Atheists of Florida Kicked Out of Cape Coral City Council Meeting January 26, 2011

Atheists of Florida Kicked Out of Cape Coral City Council Meeting

A month ago, the Atheists of Florida were threatened by the Cape Coral City Council because they were wearing shirts that read, “One Nation, Indivisible”:

This is what happened last time:

During the mid-meeting break, Cape Coral Mayor, John Sullivan, and city manager, Gary King, reiterated their demands for members to replace or cover up the shirts. King indicated that the shirts were in violation of council policy. He further warned that if the shirts were still visible, anyone wearing the attire would be asked to leave and if necessary, Cape Coral police would be employed to enforce the demand. [AoF president John] Kieffer asked to see the policy and was told that this could not be done at the time. Kieffer responded that he would refuse to comply and would accept the consequences. A few minutes later, King informed Kieffer that he believed that the shirts “should be okay.”

On Monday night, the city council followed through with their threat when AoF President John Kieffer got up to speak. Mayor John Sullivan kicked him out because of his “improper attire.” Soon after, the council voted to let the atheists speak (or, really, to avoid any potential lawsuits).

And it’s all on video:

The mayor’s also upset because the atheists shouted “Indivisible” during the Pledge of Allegiance when they were expected to say “under god.”

Jen Hancock at the Examiner writes:

The Cape Coral City Council and the mayor have yet to clarify their apparently nonexistent dress code policy and the mayor seems to think he has the right to arbitrarily decide who can address the council and who can’t. Some members of the council also apparently think that they have the right to force Atheists to invoke God in the pledge despite the fact that the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the government from coercing people into participating in a religious practice they don’t agree with.

The atheists aren’t asking the council to promote godlessness. They’re asking for the meetings to be kept secular. There’s no need to invoke god’s name in the Pledge — or say it at all. Ditto with any invocation prayers.

It’s an easy fix, and it just so happens to be the Constitutional thing to do. This controversy wouldn’t exist if the council simply focused on city issues instead of on promoting faith in any way.

(Thanks to Kim for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • While historically municipal councils have been accorded some leeway in dealing with those who attend their meetings, invoking a dress code that doesn’t exist is indefensible. Cape Coral should find a better mayor.

    That said, there needs to be more promotion of the fact that atheists want to restore the text of the original pledge and that “under god” was added, rather than being portryed as wanting to remove it.

    Likewise, I hope that the news video was incorrect and that given the chance to address council and the public that the majority of the remarks wasn’t on tshirts, but rather on the atheist residents of the area and their contributions to civic life.

  • I agree with “Eh” in this sense. As long as they are able to frame the argument negatively, by making the issue all about “removing” god, we’ve lost the argument. No Christian wants to get rid of god. “Restoring” us to our historical antecedents, to the “True American” pledge, would make more sense.

  • They need to make the argument that the city council isn’t there to have fun and feel good about their religion. It’s a government body, and this action against free speech sends a clear message that Jesus is the official government god.

    I sure like that t-shirt too. I’d love to buy one, and hang out at city hall there. Just to show it off. :o)

    “Render unto Caesar…!”

  • What bothers me the most is that the cops obeyed the mayor and forcibly (they touched him)escorted the man out of the chamber.
    As police officers, they have an obligation to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. They should have refused to comply with the mayor’s clearly unconstitutional request.
    “Just following orders” is not a fucking defense.

  • That mayor is so far beyond the First Amendment, it’s like he’s begging for a lawsuit. The city attorney needs to have a serious come-to-Jesus talk (if you’ll pardon the expression) with Mr. Mayor.

  • Ron in Houston

    Fortunately you had 6 rational people who understood their obligations to provide freedom of speech and to maintain separation of church and state.

  • Brice Gilbert

    I agree with “Eh” in this sense. As long as they are able to frame the argument negatively, by making the issue all about “removing” god, we’ve lost the argument. No Christian wants to get rid of god. “Restoring” us to our historical antecedents, to the “True American” pledge, would make more sense.

    I don’t know. To me you’ve already lost an argument if you appeal to emotion in what is a pretty cut and dry first amendment issue.

  • Siamang

    Normally I would think doing something like that would be a useless stunt.

    Until something like this happens and shows me exactly why it ISN’T a useless stunt. Holy crap, these politicians need to get a real quick lesson on the First Amendment.

    If you did that here in Los Angeles, the City Council (who’s seen it all) would just yawn and go back to texting.

  • Will

    I think there’s a larger issue here that everyone’s missing. Look behind and to the right of the white-haired atheist.

