During a city council meeting in Florida, the mayor and chief of police kicked an atheist out of the room for refusing to stand during prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
As the all middle age white male city council of Winter Garden, Florida stood to open a Thursday meeting with an unconstitutional Christian prayer and recite the Pledge of Allegiance featuring the unconstitutional words “under God,” an atheist member of the community refused to do so, and his rights were violated for it.
Mayor John Rees tried to force 51-year-old Joseph Richardson to stand during the meeting, because it’s somehow “just not fair to our troops and people overseas” to exercise a right to free speech and religion that our soldiers fight for Americans to have in the first place.
After Richardson declined, Commissioner Bobby Olszewski delivered an ironic prayer in which he thanked God “for allowing us to be in a country where we’re free to believe and think and pray,” even as the mayor was taking that freedom away from Richardson at that moment. Then Rees further pestered Richardson by trying to force him to stand for the pledge.
“Now, sir, please stand while we do the pledge. You don’t have to say it, but please stand,” Rees said. Richardson refused once again, as is his right.
Richardson refused to stand for Christian prayer because he is an atheist and didn’t want to recite the Pledge because it includes the words “under God.” Of course, this meant the mayor had to throw a hissy fit and abuse his power. He told Richardson to stand or leave and sent his top thug, Police Chief George Brennan, to get in Richardson’s face to intimidate him.
“Chief, ask him to either stand or please escort him out till we get through the pledge,” Rees ordered.
The chief stood in front of Richardson and gave him two choices.
“What do you want to do?” Brennan demanded as the camera rolled. “Do you want to stand or leave?”
At that point, Richardson left. After all, the way police have been acting lately, he didn’t want to be tased, shot, or beat to death for noncompliance.
Here’s the video via Raw Story.
Understandably, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation aren’t pleased with Rees’ behavior toward Richardson. Two Supreme Court rulings have made it clear that people cannot be compelled to stand during prayer or the Pledge. But that is exactly what Rees and the rest of this pathetic city council attempted to do.
In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson blasted the mayor’s actions.
People are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or a sectarian prayer or any kind of compulsory expression just to attend a public meeting. The problem with telling people they have to participate in any mandatory expression is that it tells people who might have a religious objection or other deeply held belief that, if they don’t go along with what the government tells them to do, they aren’t welcome in this community.
For it’s part, the FFRF has promised to protest the mayor at a future meeting by remaining seated like Richardson tried to do on Thursday.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Rees accused Richardson of not caring about Winter Garden. “He doesn’t come to the meetings because he cares about the city,” Rees claimed.
Of course, if that were true, Richardson would not have written as a concerned citizen in May asking officials to make Winter Garden more inclusive of other points of view.
“As a resident of Winter Garden, I would like our city to be known for its inclusiveness for all points of view and its respect for all individuals. Opening up the commission meeting invocations to everyone would be a wonderful step in that direction,” Richardson wrote.
And of the incident, Rees had this to say:
“I just said, ‘Either stand or go in the hallway.’ He wouldn’t. It wasn’t premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option. … Life will go on.”
Yeah, “life will go on,” and presumably, so will the yet-to-be-filed civil lawsuit that has Rees’ name all over it. Congratulations, citizens of Winter Garden. You’ve won a future trip to court that could cost your community dearly all because you wouldn’t let a man exercise his right to remain seated during the ‘Look at me, I’m a Christian!’ portion of a public meeting where everyone is supposed to be welcome to attend. You must all be so proud of your mayor and yourselves.