- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2019

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a Florida county commission violated the Constitution by limiting its invocation speakers to believers in certain faiths.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Brevard County, Florida, favored Christians and discriminated against Deists and Wiccans who wanted to deliver a prayer.

“Brevard County has selected invocation speakers in a way that favors certain monotheistic religions and categorically excludes from consideration other religions solely based on their belief systems,” the three-judge panel ruled.

The court said that out of 195 invocations over a six-year period, only seven were given by non-Christians. Out of those seven, six were administered by Jewish Rabbis and one by an officer from the City of Melbourne.

“Religious minorities and nonbelievers are equal members of society and they must be treated equally by their elected officials,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, a lawyer with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the challengers. “The court’s decision today made clear that no one should be excluded from civic affairs because of their beliefs about God.”

A number of legislative bodies, including both chambers of Congress, regularly open business with a prayer.

The federal appeals court in D.C. ruled in April the U.S. House of Representatives can exclude secular messages.

Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University, said Monday’s ruling won’t affect Capitol Hill, but he said there could be some conflict that a higher court may need to settle.

“There is an important difference between excluding non-theists and excluding secular messages. But this also suggests the Supreme Court may need to clarify,” Mr. Tuttle said.

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