Florida county agrees to let atheists give invocations, pays $490k in legal settlement

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Members of the Brevard County Board of Commissioners pray as Pastor Tom Porter delivers the invocation at their budget hearing meeting, Sept. 26, 2017. | Facebook/BrevardCountyGovernment

After a lawsuit that cost a Florida county nearly half a million dollars, atheists will now be able to open government meetings by praying … to no one.

The Brevard County Board of Commissioners recently settled with a group of plaintiffs who had been barred from giving invocations at meetings. Those plaintiffs will now be allowed to give invocations, Americans United for Separation of Church & State has announced.

The county must pay $430,000 in court costs and legal fees, as well as $60,000 in damages to the plaintiffs, according to a report by the Christian Post.

“No one should be excluded from participating in local government because of their beliefs about religion,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, in a statement released Feb. 11.

In 2014, David Williamson of the Central Florida Freethought Community and other leaders asked to do an invocation at the start of the Brevard County Commissioners meeting. In response, Brevard Commissioners unanimously OK’d a measure banning atheist invocations at their public meetings.

Brevard County Chair Mary Bolin Lewis told Williamson that he could offer an atheist invocation during the public comments section of the meeting.

“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,” wrote Lewis at the time.

“The invocation is also meant to lend gravity to the occasion, to reflect values long part of the county’s heritage, and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens in Brevard County.”

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