2015 Press Releases

August 13, 2015

Freethinkers Alert Florida Superintendents to
“Dirty Dozen” of State/Church Violations

Florida — With nearly as many state/church violation complaints in Florida over the past 24 months as there are school boards in the state, the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) and its parent organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), have sent a memo to all 67 public school superintendents across the state. The memo includes the 12 most common complaints—the “dirty dozen”—along with detailed explanations and citations to relevant case law.

The memo was sent by FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and CFFC Founder, David Williamson. It was principally researched by FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel and Law Clerk Neal Fitzgerald.

FFRF’s attorneys have written to Florida school districts regarding more than 65 violations in the past two school years. The CFFC joined FFRF in a lawsuit against Orange County Public Schools regarding bible distributions. The memo is intended to “help educate district staff on how to protect students’ rights of conscience by enforcing the Florida Constitution and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

“It is well settled that, as government bodies charged with educating the children of every citizen, public schools may not advance or endorse religion,” the memo explains. In Florida, 24% of all people and 35% of millennials are nonreligious.

Williamson said of the memo, “The rights of our children, especially those of religious minorities, are being neglected far too often. We hope this proactive effort is seen by district and school administrators for exactly what it is; an opportunity for them to better understand and correct violations that may be occurring at their schools with or without their knowledge.”

The state/church violations identified are:

  1. School events, including graduations and athletic events, may not include prayer.

  2. School staff, including teachers and coaches, may not organize, endorse, promote, or participate in prayers with students.  Nor may staff or non-school personnel participate in religious activities of student clubs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

  3. School events, including graduations, should not be held in churches.

  4. Schools may not organize, endorse, promote, or participate in baccalaureate services.

  5. School clubs and athletic teams may not have a “chaplain” or religious counselor.

  6. Schools may not teach religious doctrine, including creationism or intelligent design.

  7. Schools must charge a fair rent to all organizations that lease school property; churches leasing school property must actually pay that rent and can only use school property during non-instructional time rental hours.

  8. Schools may not allow the distribution of bibles or religious literature on school property.

  9. Schools may not force students to stand for or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

  10. Schools may not disallow atheist or non-believer clubs if other non-curricular clubs are allowed, regardless of whether a staff advisor volunteers.

  11. Schools may not allow religious displays on school property, including in classrooms and teachers’ displays.

  12. “Voluntariness” cannot excuse a constitutional violation.

The memo welcomes any questions about the list and offers the schools the assistance of FFRF attorneys in conducting in service training for employees. The memo can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/dirtydozenFL.

July 7, 2015

Brevard County Commissioners Sued
For Religious Discrimination

Brevard County, FL—The Brevard County Board of County Commissioners’ policy of discrimination is based solely on religion and relegates non-believers to second-class status.

Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) is one of several local and national organizations jointly filing suit in federal court today (link below) against Brevard County. The groups assert that the County’s continual rejection of atheists, humanists, and other non-believers who wish to offer a secular invocation before board meetings violates the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.

David Williamson, CFFC founder and co-plaintiff said, “After more than a year of politely asking for equal treatment and being denied we are left with no other option. The Commissioners have not simply ignored our requests, but denied them after public hearings and unanimous votes by the Commissioners. Each time the decisions were justified only by our lack of belief in a god.”

The lawsuit notes that in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that local governments may not discriminate based on religion when choosing who will deliver solemnizing statements to open government meetings. Yet Brevard County is doing exactly that by refusing to allow anyone who does not profess monotheistic beliefs to offer an official invocation.

“Over the last half-century, our country has made great progress—both legally and socially—toward eradicating discrimination and meeting the goal of equality for all, which lies at the heart of our Constitution,” asserts the lawsuit. “Discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, and (more recently) sexual orientation has become prohibited or disfavored. Nevertheless, in Brevard County’s eyes, people who do not believe in God remain a disfavored minority against whom it is acceptable to discriminate.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Central Florida Freethought Community, its chair David Williamson, the Space Coast Freethought Association, its president Chase Hansel, the Humanist Community of the Space Coast, its president Keith Becher, and Brevard resident Ronald Gordon.

“Brevard County’s invocation policy blatantly discriminates against people who do not believe in God,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United and lead counsel in the case. “Such rank discrimination is plainly unconstitutional.”

ACLU of Florida Legal Director Nancy G. Abudu said, “If a government decides to have a forum that is open for public voices, then it must make it open to all voices—they don’t get to pick and choose. When the Board of County Commissioners blocks one group from having their voices heard, they are essentially saying to these citizens that their beliefs make them unwelcome in their own community. It’s unfair, discriminatory, and unconstitutional.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said: “The framers of our entirely secular and godless Constitution did not find it necessary to pray during the four months the Constitutional Convention met. Why then should it be necessary for county commissioners to pray over liquor licenses, variances and other lesser matters? But if religious citizens are permitted to open county board meetings with invocations, then secular invocations must also be permitted” 

The case is being litigated by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Americans United Legal Fellow Joshua Hoffer; Rebecca S. Markert and Andrew L. Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation; Abudu and Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida; and Daniel Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. 

The previous four years of invocations have been cataloged and graphed at: http://tinyurl.com/BrevardInvocations

4 January 2015

Freethinkers Help Bring Florida Closer to
"Liberty and Justice for All”

Sanford, FL—The Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) is proud to stand with the same sex couples and their families who will claim the right of marriage for all Floridians this week. Courts have continuously ruled that our civil rights cannot be revoked by majority vote and on January 6th marriage equality will come to Florida at long last.

Beginning at 8:00 AM on Tuesday, CFFC Founder, David Williamson, will provide free non-religious wedding ceremonies to same sex couples outside the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford.

“Marriage equality is a critically important state/church separation issue and we are fortunate the majority of Americans, religious and non-religious, now stand in support of liberty and justice for all.” Williamson continued, “Tens of thousands of people’s lives will be changed for the better on Tuesday and not one religious person’s civil rights will be violated.”

Williamson, who became a Humanist Celebrant in 2014, has the endorsement of the Humanist Society, an adjunct organization of the American Humanist Association and is considered “ordained clergy” under Florida Law permitting him to conduct weddings and sign marriage licenses.