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The Town That Banned Satan 

A Visit to Inglis, Florida

Page 5 of 6

Some people might question whether it was appropriate for a government leader to focus on Satan as the cause for some of those ills, I said. Perhaps they'd prefer government address issues like economics and education, rather than Satan.

"Everyone knows what Satan's done," Risher responded. "And to me, it doesn't take education or money to know how to treat your fellow man right."

Several weeks after my visit with Risher, the ACLU threatened to file suit in federal court against Inglis. After receiving notice of the pending litigation, the commission held a special meeting. They determined that the proclamation was solely an act of the mayor and not an official action of the commission.

According to Edinger, the commission "avoided the necessity for federal litigation" by voting to adopt a resolution declaring that the proclamation was not an act of government and of no force or effect.

"The rationale behind this was that the mayor has no authority to issue a proclamation without the vote of the City Council," said Edinger. The commission also required Risher to pay back the cost of copying the proclamation and to move the proclamation-bearing 4-by-4s to private property.

Inglis commissioner Gary Mosher commented that he "personally didn't have any problem with (the proclamation). I think it came out of inspiration, and it was in a positive direction." However, he explained, "Everything has to be approved by the commission. The commission pretty much runs the town, so until the ordinance is changed, the commission has to approve pretty much everything."

Risher took the commission's action as a light slap of the hand. "I will die stating that I did the right thing," she said. "They haven't convinced me that I have done anything wrong." Nor, she said, have they "impressed or convinced me that there's a separation of church and state."

Whether the controversy might affect Risher's chances for running unopposed when her next bid for re-election arrives remains to be seen. "I think they're content with what I've been doing," she added. "If not, there would be someone else running for this seat. Maybe next time there will be an opponent, but I welcome a challenge. I'm a fighter; they won't bother me at all."

Risher believes the support she has received from the media and public provides evidence that she has done no wrong. When the commission met to decide otherwise, "The town hall overflowed with people that came to support me," she said. "There were cameras all over the place. CNN was here live the next morning, and people have called from all over the world; they thought it was awesome."

Risher claims that her callers have included community leaders who plan to take a similar stand against Satan. She happily advises those who want to "get on the bandwagon" to "pray first," and "if God tells you to do it, you should do it."

Not all of Florida's community leaders are as supportive as Risher believes. Mark Shuttleworth is the mayor of Lake Helen, a small Florida town with a commission the size of Inglis' and a population slightly more diverse. Churches, some dating before 1900, stand prominently on its tree-shaded corners.

Asked if he would consider hopping onto Risher's bandwagon, Shuttleworth answered flatly, "No."

"Every elected official has their own source of spiritual inspiration, but to use the government to impose that on a group of people is wrong," Shuttleworth explained. "Government should be careful to consider the feelings of individuals of all religions -- or non- religions, for that matter.

"We're supposed to consider all the people we represent and be considerate of their point of view," he added. "That's really what America is about."

However, he said, other government leaders might not hold that fundamental principal sacred. On a recent trip to Tallahassee, Shuttleworth heard Florida legislators "pushing something of the same kind of thing, the idea that every school should have to display a big plaque (on its campus) that will say "In God We Trust.'"

"I think that's a little more inclusive," he said, "but it still pushes the line a little bit. I think that's about as far as government could go before it steps on the toes of those with other viewpoints."

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