The City Commission of Pompano Beach, Fla., recently adopted a resolution to severely restrict who is allowed to give invocations before its meetings, limiting the pool to religious speakers only.
Under the new policy, the "invocation speaker" must be chosen from " 'churches,' 'congregations,' or other religious assemblies in the annual Yellow Pages" and "religious congregations with an established presence in the local community." It also calls for the city clerk to determine a congregation's "authenticity" by examining its tax-exempt status.
The change came in response to a request to give an invocation from Chaz Stevens, a self-described "minion of Satan." Stevens previously made news when he put up a Festivus pole created from Pabst Blue Ribbon cans to celebrate the fictional holiday alongside other holiday displays in the Florida State Capitol.
"This resolution flies in the face of the Supreme Court decision that allows these invocations in the first place," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter sent today. He noted that in that case, Greece v. Galloway, the court took note that the town of Greece "at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver," and that its leaders maintained that anyone, "including an atheist," could give an invocation.
Under this case, Pompano Beach's policy is "blatantly discriminatory," charged Seidel.
Seidel pointed the commission to FFRF's recently filed lawsuit against Brevard County, Fla., over that county's exclusion of atheists from invocations. FFRF, with the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, filed suit on behalf of an FFRF chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, and others who have been denied the ability to give an invocation at Brevard County Board meetings.
FFRF asks Pompano Beach to revise its policy to ensure that people of any or no religion are allowed to give invocations.
FFRF is a nationwide state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members, including 1,100 in Florida.