Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Group of atheists protest at Lakeland City Commission meeting

LAKELAND — Police were called Monday night to keep the peace in a City Commission meeting after a confrontation erupted with a contingent of atheists.

Five members of the Tampa-based Atheists of Florida made it clear from the beginning of the meeting that they thought invoking God's name in pre-meeting prayers violates the principle of separation of church and state.

The temperature rose when more than one member of the group tried to speak during the public comment session.

Mayor Gow Fields, who said he didn't appreciate "rude, disruptive and disrespectful" people from outside the city "hijacking" city meetings, invoked a rule limiting organized groups to only one speaker.

Three people were allowed to speak in defense of the city, while only Lakeland atheists chapter director EllenBeth Wachs was allowed to speak with permission.

Fields said that had the atheists approached the commission as individuals and not a group, he would have allowed all of them to speak.

Members of the atheist group protested.

The meeting threatened to get out of hand when audience member Richard Geringswald loudly challenged the atheists.

He took a seat next to an atheist trying to be recognized by Fields and said they had no right to speak.

City Manager Doug Thomas had police summoned.

When authorities arrived, Fields banged his gavel and took a recess, ending the meeting.

Fields said he had met with some of the atheists last week in his office. "They wanted to twist things. They said they were going to sue, and they walked out," he said.

Wachs, the Lakeland chapter director, said the group plans to sue over issues of separation of church and state and free speech this month.

As commissioners exited the meeting room, John Kieffer, president of Atheists of Florida, berated them for not allowing public discourse.

"All of you should be ashamed," he said.

Group of atheists protest at Lakeland City Commission meeting 04/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 10:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida beats LSU, wins first College World Series title

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — Florida scored four runs in the eighth inning to pull away from LSU, and the Gators beat their SEC rival 6-1 Tuesday night to complete a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals for their first national title in baseball.

    UF’s Nelson Maldonado, left, and Deacon Liput high-five after a run scores.
  2. Fatal crash closes westbound lanes on Park Boulevard N in Pinellas Park

    Accidents

    Westbound lanes on Park Boulevard N are closed at 62nd Way N in Pinellas Park following a fatal crash late Tuesday night.

  3. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman and Baker pull no punches in first forum

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.
  4. Wildlife officers look for answers in gopher tortoise deaths while reward money piles up

    Wildlife

    The blood had already pooled when the bodies were found, bashed and beaten. One was dead. The other was still gasping, but it was too late.

    A gopher tortoise emerges from a bush to feed on vegetation on Thursday in 2016 at the Moccasin Lake Environmental Education Center in Clearwater. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is investigating the deaths of two tortoises that were beaten and their shells broken in Manatee County. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]