The Freedom from Religion Foundation has challenged the City of Pompano Beach's recent resolution that keeps Satanists and atheists from giving invocations and prayers before their commission meetings. In a letter addressed to Mayor Lamar Fisher, the foundation's attorney Andrew Seidel calls the resolution unconstitutional, and a violation of a Supreme Court ruling, as well as discriminatory.
The resolution, which was passed on Tuesday, puts limits on who can give invocations to only established churches found in the Yellow Pages, certified clergy and the Internal Revenue Service's definition of a nonprofit group. The resolution was prompted, in part, over atheist activist Chaz Stevens, who requested a spot to perform a Satanic invocation at a future commission meeting two months ago.
Stevens was inspired to put in a request for a Satanic invocation in every city throughout the state after an incident last year when commissioners and the mayor in Lake Worth walked out on an atheist invocation before one of their meetings.
In reaction to the controversy stirred up over the walkout, Stevens requested and was granted a chance to give an invocation of his own in the City of Lake Worth. He then began a plan to do the same in every city, including Pompano Beach.
But Stevens never got a chance to give his invocation after Lake Worth did away with all invocations and prayers of any kind at their meetings. And this was the point the entire time.
He called his idea to do a Satanic invocation across Florida "Satan or Silence," in hopes that every city would do what Lake Worth did. Delray Beach also went a similar route after Stevens' request, and substituted invocations with a moment of silence before every meeting.
"The idea here is to make it so utterly fucking ridiculous," Stevens told New Times. "As a Satanic atheist, it's my job to mock, ridicule, and deride the absurdity of having anyone give an invocation to any god at all."
When Pompano Beach received Stevens' request, they were given the choice to accept or go the route of Lake Worth and Delray. But the measure fell through and so, instead of a moment of silence or no invocation at all, Pompano Beach decided to severely restrict who gets to make the invocations.
But a 2014 Supreme Court ruling says that a city cannot at any point deny an opportunity for anyone, including atheists, to give a prayer or invocation before town meetings.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"Pompano Beach's policy is blatantly discriminatory and would likely exclude new religions, minority religions, poor religions, and the non-religious," says Seidel in his letter.
The letter goes on to challenge the city to either stop their discriminatory practice, or get rid of invocations altogether.
Seidel concludes the letter by pointing out that Brevard County made a similar resolution, and is now facing a legal battle in federal court in a lawsuit filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU.
The FFRF has also requested the City of Pompano Beach to respond in a letter what their next move is.