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A Times Editorial

Misguided crusade is no longer amusing

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

No one doubts the sincerity of Mayor Carolyn Risher when she says she wants to protect the residents of Inglis from evil. Risher, a devout fundamentalist Christian, feels so strongly about it that she willingly subjected herself to criticism from all over the world by formally banning the devil from this tiny coastal village.

But now her actions have brought more than ridicule to the community; they've also brought the imminent threat of a lawsuit that could cost taxpayers money and credibility.

It's time for the Town Commission members to do what they should have done months ago: condemn Risher's misguided crusade against Satan.

In November, Risher, 61, penned a proclamation on city letterhead that proclaimed "victory over Satan" and warned the "ruler of darkness" that he no longer had power in the town. In her proclamation (see accompanying text), Risher invoked the name of Jesus Christ several times, affixed the city seal, and then placed copies of the letter in hollowed-out fence posts at the four entrances to Inglis. The posts were inscribed with the words "Repent, Request, and Resist." The 10-year mayor also hung a copy of the letter in her office, near a painting of the The Last Supper.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union, responding on behalf of resident Polly Browser, has promised to sue the town for failing to separate the institutions of church and state, as prescribed in the U.S. Constitution.

The ACLU's argument is sound. Risher should not use her position as a public servant to further religion, hers or anyone else's. She has every right to express her personal opinions, but she has no right to impose those beliefs on her constituents.

Risher maintains she was "appointed by God" to be mayor and that she is acting in accordance with the biblical edicts of Jesus Christ. She also remains unremorseful for her unconventional behavior. "You're either with God or you're against Him," she told the Times in November.

What Risher apparently doesn't understand is that as the titular head of the town, she is either for government that shows no favoritism toward religion, or against it. Residents elected her to uphold the law and oversee the interests of all residents, even those who do not share her religious leanings.

People from all over the globe have had a laugh at Inglis' expense. We're confident Risher never meant for that to happen. But this situation no longer can be brushed off as a harmless, amusing eccentricity by a well-intentioned church lady.

When the Town Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday, its members should consent to the ACLU's demands, which are to repeal the proclamation, remove the fence posts and insist that Risher reimburse the town for any expenses incurred from the almost three-month controversy.

Then, Risher should seek the forgiveness of any residents she may have offended and assure everyone she will not allow her religious beliefs to supersede her responsibility as a public servant.

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