A Hillsborough public policy group whose Christian platform included a push for a state ban on gay marriage has embraced a new attack on an old target: the separation of church and state.
Ten billboard advertisements against what activist Terry Kemple called the separation "lie" are being put up across Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Seven or eight of the billboard messages already are in place, and the rest will be by the end of this week, Kemple said.
For the next six months, they'll be seen a million times a day, said retired businessman Gregg Smith, who rented the ad space for $50,000.
The message, as explained on www.noseparation.org, is that "America's government was made only for people who are moral and religious."
"The Judeo-Christian foundation that the Founding Fathers established when America began is the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years," said Kemple, president and sole employee of the local Community Issues Council, which paid for the Web site.
"The fact is, for the last 40 years, as anti-God activists have incrementally removed the recognition of God's place in the establishment of our country, we have gone downhill."
Smith, 73, who spends half of the year at his Tampa home, brought the idea to Kemple's attention as a "separate ministry" needing local support. For now, the initiative is just educational, though both men left open the opportunity for future work.
"Has the thought occurred that this may be the beginning of something bigger? Of course," Kemple said. "There is no next step.
"We'll just see what God ordains."
The billboards showcase quotes from early American leaders like John Adams, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Most of the quotes portray a national need for Christian governance.
Others carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."
"I don't believe there's a document in Washington's handwriting that has those words in that specific form," Kemple said. "However, if you look at Washington's quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there's no question he could have said those exact words."
Kemple, who was considered last year for the Republican nomination to replace a state representative, is not alone in fighting what Thomas Jefferson wrote was "a wall of separation" built by the "whole American people."
Former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, while campaigning for the Senate in 2006, called separation of church and state a "lie we have been told," adding that "God is the one who chooses our rulers."
More recently, Christian separation critics have scoffed at President Barack Obama's assertion in April that Americans "do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation."
At the time, Kemple and Smith were beginning to plan for the billboards.
"I don't think it's coincidental," Kemple said. "I think God had his hand in it."
Drew Harwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.
CORRECTION: Retired businessman Gregg Smith rented ad space for $50,000. Earlier versions of this story used in print and online incorrectly stated his role in the transaction.