Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Florida county must pay $490K

Vol. 37 No. 02 March 2020
David Williamson                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Brevard County, Fla., must pay nearly half a million dollars in legal fees and damages after losing a case to FFRF and others.

The Brevard County Commission refused to allow atheists, including FFRF Member David Williamson, to give an invocation at the start of commission meetings, but two federal courts found that the policy violated the First Amendment by discriminating in favor of Christianity. To settle the case, the county agreed to pay damages and legal fees totaling $490,000.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 8, 2019, unanimously ruled in Williamson v. Brevard County that the commissioners’ policy of using religious beliefs to determine who can offer invocations at public meetings is unconstitutional, discriminatory and a violation of religious freedom. The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida on behalf of several nontheists whom commissioners have barred from offering invocations. (Williamson is founder of FFRF’s chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community.)

The settlement includes paying the groups and individuals who sued the county $60,000 in compensatory damages and paying the plaintiffs $430,000 to cover their attorney and litigation expenses. Brevard County has an insurance trust which will likely handle the bulk payment. Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county will pay a $50,000 deductible from its insurance coverage and must also pay $76,961 for outside attorneys the county used on this case, which was not covered by insurance.