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The Town That Banned Satan 

A Visit to Inglis, Florida

Page 2 of 6

"When God moves you to do something, you don't question it," she said, "You just don't question God."

A week after our phone conversation, I entered Inglis with some trepidation. I did not get struck by lightning while crossing the city limits; I took that as a good sign. However, controversy had arisen over the proclamation. One commissioner had questioned the mayor's legal right to publish such blatantly religious remarks on behalf of the city, and area newspapers had reported that Inglis resident Polly Bowser had begun threatening ACLU-assisted legal action. A petition calling for Risher's removal from office reputedly circulated among residents.

Ordinarily, mayors issue proclamations designating dates like "Clean Up Your Yard Day" or in formal support of "National Alcoholism Awareness Month." According to Risher, her proclamation was a ceremonial act, and her job includes serving as the ceremonial head of the town.

"I guess the commission could vote on it," she said. However, a proclamation doesn't carry the legislative weight of an ordinance; it doesn't bind Inglis' citizens to any particular rules or regulations. "It's like when we have an election, we do a proclamation, just to say we're holding an election. It just states a fact."

Attorneys had mixed feelings about the proclamation. After she told Inglis' attorney Norm Fugate about it, "he didn't think it was a problem," Risher said.

Seminole County municipal attorney Lonnie N. Groot explained that a proclamation "generally is an expression of intent, desire, or the general view or opinion of a jurisdiction. It's not a binding piece of legislation." However, he added, a town's charter could require proclamations to be adopted by the commission. "If it says that, then you might have an issue."

Prominent Florida civil rights attorney Steven G. Mason took a more critical view. Such an action on the part of the mayor could be a problem, especially if it influenced other local government philosophies and actions.

"It always comes down to definitions," said Mason. "Define Satan. What does that mean? There are any number of things people call Satanic," he pointed out, including a variety of protected artistic expressions, along with some new age religions like Wicca. "Does this mean if someone does something the mayor doesn't like, they have to stop?"

Inglis Commissioner Richard Kellman opposed the proclamation, and was annoyed by a local newspaper's soft-pedaling of his opposition. "I don't agree with the opinions and declarations contained in the proclamation," he said. "And I don't agree that it was correct and appropriate for her to do it."

"I do believe that as private citizens, officials have the freedom to express their opinions," he added. "But I don't believe it should have been put on town stationery."

I hoped the controversy had not made Risher and her fellow anti-Satanists media shy. I also wondered about the absence of 4-by-4 fence posts at the city limits. The mayor was "out running errands," said McCranie, who met me at town hall. She assured me Risher would return in the afternoon. The posts, she explained, had been "temporarily taken down. DOT made us move them while they mow," she said. "But we'll put them back up."

The media had been generally positive, but she and Risher were dazed by the controversy. "Never in any of our wildest dreams did we think it would make this raging fire," said McCranie. "It created quite a stir, but I think it's a good stir; 99 percent of the calls we've gotten have been positive."

No one seemed to take seriously the threat of impeachment. "There's a petition to have the mayor and myself removed, but I haven't seen any names on it," she said. "Besides, I read the First Amendment, and it says nothing about this.

"Anyway, I think it has changed things," she said. "When you take a stand, it will have an effect. It has gotten some people angry, and it sure got Satan upset. But God always wins."

While waiting for Risher to return, I decided to look around town and talk to her pastor. Moore wasn't quite ready to receive visitors but would be in a half-hour or so, McCranie said. I filled the time driving down Follow That Dream Parkway, which cuts through the heart of Inglis, past the police station and town hall, before crossing the line into neighboring Yankeetown.

Outside Yankeetown, the parkway cuts a straight swath through slash pines, then scrub, and then salt marshes before finally terminating at a boat ramp. Beyond the ramp, the marshes reluctantly give way to turtle grass as the land slopes gradually into the gulf. The concrete cooling towers of the Crystal River nuclear power plant loom in the distance, a landmark for the retirees motoring by, hunting trout and redfish.

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