Williamson v. Brevard County

Court: 11th Circuit
Case Number: No. 17-15769
Decision Date: July 08, 2019
Case Type: First Amendment - Religion
The Eleventh Circuit held that Brevard County's practice of using volunteers for providing invocations at the start of public meetings violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The county practice tended to favor monotheistic religions because speakers were invited for the specific purpose of providing the opening prayer by county staff. Prayers, when they occurred, always referenced a god. The plaintiffs were Secular Humanists which does not believe in theism. In 2014, one of the plaintiffs sent a letter to the county explaining Secular Humanism, noting that a government's prayer must be nondiscriminatory, and requesting an opportunity to offer invocations at the public meetings. The county responded by telling the plaintiff that the proposal would not fit within the purpose and tradition of invocations of the Board of Commissioners.

Eventually, the county adopted a resolution which “adopted a formal policy that allows the traditional faith-based invocation prior to the beginning of the Board's secular business agenda and subsequent ‘secular invocations’ during the Public Comment section of that secular agenda.” The plaintiffs filed suit in federal court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and alleging violations of the First Amendment's Establishment, Free Speech, and Free Exercise Clauses the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and the Equal Protection and Establishment Clauses of the Florida Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on almost every count and this appeal followed. The Eleventh Circuit held that the county could not have a discriminatory selection process and by only allowing secular invocations at a different point of the meeting, the county policy had done so. As a result, the court remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.