Local Officials

No, federal officials and appointees had better not be outspoken Christians, but what about local government officials? Two Florida mayors discovered that they should be more circumspect when expressing their religious beliefs. The ACLU is watching and doing its best to keep the public halls and the mouths of officials free of Christianity. In Inglis, Florida, Mayor Carolyn Risher issued a proclamation on Halloween night for nine straight years banning Satan within the town limits, and placed a copy of the document on her office wall and at four posts located on the entrances to the little community of 1,400. The proclamation read, "Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis. Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens."

The ACLU sent a letter to Mayor Risher demanding that she remove the posted proclamations and that the town commission rescind the mayoral edict. The ACLU was acting on behalf of Polly Bowser, an "outraged" resident of Inglis, though Bowser said she wasn't sure she wanted the lawsuit to proceed. (She said she and her family suffered when she started a petition drive to recall the mayor over the incident.) The ACLU said it would proceed with or without Bowser. "We have constitutional protections against the establishment of religions," said ACLU attorney Gary S. Edinger. "When [they are] not followed, and in fact rubbed in the nose of the public, it becomes a little more important."

Auburndale, Florida, mayor Bill Sterling didn't ban the devil from his town. He issued a proclamation declaring "Auburndale for Jesus," drawing protests from the ACLU. Sterling dismissed the notion that his act had major significance, calling the proclamation a piece of paper with no authority. "We don't feel like we've violated anybody's civil rights," said Sterling. John MacKay, a Tampa lawyer, disagreed, threatening to sue the city. "Obviously, this proclamation goes to a particular religion-Christianity." Sterling explained that he had signed the document at the request of community pastors at the close of a prayer week. Sterling said he was not trying to tell residents what they should believe. "People have a right to believe the way they want to believe. If a Jewish group or a Muslim group wanted a proclamation from the city, they would get it."

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