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. 'Me too': Alyssa Milano urged assault victims to tweet in solidarity. The response was massive.

    Human Interest

    Actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

    Within hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing. By 3 a.m. Monday, almost 200,000 metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count.
  2. Tampa tax shelter schemer too fat for his prison term, attorney says

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced two Bay area men to prison terms last week for peddling an offshore tax shelter scheme that cost the IRS an estimated $10 million.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.

  3. Weinstein Co., overwhelmed by backlash, may be up for sale

    Corporate

    NEW YORK — The Weinstein Co., besieged by sexual harassment allegations against its namesake and co-founder, may be putting itself up for sale.

    Weinstein
  4. Trial begins in 2014 death of 19-month-old Tampa girl

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Even before his trial officially began, Deandre Gilmore had planted his gaze on the floor of Judge Samantha Ward's courtroom Monday, taking a deep breath and shifting in his seat as a pool of 60 potential jurors learned of his charges.

    Gilmore
  5. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe

    College

    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]