After legal battle, secular invocation given in Florida
David Williamson, a director and co-founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community (a chapter of FFRF), offered what is believed to be the first-ever secular invocation to open a meeting of Brevard’s Board of County Commissioners.
Williamson’s invocation on Jan. 26 was noteworthy because the board previously had denied him and other nontheists the opportunity to offer secular invocations to open its meetings, while permitting a parade of religious invocations, thus sparking a nearly five-year-long legal battle. The case, in which FFRF was a major participant, ended successfully in February 2020 when commissioners agreed not to discriminate against nonreligious individuals or those who don’t belong to mainstream, monotheistic religions.
Williamson’s remarks reflect on the shared American ideals of public service, democracy, compassion, community and seeking common ground.
“The religious landscape of Brevard includes a fast-growing number of nonreligious people,” stated Williamson. “It is an honor to begin the process of including atheists, humanists and others who claim no religion whatsoever as equal members of the community.”
Williamson was the lead plaintiff in Williamson v. Brevard County, which was filed in 2015 by FFRF, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida. Other plaintiffs included the Central Florida Freethought Community; the Space Coast Freethought Association and its former president, Chase Hansel; the Humanist Community of the Space Coast and its president, Keith Becher; and Brevard County resident Ronald Gordon.
The plaintiffs settled the case last year after the county agreed to implement a July 2019 decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which made clear that government officials must not engage in religious discrimination when selecting people to deliver opening invocations. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay nearly $500,000 in damages and legal fees to plaintiffs.