By now all should be familiar with Jessica Ahlquist, the 16 y/o student in R.I. who took her school to court to defend the U.S. Constitution. She received (and deservedly so) a lot of media attention, but she's not alone. Students across the country are demanding that their centers of public education adhere to the spirit and letter of the Establishment Clause.
Some of you may also be familiar with my friend, Steven Hewett, the Bronze Star recipient and Afghanistan War vet who challenged the city of King, NC over their flying the "Christian Flag" at their Veterans Memorial. See Steven's Facebook page here. A documentary (2 hours, worth every minute) about his battle with the Christian Taliban was made, "In God We Trust" it's on YouTube.
I'll be attending Rock Beyond Belief at Ft. Bragg tomorrow, Saturday the 31st of March; with Steven and others from our MeetUp Group "FACT", and hope to meet another American Atheist Hero, John Kieffer.
He's on his way to the Ft. Bragg Rally, but he had a slight delay, speaking of American Theist Villians… (From Justin Griffith's Blog)
Arrested for Not Praying!
...Well, John is driving back up to Fort Bragg for Saturday’s groundbreaking atheist festival. But he has one thing to do before he can be on his way. He has to go to court on Friday for another hearing for… not praying at a Polk County, FL school board meeting.
Atheist of Florida President John Kieffer was arrested on charges related to his nonparticipation in a Christian prayer ritual conducted BEFORE a Polk County School Board meeting was called to order. His next court date is tomorrow, and the prosecutors have something sneaky up their sleeves. Rather than the defense filing it, the prosecutors are requesting a motion to get certain evidence suppressed from the official trial.
Probably this evidence:
This is what he was arrested for. Taking pictures during the prayer (which they started doing before the session was called to order, so as not to be sued. Sneaky tactics seem quite common here.)
‘Highlights’ from the article:
John faces up to 1 year and 4 months in prison if convicted on all the charges. His trial is set for April 23-26, 2012.Clerk of Courts, Polk County wrote:
FL Statute … Description—
843.02 … RESISTING/OBSTRUCTING OFFICER W/OUT VIOLENCE (1st degree misdemeanor; $1000 max. fine; term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year)
877.03 … DISORDERLY CONDUCT (2nd degree misdemeanor; $500 max. fine; term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days)
871.01 … DISTURBING SCHOOL, RELIGIOUS, OR LAWFUL ASSEMBLY* (2nd degree misdemeanor; $500 max. fine; term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days)—* FL Statute 871.01 states: “Whoever willfully interrupts or disturbs any school or any assembly of people met for the worship of God or for any lawful purpose commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
I’m excited to shake this hero’s hand on Saturday. Please come out to Fort Bragg, foxhole atheists are fighting for your rights, sometimes well into retirement. Come stand with us at Fort Bragg’s atheist festival – the first time atheists will be allowed to meet on post. Civilians are welcome, and bring the kids – camp quest has some awesome stuff planned. ~ Justin Griffith.
More Information From Atheists of Florida:
22 February 2011
Bartow, Fla. – In front of a packed audience, Atheists of Florida officers, John Kieffer, President, and EllenBeth Wachs, Vice-President, were ejected from the Polk County School Board meeting auditorium Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 2011, by City of Bartow police officers. Kieffer was arrested and Wachs was given a verbal trespass warning. Kieffer and Wachs had been taking photos and speaking to each other in the front area of the room when a local area pastor stepped up to conduct a Christian prayer prior to the official start of the school board meeting.
Why prior to the meeting?
The practice of conducting the prayer ritual just prior to calling the meeting to order resulted from a letter to the school board from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). They asserted that the school board's Christian prayer rituals conducted during meetings was unconstitutional and that continuing the practice would place the board at risk of a lawsuit. In order to avoid an expensive court battle, the school board adopted a new protocol in an attempt to continue sectarian prayers by having them performed just before the official start of the meeting. This tactic allowed the meeting to appear, in practice, to start with a Christian prayer while simultaneously maintaining that "technically" the meeting had not yet officially started. The first of such pre-board meeting prayer rituals occurred on February 8, 2011. Tuesday (2/22/2011) represented the board's second time conducting such pre-meeting prayer ritual.
