Cleanliness is next to…what was it again?

My friend EllenBeth Wachs and other Florida atheists have been teasing the Polk Under Prayer crowd.

County Road 98 in Polk County, Fla., was scrubbed today by a group of atheists who are protesting the “Polk Under Prayer” campaign, supporters of which poured olive oil on the road last year in an anointment ceremony.

“Mainly we want this to be a safe haven for folks who want to raise their families,” explained Polk Under Prayer organizer, Dr. Richard Geringswald, according to ABC News affiliate WFTS-TV in Tampa. “Asking God’s protection from ne’er do wells and evil doers.”

Ellen Beth Wachs, the president of Humanists of Florida Association and Atheists of Florida, said that she feels unwelcome as an atheist in the county.

Not surprisingly, when the PUP crowd includes most local government and law enforcement officials.

Last week, Polk Under Prayer campaign members buried bricks that were engraved with Psalm 37:9-11 beside the 12 major roadways leading into the county, praying for criminals to become Christian or be incarcerated, according to WFTV.

Scott Wilder, a spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said this claim was so ridiculous he’d rather not comment.

Oh it’s ridiculous all right…

Update: Much more from an actual participant, including a press release:


This Saturday, atheists are gathering on the Polk County line. The atheists will perform a counter-ritual in opposition to a ritual performed previously by the Polk Under Prayer campaign. In early 2010, Polk Under Prayer (also called “PUP”) – a group of Christian religious and political leaders in Polk County – ritually anointed all roads entering Polk County with a strip of oil.

According to Pastor Frank Smith of Frank Smith Ministries in Winter Haven, the oil ritual was intended to bring those in Polk County to a “full knowledge of Jesus Christ” and to ask “God to have angels inspect every vehicle that travels into or out of this county” and “if they will not submit to God’s way of living, then the prayer is to have them incarcerated or removed from the county.”

Atheist and Mark Palmer, Executive Director of the Humanists of Florida Association, said, “To spread oil on the roads of Polk County and pray for the incarceration of all non-Christians is dangerous, bigoted, and un-American.” Secular leaders from the Humanists of Florida Association, the Atheists of Florida, the Tallahassee Atheists, the Freethinkers FSU, and more will gather at State Road 35 on the north border of Polk County. There they will anoint the road with pure water, because as Palmer said wryly, “oil and water don’t mix.” Palmer called the ritual a “symbolic gesture with two goals. The first is to welcome all people, regardless of their beliefs, to travel in and through Polk County, as is their legal right. And the second is to make Floridians aware of what religiously motivated political machines are doing in some rural counties. PUP is not just some fringe group of religious zealots, but is the major political force in Polk County.”

On March 1, 2011, PUP held an event at which Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, Polk County Schools superintendent Sherrie Nickell, and Polk County  Grady Judd were the guests of honor. PUP Organizer, Richard Geringswald declared that these three “are coming on board with enthusiasm. Each representative touches three major factors in our county: Government, Education and Law Enforcement.” Below is pictured a billboard whereon these leaders endorse PUP with their names and their government offices.

Two days after this March 1st event, Sheriff Grady Judd arranged for the arrest and incarceration of EllenBeth Wachs, an atheist activist, after she made public records requests investigating Judd’s allegedly illegal transfers of county property to local churches. (Wachs now serves as President of the Humanists of Florida Association.)

This Saturday, Florida’s secular leaders intend to “condemn the bigoted actions of PUP and call on the good citizens of Polk County and its government leaders to remember that they are elected to support and represent all citizens of Polk county, not just the Christians.” Palmer continued, “We are Americans. We are Floridians. We must oppose religious favoritism and remember that we stand for liberty and justice for all.”

Well done, Florida atheists.


  1. says

    B-b-but, I thought no Christian really believed in magic spells these days? Have the sophisticated theologians and accommodationists been misleading me about that?

  2. yoav says

    praying for criminals to become Christian or be incarcerated,

    Aren’t most criminals in the US already christian?

  3. baal says

    While magic doesn’t work, the reinforcement of xtian bigotry from taking part in the ceremonies does impact how they relate to everyone else.

    Kudos to the Florida atheists.

    “Cleanliness is next to hygiene-ness?”

  4. mnb0 says

    “praying for criminals to become Christian or be incarcerated”
    Eh? As far as I know the vast majority of American inmates already is christian!

    Have those PUPpies so little faith in their god that they think some unholy atheists can undo their action? Pathetic.

  5. Tony says

    I’d have participated in the clean up if Polk was closer to Pensacola.

    mdb0 @6:

    -Those PUPpies would say their faith in god is immensely strong. Of course that’s why I can’t understand why they feel threatened by atheism. Someone who doesn’t believe should be no threat to someone who is down with g.o.d.

  6. Ant Allan says

    Good grief! This is like something out of one of those gothic/supernatural drama series… What millennium are we living in?


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