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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In Pinellas Park, the Bible stays, the Constitution goes



PINELLAS PARK -- The past few council meetings in this city have been notable for clashes between the Atheists of Florida and area Christians over the prayer that opens the meetings and the presence of the Bible that sits on the dais in front of Mayor Bill Mischler.

Pinellas Park officials have refused to stop the prayer or move the Bible off the dais and out of the council chamber. So last week, the atheists tried adding something to the dais.

John Kieffer, president of the group, told Mischler he understood the mayor had never read the U.S. Constitution. The comment was a reference to earlier statements by Mischler that he had never read the document, that he had read parts of it and that he had read the Bill of Rights but it had been a while.

Mischler said that he had misspoken. He really HAS read the Constitution. But it's been a while.

Kieffer pressed onward, holding out a copy of the Constitution and saying he wanted to present it to the mayor. The idea was to put it on the dais, not just WITH the Bible, but on TOP of it. As he stepped from behind the podium to hand over the Constitution, city attorney James Denhardt tried to stop him, saying that city rules required speakers to remain at the podium and address the council as a whole, not individual council members.

Kieffer paused. Then, he said, he'd take his chances. He put the Constitution on top of the Bible.

It stayed there until the gavel came down at the end of the meeting. The Bible remained. The Constitution was gone from the dais.

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:40pm]


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