“The defense of science and reason is the great imperative of our time”
The Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) is a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit organization focused on the separation of state and church and building a thriving secular community in the Greater Orlando area. We have monthly educational meetings at the University Club in Winter Park along with several other regular events. Find some of those on Facebook. All are on Meetup We hope to see you at an event soon!
Our Vision: Secular local government which neither promotes nor denigrates any religion.
Our Mission: To be an effective advocate for state/church separation by uniting local freethinkers in practical activism.
CFFC has no membership dues (yet), but we do have many expenses to keep the organization running. If you share our values and would like to contribute financially, click on the button below or Click Here.
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July 9, 2019
11th Circuit Appeals Court Says Brevard Commissioners Cannot Discriminate
Melbourne, FL – The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled that the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners’ practice of using religious beliefs to determine who can offer invocations at public meetings is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and a violation of religious freedom.
The ruling came in the case Williamson v. Brevard County, which was filed on behalf of the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), other local organizations, and several non-theists whom commissioners barred from offering invocations since 2014. The case was brought by attorneys for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“We are pleased a second court has agreed that religious discrimination by the Brevard County Commission is unconstitutional and must stop. Our hope is that a third court is not needed to reaffirm our rights.” said David Williamson, a plaintiff in the case.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the CFFC, the Humanist Community of the Space Coast, the Space Coast Freethought Society, and some of their members. The plaintiffs asserted that the Commission’s rejection of atheists, Humanists, and other non-theists who sought to deliver solemnizing messages at the beginning of commission meetings violated the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in September 2017 agreed with the plaintiffs that the commissioners’ practice of excluding nontheists violated the U.S. Constitution. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed today that the commissioners’ practice was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Since a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the CFFC has offered nearly 80 non-theistic invocations at city, town, and county government meetings across Central Florida. Brevard County was the only government body that rejected CFFC’s requests for inclusion in the process.
Of the decision, Keith Becher, a plaintiff in the case, said, “As atheists, Humanists, and non-believers we pride ourselves on being an integral part of the Space Coast community and expect to have the same opportunities everyone else has. I am pleased the Appeals Court agreed with the District Court in upholding that Brevard County's invocation practice is unconstitutional.”
Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser, who is lead counsel in the case, said: “Brevard County Commissioners were using religion as the basis for discrimination by allowing only people of preferred faiths to offer invocations. Religious minorities and nonbelievers are equal members of society and they must be treated equally by their elected officials. The court’s decision today made clear that no one should be excluded from civic affairs because of their beliefs about God.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said: “We’re delighted the appeals court has asserted that such blatant discrimination against nontheists cannot stand. Governmental bodies that open their meetings with invocations must not turn believers into insiders, and nonbelievers into outsiders, by excluding dissenting points of view.”
Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Daniel Mach said: “There should never be a religious litmus test for participation in local government meetings. The Brevard County Commissioners have been playing favorites with faith, and we’re pleased that, once again, the courts have told them that enough is enough.”
The lawsuit is being litigated for FFRF by Legal Director Rebecca S. Markert and Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel; Americans United by Luchenitser, Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Legal Fellow Alison Tanner; for the ACLU of Florida by Daniel Tilley; and for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief by Daniel Mach.
January 30, 2019
City of Winter Garden Continues Discriminatory Invocation Practice
Winter Garden, FL – The Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), a local chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation, will present a petition to the Winter Garden City Commission on May 9, 2019 formally asking the Commission yet again to fix or eliminate their invocation policy. The petition is signed by Winter Garden and Central Florida residents and supporters from around the country.
Since the Commission passed the current invocation policy in March 2015, the City has repeatedly been made aware of the exclusion of some Winter Garden residents from the invocation process. The City has shown absolutely no interest in recognizing much less correcting the discriminatory aspects of the policy.
May 9, 2019 will be exactly five years since Joseph Richardson, a Winter Garden resident, requested an opportunity to conduct an invocation and five years since the Supreme Court’s decision in Greece v. Galloway (2014). The Court has allowed municipalities to have invocations to open their meetings so long as the process is non-discriminatory and allows “a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist” to give the invocation.
Mr. Richardson, who sits on the Board of Directors of the CFFC, has not been allowed to offer an invocation while others have been invited as many as four times. In addition, invocators not on the City’s official roster have been invited while the Commission consistently passes over Mr. Richardson. Other residents have been banned from being considered due to their lack of affiliation with a 501(c)(3) organization.
The policy has resulted in 97% of the invocations being offered by Protestant Christians even though the policy states the City “will make reasonable efforts to invite, locate, and welcome individuals with a diversity of viewpoints”.
“All we ask is for the City to treat every citizen equally under the law as the Supreme Court has ordered,” said Richardson. “After so much time has passed, it is obvious to me that the policy does not meet the criteria set down by the Court and it needs to be changed.”
