Brevard County Commissioners are now facing a federal lawsuit over invocations at their meetings.

Atheists and other secular groups say they had no choice but to sue, after being denied the right to participate in the portion traditionally reserved for faith-based organizations.

Before Brevard County Commissioners begin their meetings an invocation is held.

At Tuesday’s meeting the board got to business as usual but at the end of the meeting, an agenda item about that very thing was on the list.

The board discussed a clarification policy proposed by Commissioner Curt Smith.

“The board wishes to formalize a policy on invocations that is not hostile to faith based religions, and that does not endorse secular humanism, or non-belief of traditional faith based religions, comprised of constituents who believe in God,” said Smith.

For those who do not believe in God, they would be permitted to speak in the public comment section of meetings.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of the policy.

That prompted a post-meeting federal lawsuit led by several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and the Central Florida Freethought Community, claiming the board's policy violates the US and Florida constitutions. 

“The groups are adamant that this is discrimination, and it relegates non-believers to second class citizens.

“To deny anyone the right to participate as equal members of the community that portion of the meeting is abhorrent,” said David Williamson from Central Florida Freethought Community.

Commissioner Smith stood by the board's decision after the meeting wrapped, saying the groups have a right to say what they want, but only in the public comment portion and not the invocation.

“The business of the community is secular, and these folks are admitted secularists, so they can take part in the secular business anytime they wish,” said Smith.

Commissioners voted last fall to re-affirm the current policy of faith-based invocations at the beginning of commission meetings despite previous discrimination claims from the opposing groups.