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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Holy wars come to the Pinellas Park council meetings



PINELLAS PARK -- Randy Heine, this city's perennial gadfly, has threatened for years to bring a group of atheists to help him protest the prayer traditionally held before the council meetings and the presence of the Bible on the dais in front of Mayor Bill Mischler.

Heine made good on his threat at Thursday's meeting. Their presence was especially noticeable during the pledge of allegiance when the crowd stumbled when the atheists left out "under God" and the remainder of the audience added it in.

For the most part, the meeting was peaceful, with the atheists,many who were members of the Atheists of Florida, objecting to the prayer and the Bible on Constitutional grounds that government should not endorse any particular faith and should remain neutral. The argument turned from legalities to beliefs when Heine got up to speak.God, he said, is imaginary and he was doing his best to save people from their beliefs in a figment of their imaginations. Heine also said he did not want to see his tax money go to fight a lawsuit over the issue. He suggested the council might want to add the Koran and other such books to accompany the Bible but the council did not take him up on it.

Then it was the Christians' turn. They argued they had free speech rights and said that the atheists did not have to participate in the prayer. Believers peppered the comments with the occasional cry of "AMEN!"

Former Mayor Cecil Bradbury got up to defend the prayer and the presence of the Bible in an emotional, tear-laden voice. He turned toward the end of his speech and offered Heine the cross from around his neck. Heine refused.

Later Patti Johnson, a former candidate for the Pinellas Park City Council and business owner, also supported the prayer and the Bible. She, too, turned to Heine and offered him a penny as repayment for his tax money that might be spent if a lawsuit is filed.

Heine said later that he'll be back to talk more about the issue.

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:33pm]


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