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Dear Ms. Anne Lindberg:
I read with interest your recent news piece (8/7/2014) regarding an atheist invocation at a Largo City Commission meeting given by Mr. Wallace "Joe" Reinhardt, a member of the fractious and litigious organization - "Atheists of Florida" (AoF). You made a vague reference to a similar but contentious event from about 10 years ago when "...an atheist gave the invocation to open a Tampa City Council meeting....". Mr. Reinhardt waxed whimsical during his non-invocation: "...it looks as if we are making progress towards a more compassionate, all-inclusive world view". Evidently, Reinhardt is privy to entirely different and optimistic news sources, surveys and statistics from such crack researchers and data analysts as Pew Research.
Nevertheless, it should have been frightfully easy for the loquacious and eidetic Mr. Reinhardt to mention the name of his former comrade, fellow AoF “soldier” and friend who put himself on the line for the noble cause of state-church separation, against a bigoted, hypocritical and hostile Tampa City Council (less two). It also might have been advisable for a reporter to ask follow-up questions and/or exert research due diligence regarding an organization embroiled in an existential legal battle that’s been in the news before; you know, just for the sake of journalistic accuracy.
To that end, allow me to correct and clarify parts of the record. First, that mysterious atheist to whom you vaguely alluded was me - Michael R. Harvey. Reinhardt was present at that event in 2004, along with other AoF "notables"; in addition to local representatives from nearly every major media outlet with cameras rolling and microphones at attention. The 2004 Tampa City Council Atheist invocation predictably resulted in howls from the religious right peanut gallery; thoughtful regret from John Dingfelder; and the predictable pious bluster from self-styled "experts" on "Faith Issues", politics and the grave sociological and moral ramifications of "allowing an atheist to speak in public". Notably, Mr. Kevin White - sanctimonious council member who tried in vain to prevent me from speaking yet was convicted in 2011 on bribery and corruption charges - likened my public atheist invocation to (I quote) "having unprotected sex". White is now serving a three-year prison sentence and as of April 1st 2014 lost his appeal. Evidently, myriad prayers coming from family, friends and clergy were ineffective. While in prison and out of politics (temporarily?) one can hope that White has had ample opportunity to make new friends and associate with a better class of people.
Second, Mr. Reinhardt, who has ostensibly not lost his congenital love of "borrowing" quotes and ideas from others, made the following claim during his latest installment of local celebrity: "We at Atheists of Florida have long advocated a moment of silence in lieu of an invocation as an agreeable way to commence any meeting...". This is half-true - he and AoF were against invocations, even “moments of silence”, because both still invoked the perception of religion and mysticism. But in fact, this particular policy idea for a “moment of silence” came later from Ms. EllenBeth Wachs - a former president and vice-president of AoF who, along with yet another former AoF president - John Kieffer, is engaged in litigation (as plaintiffs) against AoF, Mr. Reinhardt, Edward Jonathan Winstead Gollobith (former president, chairman, treasurer, secretary, bartender, etc.), Tampa Humanist Association, The Humanist Society of the Suncoast, et al (as defendants).
Third, to stress and further clarify the previous point, Wachs and Kieffer are suing AoF,et al, for defamation (and damages), and here's the key point: ownership and viability of AoF is at stake, in lieu of being decided by the 13th Judicial as a result of several related cases being consolidated into a single case (NO. 11-CA-015545). AoF properties and "assets" (physical, financial, intellectual) are spread among the competing factions, with the "real property" (including the modest AoF treasury) being firmly controlled by the real ringmaster of the AoF circus - Gollobith. Long-standing internal power struggles and personal conflicts resulted in a whispering gallery of defamatory brouhaha. That, in turn, resulted in Wachs and Kieffer ultimately being ousted from AoF under questionable "procedures" and a highly irregular election process. Wachs’ and Kieffers’ reputations were utterly besmirched and ruined in several regional freethought organizations and within the Florida atheist community at-large. Needless to say, that was merely the warm-up act for an ugly and costly legal melee with no immediate end or relief in sight. In essence, AoF itself is in question. Which brings me to my reasons for contacting you. Please write an update/correction/follow-up to your article as per the following: • Summarize the legal controversy surrounding AoF and its competing factions. Contact EllenBeth Wachs and John Kieffer to get their statements and perspective on AoF. There is an engaging, complex and nuanced story here – one side of which has not been told with integrity and a full reckoning of ALL the facts. • Please refer to me by my name, other than just “an atheist”. My quest and activism for a greater understanding of and tolerance for non-religious people, was moderately costly to me, both personally and professionally. I've earned the right to have my name mentioned in association with my role in an historical event that in some small way helped to clear the path and set positive precedent for other secularists / atheists / skeptics – indeed all misunderstood and maligned groups seeking equality, fairness, and inclusion in the American experience and dream.
Sincerely, Michael R. Harvey
American Atheists names
Florida's Atheist Activist of the Year
.~ Current Events Timeline ~
AoF President Steps Down to Concentrate on Upcoming School Board Trial;
Wachs is Acting President
October 17, 2011 To concentrate fully on his upcoming trial, John Kieffer notified the Board of Directors for Atheists of Florida that he has transferred all executive authority, duties and responsibilities as President to the Vice-President, EllenBeth Wachs. Read more
Jury Trial for Atheist Reset to Jan. 5 & 6, 2012
(Updated) October 26 , 2011 John Kieffer, who was arrested at the Polk County School Board facility in February, is scheduled for a trial by jury January 5 & 6, 2012, at the Polk County courthouse in Bartow. Kieffer, the president of Atheists of Florida, was arrested prior to the official start of a school board meeting February 22nd. Wearing a One Nation Indivisible Atheists of Florida t-shirt, Kieffer did not participate in a pre-meeting Christian prayer ritual and instead milled about, took photos and spoke with Atheists of Florida Vice-President EllenBeth Wachs. Kieffer was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest without violence and disrupting a lawful assembly. The three misdemeanors carry a total maximum jail/prison sentence of 1 year and 4 months.
Trial is once more rescheduled!!
2 charges dismissed!!
John has had 2 of his 3 charges outright dismissed. He is still facing one misdemeanor charge at this time.
Charges Dismissed! EllenBeth Celebrates at Benefit Concert
29 August 2011 A benefit concert on Sunday for EllenBeth Wachs turned into a celebration as she announced to her audience that the trumped up criminal charges against her had been dismissed. Prosecutors realized that it was not in their best interest to move forward to trial and offered a settlement agreement that dismissed the felonies and averted convictions on all charges. The Lakeland event was attended by Atheists of Florida members from around the state. It featured live music and atheist activist speakers from around the country. Read more
Donate to EllenBeth's Legal Fund
Atheists of Florida Vice-President EllenBeth Wachs has courageously acted on several government fronts in Polk County in behalf of her civil rights and, for that matter, the rights of all religious minorities in her community who are expected to quietly accept their status as second class citizens.
Atheists of Florida, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) organization under the United States Internal Revenue Code, so your donation is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. A copy of the official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Division of Consumer Services by calling toll-free (800) 435-7352 within the state.Registration does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation by the state.
$10,000 Donation: Stiefel Freethought Foundation assists embattled atheists
August 8, 2011 -- In defense of the civil rights of atheists, Humanists and Freethinkers in Florida, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation has donated $10,000 to EllenBeth's Legal Fund through Atheists of Florida. Todd Stiefel, founder of the North Carolina based foundation, recognizes that what is occurring in Polk County, Florida, is an epic confrontation between the political elite who serve to protect the religious privilege of their majority constituents against a civil rights minority, atheists, demanding equal protection and adherence to the U.S. Constitution.
EllenBeth sues Sheriff Grady Judd
June 24, 2011 To stop a religiously motivated persecution against her, EllenBeth Wachs filed a lawsuit today against Sheriff Grady Judd in Federal District Court in Tampa, FL. The complaint asserts that the Polk County sheriff's actions, which included two arrests and a search of her home, violated her First Amendment rights and her right to due process. Copy of the federal complaint and additional information Read more...
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has publicly supported Polk Under Prayer (PUP), an affiliation of Polk County evangelical churches and government officials. One affiliate promoted the PUP doctrine on its website: If they [people in Polk County] will not submit to God's way of living, then the prayer is to have them incarcerated or removed from the county.