Courts Declare Discrimination Against Non-Theists Unconstitutional

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For Immediate Release

Contact: Amy Couch, 202-238-9088, acouch@americanhumanist.org

(Washington, D.C., October 3, 2017)—A federal court struck down a Florida county’s practice of denying atheists, humanists, and other non-theists the opportunity to offer invocations at the start of the county commission’s meetings. Two Humanist Society Celebrants, Keith Becher and David Williamson, were plaintiffs in the case.

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled the policy of Brevard County’s Board of County Commissioners to allow only monotheistic, overwhelmingly Christian invocations, violated both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions – namely by the government showing favoritism for certain faiths.

“‘[T]he great promise of the Establishment Clause is that religion will not operate as an instrument of division in our nation,’” the court wrote (quoting another case)…. The County defines the rights and opportunities of its citizens to participate in the ceremonial pre-meeting invocation during the County Board’s regular meetings based on the citizens’ religious beliefs. …[T]he County’s policy and practice violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Florida Constitution.”

Williamson explained to AU’s Church & State magazine that humanist invocations are inclusive of everyone, celebrate the diversity of their communities, and acknowledge that together we can better face the challenges that come our way. “Humanistic values are shared by nearly everyone in attendance – whether they admit it or not.”

Keith Becher is the leader of the American Humanist Association (AHA) Chapter, The Humanist Community of the Space Coast.  David Williamson is the leader of the AHA affiliate, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. 

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