    What is Wilford Brimley doing at a Cape Coral City Council meeting?

  • There’s no need to invoke god’s name in the Pledge — or say it at all.

    This issue wouldn’t exist if the Supreme Court would grow some balls and strike down the revised wording of the pledge.

  • James

    Um, I heard no shouting of the words “indivisible”. They were not causing a disturbance, the stayed at the same volume level as everyone else, the video clearly shows that.
    Everyone else is allowed to wear T-shirts, they can to, the shirts simply state the pledge as it was originally written along with a group name.
    If you find that offensive you are a moron, there is nothing offensive about it. And contrary to the moron on video it neither pushes down a religion or endorses it. In fact it is 100% non religious, that is the point.

  • Anonymous

    Ft Myers News-Press editorial
    People free to advocate their positions–People-free-to-advocate-their-positions

    The idea that a public meeting could be free of politics is nonsense.

    To silence political messages expressed in a legal manner is an affront to the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

  • At the 1:07 mark — Isn’t that the guy from the Six Flags ads without his glasses on.

    And yes, yes, yes, please file a lawsuit. Bring this issue to greater attention, keep the story going and then settle without financial damages to the city.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    At the 1:07 mark — Isn’t that the guy from the Six Flags ads without his glasses on.

    Yes! That’s him. But he is better known as “Junior” from the Sopranos…

  • Paul

    We need to have our city council focusing on city matters as they pertain to services and costs……..not to their or any one elses religious beliefs. Stop wasting the taxpayers’ time and money. It’s obvious to most if not all people that the tee shirt with the message was worn to provoke a response. To Mr. Kieffer – get a life!!!!! You are a symtom of a problem, not a solution.

  • GodCreatedYou

    This is a nation created by God, as he created all in the Universe. A nation formed by God, even deists Ben Franklin added that only with  “The providence” help, what they had achieved was achieved; Our Independence. Our Pledge of allegiance should reflect this. If we ever erase god from our Country we will not be a country no more. There is a country that publicly refused God, even in their laws. you feel free to move and live there! 

  • GodCreatedYou

    Albania in 1960s, became officially a godless country. feel free to move there at any time.
    No one see oxygen, yet you cannot live without it. You do not see god, but be certain he acts in your life now and then. he created you and love you. If you ever want to be near Him, He will not refuse you. The only way to Him is through Jesus Christ, His begotten Son. One day you will see this truth manifested in your life. Humans are creation! You cannot add one day to your life, you cannot guarantee a healthy life, you certainly  need God. He does not need us. We need Him!

  • Funny, I don’t see god’s signature on the US Constitution (nor his name mentioned anywhere in that fine document), so how do you make that claim?

    Also, your god didn’t create the universe. Everyone knows it was either Jupiter or Zeus.

  • I can prove oxygen exists. I can prove that it is used to sustain life, and *how* that process works. I can capture oxygen it in a Erlenmeyer Flask. I can free the gas from ordinary water using simple apparatus. 

    Can you prove that god exists? You say that “he acts in your life now and then.” What is your reason behind that statement? What can you point to and say, “yes, that could’ve only been caused by an invisible magic man”?

    “He does not need us.”

    Not according to the bible. He needs us to burn his meat to make the sweet, sweet savour (Gen 8:21, Deu 12:17, Lev 1:5, Exo 20:20, Num 18:19, etc) . God likes him some charred meat!

  • Pat

     The United States (in terms of its government, not its citizenry) officially became a godless country in 1787, so we have Albania beat by almost 200 years. Since then, Christian Americans have worked tirelessly to try to bring us back to theocracy. I say, in response to your intolerant comment, if you want to live in a theocracy, move to Iran, or Saudi Arabia. Why is it SO important to you that everyone MUST pretend to believe as you do? Is your faith SO WEAK that it cannot stand without the government supporting it?  Or is the attitude simply a product of the prejudice machine that is most churches? Baptists teach that Pentecostals are evil because they speak in tongues, Pentecostals say that Baptists are evil because they don’t. Both revile the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, and all get together to hate atheists. Thank GOD for the lessons of love he has bestowed on you. Perhaps the pledge should read, “One nation, under hypocrisy, with liberty and justice for anyone who agrees with me.”

  • Pat

     Waiting for his mail order diabetes medication and his Depends diapers, just like most people in Florida.

  • paulalovescats

    HEY! Cape Coral! I spent 35 years there! I only miss it in the winter. And I miss the gulf. 🙁

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