The mayor of Gillette has asked a judge to dismiss an atheist’s $24 million lawsuit claiming that city leaders suppressed the atheist's religious beliefs by not letting him give enough invocations at public meetings.
Gillette Mayor Shay Lundvall filed a request with the Campbell County District Court in April to dismiss Bruce Williams’ lawsuit against the mayor. Lundvall said that Williams doesn’t give specific facts showing how the mayor had allegedly violated his rights and did not satisfy civil process rules in filing the lawsuit.
Lundvall asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning to dismiss it so that it cannot be brought again. Alternately, Lundvall’s filing says, the court could order Williams to craft a more specific and targeted complaint.
“Plaintiff’s complaint is wholly and completely inadequate,” says Lundvall’s filing. “It fails to identify a cause of action against Mayor Lundvall and does not contain a single allegation of any action taken by him. It should be dismissed.”
The filing also calls Williams' 186-page complaint long and confusing.
Williams on Thursday filed a document opposing Lundvall’s motion to dismiss, saying Williams has named Lundvall in the lawsuit as the city’s leader, but also anonymous or unknown parties, to address actions by city representatives that allegedly compromised his rights.
"I showed Mr. Lundvall as the 1st person" in the list of defendants, wrote Williams, "since I can show that he is in fact the mayor of the city of Gillette and he is the leader of the city Council of Gillette."
"I addressed the City of Gillette," Williams continued, "in order to include non-elected employees of the City and unknown others under the direction of the governing body and the joint decisions by many of those who may have been involved in decision-making and implementing those actions and not just the elected person holding the position of Mayor and city council itself."
A Mockery Of Atheist Beliefs
Williams' original legal complaint alleged that the city suppresses his religion as an atheist by allowing him only one invocation per year at city council meetings, and 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 annually to proportionately represent the number of Wyomingites who are unaffiliated with religion.
"The City refused my request for multiple invocations," claims Williams in his lawsuit, adding that city leaders wouldn't tell him what group was "controlling those that were giving the invocations."
Ultimately, Williams says in the lawsuit, 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, don’t 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 3 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 he gave invocations some Gillette 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," says Williams in his complaint.
He also alleges that the council required him to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Clair McFarland can be reached at: