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    ACLU action lands Satan on Inglis meeting agenda

    Town leaders will discuss the threat of a lawsuit on Monday.

    By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002


    INGLIS -- Could it be? Satan, exiled from this town by a gold-sealed mayoral proclamation, may be in the clear.

    Mayor Carolyn Risher's letter, in which she forbade the devil from ever being a part of Inglis, made her a celebrity.

    But it also drew the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which says it will file a federal lawsuit unless the proclamation is repealed.

    To deal with the issue, Risher has called a special town meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Town Commission members said they have been urged not to comment until the meeting.

    "Courts are always the last recourse," ACLU lawyer Gary Edinger said Thursday. "We always try to work these things out."

    Edinger says the proclamation is without question a violation of the separation of church and state because it called for action in the name of Jesus Christ.

    "The Constitution protects private assertions of faith, but absolutely prohibits government involvement in those same matters," he wrote in a letter to Risher.

    Inspired by the pastor of a local church, Risher sat at her kitchen table on Halloween night and crafted the five-paragraph communique, which was later typed on town stationery.

    "Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis," it read.

    "Satan is herby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens."

    The proclamation, which referred to Jesus several times, was inserted into hollowed-out fence posts at the four entrances to town. The posts were painted with the words Repent, Request and Resist.

    The ACLU wants the Town Commission to remove the posts, pass a resolution repealing the proclamation and insists that Risher reimburse the town for any public funds used.

    At first, the story appeared in the local newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times. But as word spread, Risher was deluged with media inquires from across the nation and abroad.

    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a sarcastic bit (the interviewer's eyes glowed red as he spoke to the mayor) and there was a brief mention on Saturday Night Live.

    Despite the negative portrayal, Risher has received dozens of calls and letters of support. Still, her 15 minutes of fame may have been her undoing.

    "This matter has attracted a great deal of press attention and damage has certainly been done to the principle of separation of Church and State," Edinger wrote.

    -- Staff writer Alex Leary can be reached at (352) 564-3623 or leary@sptimes.com.

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