Man objects to prayer, is arrested at Polk School board meeting

7:53 PM, Feb 23, 2011   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +
  • John Kieffer
  • John Albert Kieffer's booking photo
    

 

Lakeland, Florida --  The president of a Florida atheist group found himself on the wrong side of the law on Tuesday night, just before the start of a Polk County School Board meeting.

John Kieffer, president of Atheist of Florida, Inc. tells 10 News he and the group's vice president went to the meeting to educate school board members and remind them about the separation of church and state.

"People can pray all they want, that's their constitutional right, however, when it comes to government, government is not in the position to promote prayer one way or another," he said.

The school board meeting had not yet started on Tuesday when a local reverend approached the podium to lead a group of about 100 people who showed up for the meeting in prayer.

It was then, when school board member Frank O'Reilly says he witnessed the "most insulting display" he's ever seen during his 25 years in public service.  This includes all of those years he's served as a school board member, city commissioner, and Lakeland mayor.

"As the Reverend Alex Harper started his invocation, all of the suddent these two people approached, talking loudly between themselves the man would stand by Alex Harper and the woman would take a picture and then he would stand on the other side and she would take a picture.  All the time, they were talking," O'Reilly said.

Wachs doesn't deny they took pictures and sent us the photos.

Photo Gallery: John Kieffer's pictures from the school board meeting

At the end of the invocation, O'Reilly says he felt compelled to speak up.  Moments before the prayer, they discussed the breaking news of the arrest of a 16-year-old in St. Petersburg in the shooting death of Officer David Crawford.

The prayer was for the men and women who serve their communities, he explained.

"I said, this is the rudest outbreak I have ever seen and the man stood in front of me, 'Oh no, religion has no place in government'," he recalled, "He kept saying, 'religion has no place in government, place in government.  They said, please sit down or leave.  He kept up."

Bartow Police say Kieffer was removed from the board room when he refused to stop causing a disruption. 

The police report states, "Kieffer then began to pull his arms and twist them to get free from Officer Pagan and I.  Kieffer was then advised he was under arrest and had to be placed against the auditorium wall to gain control of him.'

It later states, they could "hear the crowd of citizens in the auditorium begin to yell and use profanity toward Kieffer".

Wachs complied with officer demands to leave the auditorium.

Kieffer was booked in the Polk County Jail, facing charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and possession of a certain medication without a valid prescription.

A police report indicates officers found what Kieffer described as an anti-anxiety pill in his pocket.  He was not able to provide officers with the prescription, according to the report.

'This was outrageous.  This was a total shock.  We were simply milling about the room prior ot the start of the meeting, just like people do at the start of meetings," Wachs said.

"When the police officer charged him and dragged him away, I was just astounded," she added.

This is the same group that's caused a stir, posting anti-religious billboards in Lakeland last year and lodging lawsuits against the Lakeland City Council for holding invocation during government meetings.

Wachs and Kieffer say they don't care if people pray, they just don't want it done on government time.

"We simply want to educate these people about that," said Wachs.

But, others see it different, like Frank O'Reilly.

"They wanted a controversy, they wanted to be hauled out, they wanted to make their point.  The only thing they forgot, no cameras were rolling because there was no school board meetings going on," said O'Reilly.

10 News and the Bartow Police Department

Most Watched Videos