Outspoken Florida Atheist EllenBeth Wachs faces multiple ‘revenge arrests’

It is much more difficult to stand up for a ‘hard right’ than to just accept an ‘easy wrong’.

Please spare 5 minutes for a brave atheist who has been arrested multiple times for standing up for what is right. All you need to do is sign this petition (and if you have the scratch, donate here).

And no, signing this petition is not just a symbolic exercise or a waste of time. The website where the petition is hosted automatically generates email messages to several high-profile government officials in your name.

But don’t stop there either. Please write to the local Lakeland, Fl newspaper, The Ledger, as well.

All letters should contain the writer’s full name, address, e-mail address and telephone number. Anonymity is granted only under unusual circumstances. Letters should be kept to 300 words or less, and brevity is encouraged. Please send all letters to voice@theledger.com

Not only is Wachs deserving of some printed support, but The Ledger needs to know that its previous endorsement of Sheriff Grady Judd during elections should not be repeated next year.

Sheriff Judd begins harassing the atheist activist

Though Polk County has been a significant battleground in the theological culture war, it really started getting ugly with the Sheriff’s Dept. in December.

via [New York Times]

An atheist in Central Florida filed suit in Federal District Court in Tampa on Friday, accusing the Polk County sheriff, an evangelical Christian, of harassing and unnecessarily arresting her as retaliation for not believing in God and for her efforts to keep prayer out of public meetings.

The imbroglio between Ms. Wachs, 48, who lives in Lakeland, and Sheriff Judd dates to last year when the sheriff removed the basketball hoops from the Polk County jail and donated them to several local churches.

This angered Ms. Wachs, who filed several public-records requests on the matter. A nonpracticing lawyer, she signed the requests with the designation Esquire after her name. Sheriff Judd sent a team of officers to arrest her and charged her in March with illegally posing as a lawyer, a felony.

“This does not violate any bar rules,” said her lawyer, Lawrence G. Walters. “She is allowed to use esquire.”

Oh, John! 3:16

The second arrest from the vindictive sheriff’s department constitutes yet another violation of free speech. The arrest came 48 days after a neighbor reported hearing a moaning “Oh, John!” coming from inside EllenBeth’s home.

[New York Times]

Ms. Wachs was arrested a second time, in May, for moaning repeatedly in a sexual manner from an open window in her house, saying, “Oh, John,” in a crescendo, as a ploy to stop neighbors, including a young boy, from playing basketball. The moans followed a dispute with the neighbor.

Watch this classic scene from 1989′s When Harry Met Sally and compare it to EllenBeth’s situation. Keep in mind, EllenBeth was *inside her house* and not at a deli.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZluzt3H6tk

You actually might not want what she’s having.

And if you do have what she’s having, don’t take any leftovers home.

[New York Times]

The sheriff’s office arrested her on a felony sex charge. The police searched her house and took away a safe, among other things.

Why would they search the house for a noise complaint? Fourth Amendment anyone?

The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It was adopted as a response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, which is a type of general search warrant, in the American Revolution. Search and arrest should be limited in scope according to specific information supplied to the issuing court, usually by a law enforcement officer, who has sworn by it.

I’m pretty sure it went like this:

Officer 1: “Ma’am, we heard you making silly sex noises 2 months ago during your neighbor’s basketball game. We’re going to need to pat you down, and search the house.”

EllenBeth: “But officer, aren’t you searching for me?”

Sheriff is totally in ctrl here.

Officer 1: “Quiet you!”

Officer 2: “Hey, I found her legal paperwork about her atheist stuff, maybe it has transcripts of sexy noises… and… JACKPOT! I found a combination safe.”

Officer 1: “Put your ear on that safe. Do you hear sex noises?”

Officer 2: “No, we’re going to have to listen back at the lab, with our Sexy-Noises-detecting K9 unit.”

[New York Times]

Later that month, the police arrested her again and charged her with possession of marijuana, after saying they had found drugs in the safe.

Stay classy, Polk County Sheriff’s Department.

I rarely write about non-military related atheism here. But I think this country needs more brave citizens standing up for the U.S. Constitution like EllenBeth. That is the document I took an oath to protect and defend. It defines the modern concepts of freedom and democracy. Obviously, ‘pick your battles’ is important advice. But this isn’t a battle anymore, it’s a war against her, and its battles are now picking her.

I’m sitting here in the desert right now, halfway around the world away from my beautiful 5 month old daughter. It’s depressing to see the Constitution that I’m supposed to be out here to protect and defend now is being abused in such a manner. However, I’m comforted to know that people like EllenBeth are back home and ready to dig in and double down for her Constitutional rights.

