The subject of who can and cannot give public invocations at town hall meetings and other official government gatherings has long been a contentious one. After all, people usually do not have a whole lot to say when Christian pastors or Jewish rabbis give invocations. Anything outside that is seen as heresy. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the rights of freedom to worship to all, though. It is just that people of the dominant religion often believe that only their prayers matter. However, a federal appeals court has just disabused them of that notion.
According to Reuters, Brevard County, Florida ran afoul of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution when they decided that only representatives of “mainstream” religions — meaning Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — could give the invocation at meetings. Banned from the privilege were atheists, agnostics, secular groups, and other religions that could be considered outside the mainstream. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, speaking for the panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said:
“Brevard County’s haphazard selection process categorically excludes certain faiths – some monotheistic and apparently all polytheistic ones – based on their belief systems.”
He went on to say that the way Brevard County was handing the issue “is unconstitutional and must be rejected.” Judge Marcus even went so far as to point out the Brevard County decision makers who said they would not allow certain faiths to participate — specifically Wiccans, Rastafarians, and polytheistic practitioners. These same people allegedly said they would need to think “long and hard” before considering invocations from Sikhs and other lesser known faiths, including those practiced by Native Americans.
This is a long overdue decision, as the lawsuit has been in the court system since 2015 when it was filed by Central Florida Freethought Community, the Humanist Community of the Space Coast, and the Space Coast Freethought Association.
Featured image via Elvert Barnes/Flickr