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Old 06-29-2011, 02:19 PM
Location: around the 44th parallel
110 posts, read 85,715 times
Reputation: 78


Bible Belt lawsuit pits atheist against sheriff | Reuters

Apologies in advance if the link is shoddy (apparently I'm struggling to properly operate this technology). Here's the text:

Bible Belt lawsuit pits atheist against sheriff

By Tom Brown
MIAMI | Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:34pm EDT

MIAMI (Reuters) - An atheist and self-described member of the "most hated minority in America" has filed a lawsuit accusing a sheriff in Florida's conservative Bible Belt of arresting her and trampling her constitutional rights because of her work to separate church and state.
EllenBeth Wachs, 48, said her suit against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, an evangelical Christian, puts her at "ground zero" in the struggle against religious intolerance.
If she prevails in what her lawyer Lawrence Walters sees as "a precedent-setting case," he said it would help ensure that no U.S. citizen is discriminated against or subjected to frivolous criminal charges for expressing a non-religious viewpoint and not believing in God.
"Mr. Judd is actually using law enforcement to basically do a legal lynching of me," Wachs told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
She was referring to having been arrested by Judd's deputies three times since March -- what she sees as a campaign of harassment and retaliation against her.
Wachs, a non-practicing lawyer from Pennsylvania, is the Lakeland, Florida-based legal coordinator of a non-profit group called Atheists of Florida.
She moved to Polk County in 2006 at about the same time Judd grabbed national attention for defending officers who fired about 110 rounds of ammunition at a man suspected of killing a sheriff's deputy.
The man died after being hit 68 times and Judd told reporters, "I suspect the only reason 110 rounds was all that was fired was that's all the ammunition they had."
Wachs first ran afoul of Judd around Christmas last year, when she filed several public-records requests to look into his decision to donate the Polk County jail's basketball hoops and other equipment to local churches.
She signed the requests, motivated by her belief that the gift of taxpayer-funded equipment violated the separation of church and state, with "Esquire" after her last name.
That designation prompted Judd to dispatch a team of team of officers to her home in March and arrest her on charges of illegally posing as a lawyer, a felony.
"It was outrageous," Wachs said of her arrest. "I opened the door and there was about 20 paramilitary-garbed police out there. It looked like a SWAT team was about to raid my neighborhood."
She has been arrested twice since -- on a misdemeanor marijuana charge and a felony sex charge for allegedly moaning repeatedly in a sexual manner inside her home.
The charges in the three cases still are pending and Walters said Wachs faces considerable jail time if convicted. He said all three arrests were for "bogus crimes on trumped-up charges" stemming from Wachs' campaign to keep religion out of politics and public affairs in Polk County.
The sheriff's office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In her suit, Polk County is described as a place where "Christian prayer rituals are routinely held before government meetings" and school board members have sought to have creationist "intelligent design" taught in classrooms.
"Polk Country happens to be a particularly religious county and we have a particularly religious government," Wachs said.
Despite its deep social conservatism, Walters said there had been a groundswell of support for Wachs in Polk County.
"The community in general, as they saw this whole thing go down, called these events Gestapo-like and retaliatory and scary," Walters said. "The community knows what's happening. We have a sheriff that's out of control, frankly, that's misusing his position to the detriment of our client and to the detriment of the First Amendment, and we hope to put a stop to it."
Wachs said she fears being arrested again. But she has no intention of leaving Lakeland and looks forward to seeing how her suit plays out in Federal District Count in Tampa.
Despite polls consistently showing an overwhelming majority of Americans dislike atheists, Wachs is determined to stand her ground.
"It's the most hated minority in America -- most hated and most distrusted minority in America," Wachs said.
"Mr. Judd seems to be wanting to perform a legal exorcism on the atheists in his county and the fact of the matter is that atheists don't believe in exorcisms."
"I'm going nowhere anytime soon. And I will stay here and continue to be a vocal activist for my atheist viewpoint."
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:25 PM
Location: Metromess
11,798 posts, read 21,978,743 times
Reputation: 5074
Cheers for Ms. Wachs! I wish her all the luck in the world. She'll need it.
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:30 PM
Location: around the 44th parallel
110 posts, read 85,715 times
Reputation: 78
They're serious about their God down there.

I mean, arrested for making "sexual moaning sounds" in her own house??

For illegally posing as a practicing attorney by putting "esquire" after her name?

That's pure harassment by the police. Hope the entire force is disbanded.
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Old 06-29-2011, 10:45 PM
Location: Missouri, USA
4,349 posts, read 2,975,717 times
Reputation: 2030
What's really ironic is that most atheists hold the viewpoint that atheism is not a religion. If it were a religion, as one literature professor I had believes it is, I would think sueing pretty much anyone in the United States could be an option, because of religious discrimination.

If someone decides to add the phrase "We believe in no God" to the pledge of allegiance, or groups of atheists begin using fear tactics to make their points and become a hate group, then I'll consider that there are militant atheists in existence.

I find it laughable that members of a group which traditionally use protests and talk to make points can be described as militant, a phrase which is thrown around frequently on these forums in reference to some atheists. Atheists are not the folk who wish it stamped on the dollar bill that everyone in the U.S. trusts in God.

Went off on somewhat of a tangent there.

Best of luck to Ellenbeth Wachs.

Last edited by Clintone; 06-29-2011 at 11:07 PM..
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:18 PM
Location: Sinking in the Great Salt Lake
13,143 posts, read 19,194,610 times
Reputation: 14007
Ah the bible belt. I wouldn't live there for all the tea in China... this a good example why.

Still, even though all the hardcore atheists here insist it isn't so, hardcore and yes, "foaming at the mouth" atheism IS developing into a sort of "religion" of it's own, where people of like minded belief join up to fight against an opposing "religion" (in this case bible thumping fundamentalism).

I don't know how many times I can say it, but fighting fire with fire will only get more stuff burned. I still think the best way to make religious institutions go away is to ignore them, thereby making them irrelevant. Grinding "In God We Trust" off all your nickels and aggressively protesting and directly fighting fundie local leaders just gives them a "devil" to fight against and rallies their own together even tighter and ultimately delaying progress on the whole issue.

Education is the key, and the next generation is generally teachable. You want a good atheist missionary strategy? Pass out free science books. The truth speaks for itself.

The truth will always win out in the end, though it takes time to happen; Sometimes hundreds of years... how long did it take Galileo to get an apology from the Catholics? Still, it happened and the world is slowing becoming a better (and more sensible) place.

Last edited by Chango; 07-04-2011 at 06:35 PM..
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:32 PM
455 posts, read 553,682 times
Reputation: 208
This Judd guy should be indicted,convicted and sentenced, period !!
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