Lets start with the facts we now have.
Atheists of Florida president, John Kieffer, was arrested last night and has been charged with disorderly conduct and will remain in police custody until members of the Atheists of Florida can arrange bail. So what actually happened?
Well, it turns out that this is something that has been brewing for some time. There is a school board that meets to do what all school boards do; discuss and review the running of public schools. However, because they opened with prayer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened a lawsuit if prayers during regular meetings continued, so they started playing silly games. They all enter the room, sit ready to start, then do their magical incantations before they officially start, thus they claim its not an official part of the meeting.
What a bunch of hypocrites, well here is what happened after Kieffer stood during the prayed and raised an objection –
…he was rebuked by board member Frank O’Reilly for the disruption.
Wyant said that is when Kieffer yelled, “Prayer has no place in government! Prayer has no place in government!”
Murphy asked Bartow police Officers Jason Griffith and Julio Pagan to remove Kieffer from the auditorium.
Kieffer braced himself against the officers as they dragged him out of the room, Wyant said.
After board Chairman Kay Fields told Kieffer to leave, he said he wasn’t violating any laws because the meeting hadn’t officially started.
“It has now,” Fields said, and she slammed down her gavel.
When Griffith and Pagan got Kieffer out of the meeting, they tried to calm him and asked him to leave, but he refused, Wyant said.
The story is all over the place now, here are some examples …
- PZ blogs about in on Pharyngula – (Its always worth checking out reader comments here as well)
- The Friendly Atheist also blogs about it here.
- And of course its in the local media, here in the Ledger, and here in the Tampa bay Examiner.
How did the folks watching all this react? Very much as you might expect, the ledger puts it like this …
Near the end of the meeting, board and audience members discussed the outburst.
Audience member Tabitha Hunt told board members that the invocation needed to return as a part of the regular meeting.
“They (the atheist group) are very outspoken and I think as Christians we need to be just as outspoken,” she said.
Retired School Principal L.D. Wilcox said the incident brought tears to his eyes because of the children who were sitting in the audience.
“We talk about not leaving debts for our children, but what about integrity and responsibility?” Wilcox said. “It’s all right to disagree, but we have to learn how to respect one another.”
Fields said she would meet with School Board Attorney Wes Bridges about returning the prayer to its former spot on the meeting agenda.
O’Reilly said that while district officials want prayers at the meeting, it will be a costly legal fight and the district needs the community’s support.
“So if there are people who say we want prayers, then you better step up,” he said. “You go to your churches and synagogues and tell them they’ll need to help us.”
Sigh … more religion in the schools and school meetings, that is as desirable as a hole in the head, they simply don’t get it. The US was founded as the very first secular republic on the planet, its hammered in stone – complete separation of church and state. What they truly fail to grasp is that by hacking away at that wall, they are destroying the very foundation that supports the freedom they have to believe whatever they wish. Once you start introducing belief into government forums, be that school, council, city, state, that belief starts to become official policy. History is littered with examples of what happens next, you end up with one true belief and the suppression of everything else. In fact, modern politics is also littered with similar examples in other nations, I need not name any, we all know them. (Think Taliban)
The only guarantee of true freedom for all, a complete diversity, is to have total separation of belief from the business of the state.
As a non believer, I’m fine with that, so if believers wish to recite magical incantations to an imaginary friend, the only constraint is to keep it in their church or home and outside of state business. There are also many believers who find this to be an acceptable arrangement. Where it breaks down is when you have fanatical kooks, like the folks in Florida, who believe they are the sole guardians of truth, and insist upon injecting this nonsense into a public forum.
Mixing religion and politics is now, and always has been a very bad idea, so when faced with demands for it … be skeptical, and suggest they get their history books out as a quick reminder about the road they are proposing to take us all down.