anywhere" she said, before directly contradicting herself. "Wait -- not anywhere. No, not anywhere."

After the meeting, Williamson told Florida Today that he would consult with legal experts about how to proceed.

Watch the August 19, 2014 debate below via David Williamson on YouTube.

[Image via Brevard County Commission official homepage]