A federal judge has ruled that officials in Brevard County, Florida cannot discriminate against nontheists by denying them the opportunity to offer a secular invocation. The county had previously limited invocations to “faith-based” groups and insisted that the Central Florida Freethought Community could only speak during the “public comments” portion of the day.
In a victory for secularism and inclusion, U.S. Judge John Antoon II ruled decisively against this discriminatory policy. In his ruling, Judge Antoon writes;
“The County insists that its restrictions are viewpoint neutral, but this Court disagrees. The County discriminates among invocation speakers on the basis of viewpoint, and its restriction on invocation givers is not reasonable in light of the purpose of the invocation. Thus, even if the pre-meeting invocation period is a limited public forum, this viewpoint discrimination renders the County’s practice unconstitutional.…Regrettably, religion has become such an instrument [of division] in Brevard County. The County defines rights and opportunities of its citizens to participate in the ceremonial pre-meeting invocation during the County Board’s regular meetings based on the citizens’ religious beliefs. As explained above, the County’s policy and practice violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Florida Constitution.”