With the audience seated and board members and staff positioned at their official seats at the dais and without calling the meeting to order, the chair of the school board, Kay Fields, invited a pastor, Alex Harper (who is incidentally her own church pastor), to the speaker’s podium, introduced him and ordered everyone in the room to stand for prayer. During this prayer ritual, Wachs and Kieffer continued their conversation, already in progress, and took photos of board members, the pastor and of each other.
As Wachs explained, “Go to any meeting and people are milling about and talking prior to the meeting. They scripted a drama and I was not an actor in it, and they got mad. They forgot to include the role of the atheists.”
Early false reports:
Though initial reports indicated that Kieffer had made a loud outburst during the prayer, Wachs said that at no time did either of them address anyone in the meeting area except each other and mostly as adjustments to the arrangement of the photos being taken. “Mr. Kieffer did not have any sort of outburst to anyone and our comments were only to each other in a normal speaking voice,” she clarified.
However, when the prayer ended, it was school board member, Frank O'Reilly, who verbally attacked Kieffer. O’Reilly scolded Kieffer for being disrespectful to the prayer being offered by the preacher. At this point, several people in the audience began to loudly berate and curse at the atheists. Both Kieffer and Wachs asked: “Has the meeting been called to order?”
Audio recordings will confirm who said what, when, and how.
Arrest as a tool of intimidation:
Within seconds, City of Bartow police officers, acting upon the directions of assistant superintendent Fred Murphy, physically engaged and subdued Kieffer. Kieffer was wearing the organization’s shirt, which depicted an American Flag inscribed with the words “ONE NATION INDIVISIBLE” and “ATHEISTS OF FLORIDA.”
Kieffer was handcuffed, removed from the meeting room by two police officers and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He was released on bail early morning of the following day.
Wachs was also roughly grabbed by a police officer. He demanded that she leave the meeting room, which she did. Outside the school board building, Wachs asked Bartow Police officer Griffith what Kieffer was being charged with. Griffith gave her a verbal trespass warning and told her that if she came back on school property she would be subject to arrest. He then commanded Wachs to leave the property immediately or face arrest to which Wachs immediately complied.
Below are the photos that Kieffer and Wachs took before the meeting was called to order; they are shown in the order in which they were taken:
1) Pastor Alex Harper saying a Christian prayer, BEFORE meeting called to order. Polk School Board Chairperson Kay Fields is a member of Harper's church.
2) Polk School Board Chairperson Kay Fields, center, standing for the prayer given by her personal pastor, BEFORE meeting was called to order.
3) EllenBeth Wachs standing in front of dais, BEFORE meeting was called to order
4) Wachs standing next to speaker’s podium, BEFORE meeting was called to order
5) John Kieffer, wearing Atheists of Florida t-shirt, standing next to speaker’s podium, BEFORE meeting was called to order
6) Kieffer standing BEFORE meeting was called to order
7) Kieffer being arrested by City of Bartow police officers BEFORE meeting was called to order and within seconds after Harper's pre-meeting prayer had been completed. Assistant superintendent Fred Murphy, partially visible at right, ordered police officers to remove Kieffer from the school board building BEFORE meeting was called to order.
Online docket info: https://www2.myfloridacounty.com/ccm/?county=53
There is also a petition started by Atheists of Florida's EllenBeth Wachs (seen above at the board meeting).
Email Addresses of the Polk County School Board members (BE CIVIL!, but state your case)
Email: Frank J. O'Reilly
Email: Lori Cunningham
Email: Hazel Sellers
Email: Dick Mullenax
Email: Kay Fields
Email: Debra Wright
Email: Tim Harris