Beliefs Politics

Atheists may not pray, Brevard (Fla.) county commissioners say

Close-up of a Florida map.
Closeup of a Florida map.

Photo courtesy of zimmytws via Shutterstock

Close-up of a Florida map.

(RNS) A group of county commissioners in Florida is testing a recent Supreme Court decision by banning atheists from delivering an invocation before local public meetings.

Five members of the Brevard County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday (Aug. 20) against permitting a local atheist from delivering a prayer or invocation before their public meetings. They also voted to limit remarks from nonreligious people to the “public comments” section of their meetings.

In a letter to David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, the board wrote, “The prayer is delivered during the ceremonial portion of the county’s meeting, and typically invokes guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority, a higher authority which a substantial body of Brevard constituents believe to exist.”

Thomas G. Hungar, who argued for the town of Greece, N.Y., speaks to the media after oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6, 2013. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

Thomas G. Hungar, who argued for the town of Greece, N.Y., speaks to the media after oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2013. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

The commissioners’ move may be intended as a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s Town of Greece v. Galloway. In that decision, the court ruled sectarian prayers before public meetings do not violate the Establishment Clause as long as they are open to everyone.

The Central Florida Freethought Community says on its website that it is not a proponent of prayers or invocations before public meetings, but will seek opportunities to give them in order to test the fairness of Greece.  The group has scheduled invocations in five other Florida locations, according to its website.



About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • Thanks Kimberly for this story.

    “…a higher authority which a substantial body of Brevard constituents believe to exist.”

    Sorry, Florida.
    There is no higher authority than “we the people”
    in the United States of America. Or at least that is the objective.

    Islamic countries have Sharia laws and other nonsense
    because they do not allow for separation of church and state.

    If Floridians like the head-chopping, witch burning, honor killing
    societies produced by Theocracies
    it would be wonderful if they would just move there!

    Stories like this at least serve the purpose of getting Atheists out of the closet.
    The time has come to stop quit religion and take up the cause
    Of freedom
    while you are still free to do so!

  • If your cause is freedom, you have some serious work to do. We are all systemically controlled…financialization of our lowest level Maslow hierarchy needs will do that I guess.

    Oh, and war is coming again for which we must send our sons and daughters to defend this “great” land….ya know, cause “they hate us for our freedom”.

    Time for that atheist who wanted to “pray” in Bevard country…as paradoxical as that is…to get busy. ISIL is gonna kill us all any minute.

  • Hey AtheistFacts:

    I saw a news story on yahoo today about how a high school girl was suspended for saying “bless you” in class to a student who had sneezed. The teacher cited a personal rule against “religious speech” in his/her classroom. No doubt the teacher was on if your people.

    But whats your take AtheistJacks? Is it was it hateful religious speech? Was is suspension worthy? Offensive and vile? Or did the teacher just have a cob up his butt, thereby perhaps designating him as a dually protected and oh so special minority?

    Search up “Kendra Turner, Dryden County HS” for the story.

  • Lles,

    We in the US, as well as in the rest of the world, have no real freedom from the corrupt and enslaving political, economical and religious systems (those religions which promote war and politics) of man.

    God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon put an end to ALL of those enslaving systems (Daniel 2:44) and this promise will soon be realized by all meek persons on our planet:

    “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his (God’s) promise and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) 😀 😀 😀

  • @Lles Nats,

    “We are all systemically controlled”

    You cry like a crocodile.

    You complain about the social control over you – but you nurture the Fox News Christian Corporate Oligarchy and argue in favor of its Theocracy which deprives you of your vote.

    You complain about your lack of freedom – but you defend the Theocratic bullies who are ripping down the wall of church and state to deprive you of your choices.

    You complain about irresponsibility – but you nurture and defend the entire philosophy of handing out free ‘get out of jail cards’ under the guise of “Vicarious Redemption” thanks to a primitive snuff story which happened for your personal benefit.

    Beyond delusional.

  • Lies,
    Did the soul of the other student temporarily escape their body thus giving Satan an opportunity to steal it?

    Really, the suspension was too easy and taught her, or the other students nothing, but fear.

    I would have instead made her write a book report on the origins of that saying, and then made her present it to the class, taking the opportunity to make sure they understood how utterly stupid saying that to someone who sneezed really is.

    By the way, you getting ready for your trip? Your day fast approaches comrade!

  • Send me.

    American society is for people who wantconstant protection and the illusion their opinions matter and can even exist under such a blanket of safety.

    A book report for the act of being “stupid”?

    Send me.

  • @Lles nats –

    I don’t know the whole story and neither do you.

    At first glance the teacher was being a jerk. She might not have even been an Atheist. She might have just been a Christian with a chip on her shoulder for some new school policy about taking religion out of all aspects of the classroom.

    The law allows people to say ‘God Bless you’. It is not a problem.

    But we don’t know the whole story.
    Could be a disruptive class and a teacher out of her league.
    Many silly things are forbidden in class room that would be allowed elsewhere – chewing gum – for example.

    But it will go viral anyway – and nobody is paying any attention to the thousands of PUBLIC SCHOOLS in Tennessee, Texas, kentucky and Louisianna which are teaching CREATIONIST RELIGIOUS NONSENSE instead of Science.

