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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
FLORIDA: Benefit Concert for Atheist Activist
Our friends at Atheists of Florida are holding a benefit concert for one of their local atheist activists. We really enjoy the work this amazing woman is doing down there in Florida and wanted to pass along the details they sent us via email. Today we received a preliminary schedule from the event coordinators as well and will include that below the original email.
Benefit Concert for Atheist Activist
Lakeland, Fla. – A benefit concert for embattled atheist activist EllenBeth Wachs will be held Sunday, August 28, 2011, in Lakeland, Florida. EllenBeth is the Vice-President and Legal Affairs Coordinator for Atheists of Florida who earlier this year confronted Polk County FL Sheriff Grady Judd over his transfer of jail basketball goals to local churches in a politically motivated PR stunt. The event is being held to assist her with legal defense costs incurred from criminal charges which were brought against her in retaliation for publicly challenging the sheriff.
Judd, an outspoken evangelical Christian, and like-minded government officials in Polk County deployed law enforcement resources against her as a strategy to force her and Atheists of Florida to divert attention, time and funds away from further action against the sheriff’s questionable transfer of tax-payer property and, instead, toward legal expenses and resources in defense of the charges. Disconcerting as well is that Judd’s actions were meant to try to silence, defame and intimidate the atheist civil rights activist.
On March 3, 2011, EllenBeth, a retired attorney, was charged with the unlicensed practice of law, simply because she signed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which were addressed to the sheriff, with the abbreviation “Esq.,” an honorific used by attorneys, whether practicing or not. She was arrested at her home by over a dozen SWAT garbed sheriff’s deputies and taken to Judd’s jail. Her home was searched by Judd’s deputies while they held two of her part-time employees at gunpoint. Noteably what was confiscated from her home during the search were documents sent by the sheriff’s office in response to EllenBeth’s FOIA requests, as well as items meant to inconvenience her such as her driver’s license, cell phone and business computers. Most mind-boggling is why deputies took her “Buns of Steel” workout video.
On May 1, EllenBeth was again arrested, this time on charges stemming from a petition for injunction (which was denied then voluntarily withdrawn) filed against her by a neighbor, a City of Lakeland employee. The neighbor had reported that he had heard a sound of a sexual nature coming from the privacy of EllenBeth’s house. Forty-eight days after the alleged sound, EllenBeth was again dragged out of her home in handcuffs. She was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct within the vicinity of a minor for supposedly making the sound in her house while the neighbor and his son played basketball next door. She was held in solitary confinement in Judd’s jail for almost a week.
In an effort to protect her civil rights, EllenBeth sued Judd to stop him from continuing his retaliatory campaign against her. The lawsuit, filed June 24 in Federal District Court in Tampa, alleges that Judd's interest in her has been religiously motivated because she is an outspoken atheist and that his discriminatory actions against her violate her First Amendment rights and her right to due process.
EllenBeth is also the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the City of Lakeland and its mayor, Gow Fields. The Atheists of Florida suit, filed last year, asks Fields to replace the sectarian Christian prayer rituals at public city commission meetings with a more inclusive moment of seated silence. Noteworthy, a statement by Fields was included in the March 3 ‘Esq’ arrest affidavit, which was executed just days before EllenBeth’s critical deposition in that case against him.
The benefit concert event will be held at Evolution Records, 119 S. Kentucky Avenue in Lakeland from 4 to 7 pm. The event will include live music, atheist activist speakers from around the country, and a silent auction. The admission fee of $10 will be donated to EllenBeth to assist in her ongoing legal expenses.
Atheists of Florida, a non-profit educational corporation founded in 1992, serves the needs of a significant and growing community of atheists in Florida. As a civil rights minority, our members are tireless advocates for the constitutional rights afforded to them and all Americans. We encourage efforts to foster a fully inclusive sense of community, mutual understanding and respect.
4:00p.m. - Live - Intro - EB (10 minutes)
4:15p.m. - Skype - Dave Silverman (President, American Atheists)
4:30p.m. - Live - "Commercial" video (about 3-5 minutes)
4:40p.m. - Skype - Eddie Tabash (legal affairs Americans United)
5:00p.m. - Live - Music (Jeff Brawer)
5:30p.m. - Skype - Reap Paden (Angry Atheist radio)
5:45p.m. - Live - Music (Marc Ganancias)
6:10p.m. - Skype - Edwin Kagen (National Legal Director, American Atheists)
6:25p.m. - Live - Music (The Singletones)
6:50p.m. - Skype - Blair Scott (Communications Director, American Atheists)
7:05p.m. - Live - the "F**k You Very Much" song (3-5 minutes)