Saturday, July 02, 2011

Battling Christians, Atheist Sues Sheriff

Besides spearheading a campaign against Christianity in public places of Lakeland, Florida, proclaimed atheist EllenBeth Wachs, charged with a felony and possession of marijuana, has sued Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd for allegedly arresting her, in conspiracy with other evangelical Christians, based on a religious bias against her and any atheists.

-- From "Florida Suit Says Arrests Are Retaliation for Atheism" by Lizette Alvarez, New York Times 6/24/11

EllenBeth Wachs, the legal coordinator for the group Atheists of Florida, asked the court to prevent the sheriff, Grady Judd, from conducting any new investigations, arrests or complaints resulting from her “nonreligious, atheist viewpoint in the predominantly Christian-oriented Polk County, Fla.” The sheriff’s actions, including two arrests and searches of her house, violated her First Amendment rights and her right to due process, the suit states.

A vocal advocate for the separation of church and state, Ms. Wachs has attended several school board meetings where sessions began with prayer and asked that a moment of silence be observed instead. The sheriff is equally committed, to Christian values. He has received national attention for his focus on rooting out pornography as well as pedophiles and other sexual offenders. The suit states that the sheriff used Scripture in an agency newsletter, among other things.

This angered Ms. Wachs, who filed several public-records requests on the matter. A nonpracticing lawyer, she signed the requests with the designation Esquire after her name. Sheriff Judd sent a team of officers to arrest her and charged her in March with illegally posing as a lawyer, a felony.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Bible Belt lawsuit pits atheist against sheriff" by Tom Brown, Reuters 6/29/11

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.

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.

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.

The case is EllenBeth Wachs V Grady Judd, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, No. 8:11-01401.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Activist Atheist to Sheriff: Leave Me Alone" by Matthew Pleasant, The Ledger (Lakeland, FL) 6/24/11

Some of her allegations go beyond Judd. Wachs claims he hatched a scheme with other unnamed residents and officials in the county — referred to only as "doe defendants" in the suit — to silence Wachs, who protested last year when Judd donated jailhouse basketball hoops to churches.

Her lawsuit claims Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields and Stacy Butterfield, the county comptroller's financial director, conspired with Judd "to ensure the establishment of an atheist-free Polk County, beginning with the persecution of" Wachs. It cites a connection between Judd, Fields and Butterfield as fellow board of director members of Polk Vision, a planning group.

Besides the fight with Judd, she has protested prayer at local public meetings, including filing a lawsuit against the city of Lakeland over the issue, and is prohibited from attending Polk County School Board meetings after a February outburst that led to the arrest of her group's president, Jon Kieffer, on a disorderly conduct charge.

[Wachs' lawyer Lawrence] Walters writes in the suit that Judd has maintained the county's "pervasive religiosity" and "deprived the residents of Polk County, Florida, of their right to access virtually any form of erotic speech or entertainment through a concerted effort to intimidate any purveyor of such entertainment through overzealous law enforcement efforts" including threats of racketeering charges.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.