A Polk County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Grady Judd, claiming he’s failed to “respect the separation of Church and State” by arresting her several times on “frivolous criminal charges” because she is an atheist.
According to EllenBeth Wachs’ attorney, Lawrence Walters, the Atheists of Florida member is the target of “gestapo” arrests, not because she is a criminal, but because she doesn’t believe in God. (LINK)
According to ABC News, the whole thing began when the sheriff donated government material to a church — in violation of both law and constitution. Since her “crime” of objecting to these donations, she’s been arrested three times and charged with two felonies.
Her first grievous offense? She used the letters, “esq” after her name in an open records request. The sheriff accused her of “illegally practicing law.” After police conducted a thorough and intrusive search of her house (for what, precisely?) they found a small amount of marijuana in a safe. New charges. Fourth Amendment? Anyone?
Next, a Christian neighbor complained to the sheriff that his son could hear moaning sounds and “sexual language” through Ms. Wach’s private bedroom window. (What was he or his son doing spying on her personal habits?) She spent six days in jail for that.
Sheriff Judd is clearly a Christian, and not just a little bit:
He notes other actions that show how Judd expresses his religious leanings as sheriff: Biblical scripture in a PCSO newsletter used to describe his 2007-2008 budget; gospel singers performing at sheriff’s office events, some of which were held in Baptist churches; and a newsletter that highlights prisoner baptism statistics.
“While the above listed actions may seem innocent in isolation, they point to an obvious and deeply-ingrained tradition of Christianity within the agencies and officials overseen” by the sheriff, Walters writes. “The atheist, Jew, Muslim, or other non-Christian who reads Defendant Judd’s newsletters receives a clear message — ‘you are not one of us.’ (LINK)
As a result of the arrests, Ms. Wachs has been instructed by a judge not “to make unusual noises around the house. She’s also banned from making contact with her neighbors or minors.”
For us atheists, this should serve as a dire warning. Many Christians — including those sworn to protect and serve us, regardless of our religious beliefs — believe that their duty to Jesus supercedes their duty to either their country or their neighbors. They are willing to break the law, bend the law, and even blatently defy the constitution when they feel their beliefs are being threatened.
Any one of us could find ourselves in jail for being atheist. If the legal retribution for this sheriff is anything other than swift, definitive, and far-reaching, we have to admit that any of us are at risk. When people in power put their religion above our rights, that is theocracy, tyranny, and nothing short of gross human rights violations.
There is one more thing… If any of us atheists stand idly by while our fellow citizens are being abused, mistreated, and arrested without cause, we are as guilty as those who commit the acts. Only by making our voices loud, clear, and unequivocal can we send the message that there are millions of us who will not stand for this.
Here’s the website for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. In case there’s anything you want to say.