Timeline of events:
May 5, 2014 - The Court hands down Greece v. Galloway permitting sectarian prayers at local legislative meetings and requiring the process be non-discriminatory.
May 9, 2014 – Joseph Richardson requests to offer an invocation
September 5, 2014 – Invocations discontinued and moment of silence put in place
March 12, 2015 (immediately after city elections) – Resolution passed reinstating invocations. Link to the agenda with the resolution (p. 57) here.
February 25, 2016 – 501(c)(3) restriction added to policy. Link to the agenda with the resolution (p. 48) here.
October 2016 – Began speaking at City Commission Meetings to ask the City to reconsider their practices.
April 2018 – Petition started asking the City to remove discriminatory aspects of the invocation policy and practice.
May 9, 2019 – Petition will be presented to the City for consideration.
Link to public comments by Mr. Richardson since October 2016.
Link to invocations Mr. Richardson has offered in other Central Florida municipalities.
September 4, 2018
City of Kissimmee to Honor the Work of the Central Florida Freethought
Community and ACLU of Florida and ACLU of Central Florida
Kissimmee, FL – The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), the ACLU of Florida and its Central Chapter are to be honored by proclamation at Tuesday’s City of Kissimmee Commission Meeting at 6 PM Tuesday (101 Church St, Kissimmee, FL 34741). This is in response to complaints from the organizations that prompted the city to revise its prayer proclamation last month.
The groups will also conduct a presentation for the Commission on the importance of the Establishment Clause and the separation between state and church.
In August, the city proclaimed “40 days of celebration of life, love and family” and announced a call to prayer event for August 21. The proclamation, the ceremony at the Commission Meeting, and the photos released for the event had the appearance of city sponsorship and endorsement. After complaints were received, the city said it was not their intention and that the “city officials’ actions and comments were interpreted as promoting a religious message and advancing religion over nonreligion.” The city also properly distanced itself from the prayer event in a city-owned park, saying that it is not a sponsor and has not used city resources to promote one religion over another.
“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to work with our parent organization the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU of Florida and Central Florida to highlight the concerns expressed by the residents of Kissimmee,” said CFFC Director David Williamson. “If the citizens are to have freedom OF religion, their government must be free FROM religion.”
October 1, 2017
Federal Court Says Brevard Commissioners Cannot Discriminate Against Atheists
Orlando/Melbourne, FL – A federal court late last night struck down the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners’ exclusionary practice of discrimination against the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), whose members have offered to give opening invocations at commission meetings.
In its ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida said a local governing body cannot limit its invocation speakers to members of theistic communities.
“County commissioners are the elected officials who are closest to the people of Brevard. They failed to adequately represent Brevard’s pluralistic community by voting three times, unanimously, to codify religious discrimination against atheists. Now, we learned that the Court agrees.” said David Williamson, a plaintiff in the case.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the CFFC, the Humanist Community of the Space Coast, the Space Coast Freethought Society, and some of their members. The groups asserted in the case that the Commission’s rejection of atheists, humanists, and other non-theists who sought to deliver solemnizing messages at the beginning of commission meetings violated the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.
Since a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the CFFC has offered more than fifty invocations at city, town, and county government meetings across the region. Brevard County was the only government body that rejected CFFC’s requests for inclusion in the process.
“ ‘[T]he great promise of the Establishment Clause is that religion will not operate as an instrument of division in our nation,’ ” the court wrote (quoting another case). “Regrettably, religion has become such an instrument in Brevard County. The County defines rights and opportunities of its citizens to participate in the ceremonial pre-meeting invocation during the County Board’s regular meetings based on the citizens’ religious beliefs.... [T]he County’s policy and practice violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Florida Constitution.”
Of the decision, Keith Becher, a plaintiff in the case, said, "I am delighted the ruling favors equality. Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists and those from minority religions are an integral part of this community. We strive to be active participants and relish the opportunity to invoke the higher ideals that everyone in our community shares."
“We’re delighted such blatant discrimination against nonreligious citizens has been struck down,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, CFFC’s parent organization. “Governmental bodies that open their meetings with invocations must not turn believers into insiders, and nonbelievers into outsiders, by excluding dissenting points of view.”
“It is unconstitutional for any governing body to discriminate against people who don’t believe in God,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and lead counsel in the case. “Yet that is exactly what Brevard County did through its invocation policy. We’re pleased that the Court put an end to the County’s discriminatory practice.”
The lawsuit has been litigated by Luchenitser and Bradley Girard of Americans United; Rebecca S. Markert and Andrew L. Seidel of FFRF; Nancy Abudu and Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida; and Daniel Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
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“One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.”
— Thomas Paine