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Atheists of FL v Lakeland

Atheists of FL v Lakeland

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Published by: religionclause on Feb 24, 2012
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UNITED
STATES
DISTRICTCOURT
MIDDLE
DISTRICT
OF
FLORIDA
TAMPA
DIVISION
ATHEISTS
OF
FLORIDA,
INC.,
and
ELLENBETHWACHS,
Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY
OF
LAKELAND,
Florida
and
MAYORGOW
FIELDS,
Defendants.
CaseNo.
8:10-cv-1538-T-17-MAP
ORDERONMOTIONS
FOR
SUMMARY
JUDGMENT
ThiscauseisbeforetheCourtonDefendantGowFields'MotionforSummaryJudgment
(Dkt.30),DefendantCity
of
Lakeland'sMotionforSummaryJudgment(Dkt.34),PlaintiffsAtheists
of
Florida,Inc.andEllenbethWachs'MotionforSummaryJudgment(Dkt.46),andthe
responsesthereto(Docs.49,51,
52).
Forthereasonssetforthbelow,Defendants'Motionsfor
SummaryJudgmentare
GRANTED
andPlaintiffs'MotionforSummaryJudgmentis
DENIED.
PROCEDURAL
HISTORY
Plaintiffs,Atheists
of
Florida,Inc.andEllenbethWachs(hereinafter"Plaintiffs"),filedtheirFirstAmendedVerifiedComplaintonAugust18,2010,challengingDefendants,City
of
LakelandandMayorGowFields'(hereinaftercollectivelyreferredtoas"City"or
"Defendants"),practice
of
allowingreligiousministerstoperforminvocationsbeforeeach
meeting
of
theLakelandCityCommission.Atheists
of
Floridaisanon-profitorganizationthat
"seeksfreedom
of
andfromreligion[and]equaltreatmentunderthelaw."(Dkt.10,1(15).
1
Case 8:10-cv-01538-EAK-MAP Document 54 Filed 02/22/12 Page 1 of 38 PageID 4623
 
PlaintiffEllenbethWachsistheDirector
of
theLakelandChapter
of
theAtheists
of
Florida.Plaintiffsassertviolations
of
42U.S.C.§1983withregardtotheEstablishmentClause(CountI),theEqualProtectionClause(CountIII),andtheFreedom
of
SpeechClause(CountIV)
of
the
UnitedStatesConstitution,
and
also
setout
a
claimundertheEstablishmentClause
of
the
Florida
Constitution(CountII).PlaintiffsallegethattheCitydirectsandcontrolsthe"content
of
prayers"throughtheselectionprocessandthatthosecitizensattendingCityCommission
meetings"areeffectivelyforcedtostandandbowtheirheadsandeitheracknowledgeand
expressapproval
of
theprayers,orbesingledout."(Dkt.10,11148).Plaintiffsseekdeclaratory
reliefpronouncingtheLakelandCityCommission'sinvocationpracticeunconstitutional,
injunctivereliefpreventingDefendantsfromcontinuingthepractice,nominalmoneydamages,andattorney'sfeespursuantto42U.S.C.§1988.InanorderdatedMarch15,2011,thisCourt
grantedDefendants'MotiontoDismisswithregardtoCountsIIIandIV
of
thecomplaint,
leavingonlyCountsIandIIforresolutionhere.
Atheists
ofFla.,
Inc.
v.City
of
Lakeland,
779F.
Supp.2d1330,1332(M.D.Fla.2011).Afterextensivediscovery,thepartiessubmittedthe
instantcross-motionsforsummaryjudgment.
STATEMENT
OF
FACTS
Formanyyears,theLakelandCityCommissionhasbeguneach
of
itsbi-monthly
meetingswith
a
prayer
invocation.1
Plaintiffs
have
attendedthese
meetings
in
the
past
and
viewedthemovertheInternet;theythusclaimtohavebeensubjectedtounwelcomeendorsement
of
religion"withgovernmentimprimatur."(Dkt.
10,121).
From1980until1995,invocationspeakerswereinvitedtoCommissionmeetingsby
CarolHoffman("Hoffman"),anadministrativeemployeewhoworkedintheoffice
of
theCity
1
Though
itis
unclear
exactly
when
the
practice
of
openingLakelandCityCommission
meetings
with
prayer
and
invocationbegan,theminutestotheJune19,
1951
meetingincludemention
of
aninvocation.(KoosAff.Ex.2).
Case 8:10-cv-01538-EAK-MAP Document 54 Filed 02/22/12 Page 2 of 38 PageID 4624
 
Manager
from
1975
to1995.(Hoffman
Dep.
7:6-13).Hoffmanscheduledinvocationspeakers
byreferencing"alistfromthepriorsecretarytothemayor,"butexactly
how
herlistoriginatedis
unclear.
(HoffmanDep.18:1-5).ThoughHoffman'slistwaslimitedtoplaces
of
worshipwith
aLakelandaddress,sheattemptedtovarythereligiousdenominationsinvitedtogivethe
invocation:indeed,"everycommissionmeeting[shewould]haveadifferentdenomination"offertheinvocation.(HoffmanDep.22:7-11).
Hoffman'sdepositiontestimonyindicatesthat,duringthetwenty-yearperiodinwhich
sheorganizedinvocationspeakers,sheinvitedmostlyChristianreligiousleaders,butalso
"[h]ad
onepastorfromtheUniversalUnitarianChurch."(HoffmanDep.16:10-14).Hoffmanalso
indicatedthataJewishreligiousleaderfromTempleEmanuelgavetheinvocationatvariouspointsthroughoutthe1980s,butthat"therecameatimewhenheretired
...
[a]nd
theygota
new
rabbi
[who]...
forwhatever
reason...
didnotwanttodoit"andwasthereforetaken
"off
the
list."(HoffmanDep.23:25-24:16).Theevidencecorroboratesthisaccount:CityCommissionmeetingminutesfrom1979through1985showthatRabbiMordecai
Levy
of
TempleEmanuel
providedtheinvocationatfourteendifferentCommissionmeetingsbetween1979and1985.
TheCitycontinuedtofollowthesamepracticefollowingHoffman'sretirement.For
example,fromOctober2003toOctober2005,CherGill("Gill"),anadministrativeassistantin
theCityManager'soffice,wasresponsibleforschedulinginvocationspeakers.Gill's
predecessor,awomannamed"Joy,"instructedGillastohowtoscheduleinvocationspeakers,
tellingherto"pickitupfrom
[where
Joyhadstopped]anddoitonafairrotationbasis."(GillDep.12:1-16:19).JoyinstructedGilltomakesurethateachspeakerwasfrom"withinthecity
limits,"(GillDep.25:20-26:25),andGillusedtherotatinglist
of
denominationsshehad
receivedfromJoytoselecteachspeaker:whenitwasagivendenomination's
Case 8:10-cv-01538-EAK-MAP Document 54 Filed 02/22/12 Page 3 of 38 PageID 4625

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