    It is one case of ‘no god bless you’ which will obliterate the oceanic tide of religious ignorance & stupidly flowing across the country.

  • Regarding the story, what you say sounds honest. I agree with u. Thanks.

    Of course I have disagreements with what can be taught, for a myriad of reasons…but we can save it for another day. Each side knows that tired dialogue well.


  • Max,

    The only true “theocracy” is God’s kingdom or heavenly government because it comes directly from God, our loving Creator.

    It is not any of man’s governments, even those who claim to be “Christian” or who try to incorporate “religion” into their governments or try to enact religion into human law. Even those governments will be crushed by God’s kingdom.

  • Leave it to Florida. They ok the murder of Treyvon Martin and they join our distorted, dysfunctional Catholic Supreme Court in suppressing free speech, by suppressing expressions of wisdom and hope by those who do not believe as they do.

    They are bluntly contradicting the Constitution of this country. They follow the distorted, biased decisions of the current Catholic Supreme Court that also acts unconstitutionally. And we allow it!

    The people of Florida and this country are left with no choice but to stand against their courts if those courts do not stand against the evil prejudice that parades as religion by the Commissioners of Brevard County.

    Florida is the heart of the South where democracy and our Constitution are most defiled. Florida is the heart of the Republican Party that went South with Richard Nixon and has been increasingly joined there by radicals who falsely claim to be religious and by tea partiers who oppose democracy and government. That is weakness, that is not strength.

    There are those who will demand this issue move all the way to our Catholic Supreme Court. Do not count on that biased, defiant body to defend our Constitution after they have brazenly violated it so often.

    The biggest problem is our Constitution giving federal judges life-time tenure. That was one grave error by the Framers. It should be corrected.

    What is it going to take to return this nation to honesty according to our own Constitution? “We, the people,” the voters, put these corrupt, prejudiced, anti-democracy, anti-Constitution, anti-freedom-of-religion (which includes freedom from religion) thugs in office over and over again.

    This is stark evidence that all so-called praying at any civic venues must be stopped altogether. No god-talk at any government functions. Rid the Congress of its so-called chaplains. Stop Annual Prayer Breakfasts claimed to be “national” or held at any public locations.

    Religion has always contained sick and evil elements. “We, the people” have become very politically sick. People like these anti-democracy, anti-Constitution Commissioners of Brevard County, FL, have returned religion to its frequently demonstrated evil ways. Along that path, the rest of us are allowing them to destroy democracy, to violate our Constitution, and to make evil anything respectable that might pass as religion. It is our fault for not stopping them.

  • But, extremely sadly and dangerously, each side does not heed to correcting the evil “myriad of reasons.”

  • Everyone has a natural right to study, learn, think, and form opinions, even religious opinions, but they have no right to foist them on others as evangelicals too often try to do, as the Brevard County Commissioners are trying to do.

  • That outrageous wrong should be righted. But it is up to the people concerned to stand up and demand amends for violations of their rights. However, look at the ways people vote. We’ve got what we voted for. Laziness and ignorance reign supreme. Laziness and ignorance about one’s natural and constitutional rights makes for the do-nothing and do-evil governments we have at all levels in increasing numbers, city, county, state, and national.

  • Teachers have no right to impose “personal rules.” District and building rules are sufficient. When it becomes personal for a teacher, it is impossible to avoid outrages against the rights of kids as in this instance.

  • One oversight, Max, the U.S. Supreme Court has always been an unchallengeable “higher authority.” That problem would not exist, we would not have the outrages of the current Catholic majority on the present SCOTUS if we eliminated the one mistake of the Framers of our Constitution who gave life tenure to federal judges.

  • “Search up “Kendra Turner, Dryden County HS” for the story.”

    I did this and the only relevant result was this thread. Looks like someone got duped into believing a made up “news story” because they were so desperate to reinforce their persecution complex fantasy that they didn’t bother to fact check or even apply basic logic and reason.

  • @Fran,

    Since you are so certain that Christians keep doing Christianity ‘WRONG’ – why in heaven’s name do you want Christians to run the world? A

    The ONLY CERTAIN THING – from your perspective – is that those Christians will be doing it wrong!
    And that is the best you can hope for!

  • It was a fake story (actually deliberately embellished and exaggerated by the alleged Christian student) making its rounds among the psycho-christian martyrbaiters.

    Lying for the Lord is a common enough practice. As long as you can claim it is on God’s behalf, Christians feel the need to do all sorts of immoral things.

  • I am surprised Todd Starnes didn’t break the story. He loves making up crap to pretend American Christians are being discriminated against.

  • This is a good start! The next step is to ban the athiests from attending the meetings or holding any public office.

    Brevard County sounds like a good place for Christians to settle down! I would consider moving there if I wasn’t housebound due to my fear of gays and athiests.

  • That is the problem with having a religious convocation before a public meeting. It is bound to leave some group out, whether religious and non-religious, usually a minority group.

  • This is a travesty. If atheists decide to finally abandon their foolishness and admit how wrong they were they should be allowed to pray to the one true God.

  • Ronald, when you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, do you realize that you pledge liberty and justice for all? Do you realize that constitutional rights apply to all citizens? To suggest banning atheists from civic business meetings is not only discriminatory, it is a blatant proposal of illegal infringement. That places you but a notch above the Taliban. You are the the darkness that humanity fears.