Appellate court hears case over nontheist exclusion Tuesday

1DavidWilliamson

Oral arguments at the appellate level are being heard Tuesday, March 12, morning over Brevard County’s discriminatory practice barring invocations by nonreligious citizens.

The Williamson v. Brevard County lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in September 2017 struck down the practice of the Brevard County, Fla., Board of County Commissioners’ barring nontheists from giving meeting invocations

“The great promise of the Establishment Clause is that religion will not operate as an instrument of division in our nation,” the court stated, quoting another recent decision. “Regrettably, religion has become such an instrument in Brevard County.”

That ruling is being appealed by the Brevard County board. Last April, the three national secular organizations confidently filed their brief defending the ruling before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief, primarily written by Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and AU Steven Gey Legal Fellow Alison Tanner, noted: “The district court correctly held that Brevard County’s discriminatory policy for selecting invocation-speakers violates the U.S. and Florida Constitutions in numerous ways.” The brief concluded, “This court should affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs on the issue of discrimination in the selection of invocation-speakers.”

On Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. local time, Luchenitser will argue the plaintiffs’ case at the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building located at 99 N.E. 4th St. in Miami.

“We’re confident the 11th Circuit will agree that nontheistic citizens shouldn’t be discriminated against,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We have the law and the Constitution on our side.”

The plaintiffs in the case include the Central Florida Freethought Community (a chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation) and its chair David Williamson (pictured); the Space Coast Freethought Association and its president Chase Hansel; the Humanist Community of the Space Coast and its president Keith Becher; and Brevard County resident Ronald Gordon.

The lawsuit is being litigated by Rebecca S. Markert and Andrew L. Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation; Luchenitser, Tanner and Richard B. Katskee of Americans United; Nancy Abudu and Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida; and Daniel Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-based national organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters all around the country, including 1,500-plus members and a chapter in Florida.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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