The City of Gillette has two weeks to respond to a lawsuit alleging it suppressed an atheist's religion by allowing too many Christian invocations at city council meetings.
A spokeswoman for city leaders declined Monday evening to comment to Cowboy State Daily, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
Bruce B. Williams, of Gillette, is asking a Wyoming District Court to award him more than $24 million in damages, in a lawsuit filed late last month.
A Mockery Of My Atheist Beliefs
His legal complaint alleges that the city suppresses his religion as an atheist, by allowing him only one invocation per year at city council meetings, and by conspiring with Christian faith leaders to determine who would perform the invocations.
Williams alleges that with about 24 meetings per year, he should be allowed to perform nearly four invocations each year to represent, proportionately, the number of Wyomingites who are unaffiliated with religion.
"The City refused my request for multiple invocations," said Williams in his lawsuit, adding that city leaders wouldn't tell him what group was "controlling those that were giving the invocations."
Ultimately, Williams said in the suit, he learned that an unincorporated Christian group conducted many invocations. He said the city has been "creating a mockery of my Atheist beliefs through (its) deliberate preference for Christianity," and by either prohibiting or limiting his "worship" as an atheist.
Williams put the word "worship" in quotation marks in his legal complaint.
He insisted on performing at least two invocations per year, and possibly up to five or six if other religious "nones," or unaffiliated groups did not participate in the invocations. He said he's been allowed to perform one invocation per year except when he did two, in 2017 and 2018.
The Pew Research Centers latest survey states that about 26% of Wyoming residents are "unaffiliated" with religion.
Three of those percentage points account for atheists. Agnostics account for another three of the 26 unaffiliated percentage points, and the remaining 20% claim "nothing in particular" as their religious attachment.
About 71% of Wyomingites profess to be Christians, with Mormon (9%) and Jehovah's Witnesses (3%) included in the category, according to the Pew report.
Williams also alleges that for the first three years that he gave invocations some city council members walked out of the room when he was about to give his invocation.
"For these nine years the city has treated my rights like they were nothing but horse manure and I find that very hard to accept considering that in my youth this government of the United States had me go kill people to maintain these rights," said Williams in the complaint.
He also alleges that the city council required him to recite the pledge of allegiance.
In addition to asking for $24,250,000 in public funds as monetary damages, Williams also is asking for the court to order Gillette and its sub-entities not to use any religious organizations "to pick who will give invocations," and rather, to assign invocation rights on a proportional basis to Wyoming residents' professed faiths.
Williams also is asking the court to ensure that no one in the city or its sub entities is given time to vocalize the pledge of allegiance during official business proceedings, until U.S. Congress removes from it the words "under God."
Williams said the court should grant him these requests because the Wyoming Constitution upholds the equal political rights and religious liberty rights of state citizens.