Williamson v. Brevard County

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
July 2015
Status: 

For many years, the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners has opened its meetings with an invocation. Between January 2010 and May 2015, 168 invocations were delivered by volunteers invited by the Board, and nearly all the invocations were overtly Christian.

Between May 2014 and July 2015, a number of humanists, atheists, and agnostics requested the opportunity to deliver a secular invocation at one of the Board’s meetings. The Board rebuffed each request, stating that a secular invocation would necessarily “disrespect . . . the beliefs of our faith-based community.” Then, on July 7, 2015, the Board adopted a formal policy limiting invocations to “traditional faith-based” content.

On the same day, we filed suit on behalf of organizations and individuals denied the opportunity to deliver secular invocations. Joined by the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we argued that the policy adopted by the Board violates the U.S. and Florida Constitutions, both of which prohibit the Board from discriminating against our clients on the basis of their beliefs. In particular, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Greece v. Galloway makes clear that local governments must “maintain[ ] a policy of nondiscrimination” in deciding who may present invocations, and that the relevant policies or practices must not “reflect an aversion or bias . . . against minority faiths.” By turning away humanists, atheists, and agnostics, the Board violated this clear command. The case is currently in the discovery process.