Williamson v. Brevard County (U.S.C.A. 11th Circuit, 2018)

Separation of Church & State
Free Exercise of Religion
Discrimination

11th Circuit Court of Appeals ,

Separation of Church & State
Free Exercise of Religion
Discrimination

At issue in this case is the constitutionality of a county commission policy prohibiting non-theists from offering the opening prayer at commission meetings. A lower ruled that the policy violated the Establishment Clause to the First Amendment. ADL filed a brief on behalf of a diverse group of religious and civil rights organizations. The brief asserts that policy is unconstitutional for four reasons. First, it plainly violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s non-discrimination requirement for legislative prayer. Second, Court precedent also specifies that history alone cannot justify violations of the Establishment Clause. Third, the commission’s understanding of history is misinformed because there is abundant contemporaneous evidence of the Founders’ disapproval of denominational discrimination. And fourth, although the commission implicitly claims that the policy is constitutional because there is no historical record of non-theists offering prayers before Congress or other legislative bodies, there also is no record of other minority faiths, including Jews, Hindus and Muslims, offering such prayers. So taken to its logical conclusion, the commission’s argument also would permit discrimination against such faiths.