Florida officials blocked atheists from giving invocations — now they owe almost $500K in damages

A move to block atheists from giving invocations at meetings has proven costly for one county in Florida, where the Brevard County Commissioner’s office will have to pony up $490,000 in penalties, FloridaToday reports. The county only permits clergy members to give the invocation, and two federal courts have found that to be a violation of the First Amendment because it gives preferential treatment to some monotheistic religions.

The county commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on paying damages and legal fees totaling $490,000 to settle the case.

Provisions of the settlement include paying groups and individuals who sued the county $60,000 in compensatory damages and paying the plaintiffs $430,000 to cover attorney fees and litigation costs.

The fees will be covered through an insurance trust that Brevard County has an agreement with.

The controversy stems from 2014, when the commission decided at the time to limit the invocations to faith-based groups, notes Hemant Mehta, writing for Friendly Atheist.

The commission also stipulated that members of The Central Florida Freethought Community could only speak during “public comments” time at the meeting. Spurred by the commission’s refusal to allow atheists to speak, numerous groups and individuals sued the county in U.S. District Court in 2015.

The plaintiffs won that case, along with the ensuing appeal that was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta.

Along with the Freethought Community, the plaintiffs also included the Spacecoast Freethought Association, and The Humanist Community of the Space Coast, and five individuals. They were represented by attorneys from The American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

In accordance with the agreement, Brevard County will be permanently prohibited from continuing the process it used to select invocation speakers because these practices favored speakers from “certain monotheistic religions.”

It won’t, however, be required to allow nontheists to deliver the opening invocations.

Featured image via screen grab/Brevard Times

Megan Hamilton

Megan Hamilton has traveled extensively throughout the Southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. A lifelong atheist, these travels have informed her political views. She currently lives in a remote location with a large herd of cats and four dogs.