*** Update:***
EllenBeth let me know a bit of a correction to the order of events.

“Actually they took the safe during the search for my first arrest March 1 but claim not to have bothered to opened it until May 10th AFTER I finally got released on bail for the 2nd arrest”

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About Justin Griffith
  • beerslayer

    In the above scene, Meg Ryan is eating at Katz’s Deli in New York. That means that whatever she’s having is utterly delicious. I’ll definitely have some… :)

    I never sign petitions, but I’ve signed this one. It’s time for this kind of crap to end. Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention, Justin.

  • Gary Owen

    It is time we who are Atheist or Anti-god and anti- religions (as I am) stood up for our rights to express our beliefs. Just because are beliefs are pro god and pro religion do not mean we do not have the right to express them. I am in Oregon and it is legal here for religious people to talk about their beliefs in the workplace, even though they offend the non religious. Yet it is illegal for a non or anti religious person to say anything in the workplace that would offend some who is religious. This is complete bullshit.

    • Justin Griffith

      Well, to be sure… this type of (alleged) harassment of an atheist activist is not legal. Also, I think it is important to pick one’s battles wisely when it comes to activism. See: Friendly Atheist’s coverage of “Seven in Heaven” for example.

      Over all, I totally get what you are saying and agree that it’s time to stand up. I liked a recent post from PZ Myers about communicating effectively to the other side without sacrificing a solid base to stand on.

      “I have met so many people who became atheists after reading Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, and in case you haven’t read it, it’s not a diplomatic book. It was like a thunderbolt from the sky. What won people over wasn’t subtlety and gentle appeals, it was clarity and strength. While strength alone is tyranny, kindness and charity without confidence and resolve behind them become nothing but weakness and surrender.

      Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we must endorse only our rock-ribbed heroes of godless skepticism, or that they can do no wrong. I’m saying we have to do it all, embracing a wide range of tactics, including the proximate tools of psychology and holding high a coherent and strong set of principles. Unfortunately, in recent years, many of the people in this movement have wrongly decided that the most firmly principled people in our ranks are all dicks who need to be chastened — a weakness the other side does not have. I sometimes feel like we spend more time gnawing at our foundations than we do effectively peeling away opponents to our side.

      So here we are, once again talking about how to communicate, and I fear that we’ll lose is the sense of what to communicate. Don’t forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we’ll lose our way.”

  • Old_Warhorse

    Personally, I don’t give a frell what someone’s religion is, or their lack thereof, as they case may be, that’s why we have the First Amendment. What I do care very greatly about is the fact that the Polk County Sheriff so blithely violated both the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution. That is not acceptable from any public servant at any level of government and Sheriff Judd should be recalled and prosecuted to the fullest extent that the law allows. In fact, if it wasn’t prohibited under the Eighth Amendment, I’d say the man should be horsewhipped, but I wouldn’t violate his rights under the Constitution, either, though the temptation is most definitely there.

    Personally, I think Ms. Wachs is acting childishly, to put it mildly, but it’s certainly no reason to arrest someone, and there is absolutely no reason, ever, to violate someone’s (supposedly) Constitutionally Guaranteed Rights!

    *just a tad angry*

    • http://www.atheistsofflorida.org EllenBeth Wachs

      May I ask just how I am acting “childishly?” Since when is demanding a government official uphold his duties childish?

  • John Miele

    Sad day when the law can be twisted by an insecure petty little man to enforce “crimes” against his imaginary friend.

    Illegal search and seisure is a dangerous precident and if I were a church goer I’d be concerned too. Imagine what could be uncovered if a zealous secular public official decided to search and seize the records in the office of any bishop of the catholic church for instance or the bookkeeping records of most small churches.

    And by the way, if moaning heard from a window during daylight hrs. is a crime then what soap opera shouldn’t be banned and which viewer shouldn’t be arrested for similar charges?

    Religious hatered is the worst kind of hate crime because it is a crime agiainst the mind and the heart and it is directed at the very livelihood of the person affected.

    Who will have the courage to stand up against this?

    I know where EllenBeth stands. and I stand proudly with her. If you don’t stand with her you are a hateful bigot and a coward.

  • truthspeaker

    Please update us when you can. If the facts as described here are accurate, that marijuana conviction should get thrown out as it was found in an illegal search.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd0iQ8SUXKg C. Bookerton

    Serves her right, atheists are the scum of society who deserve to burn in Hell

    • Justin Griffith

      I thought this drive by comment was a joke, but it seems to be real. They gave an email address for an arabic language website, despite living in Connecticut. [assuming geo-locate data is accurate, hit or miss]. People are strange.

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    I am so glad I moved away from that theitard state when I retired. I had my car vandalized once and the police refused to do anything about it (Background: I have always used this screen name, and would often post on the local paper. My car had vanity plates that said Larian, so the local rednecks didn’t have a hard time figuring out who the car belonged to. And they carved the insipid psalm verse into my paint… Yeah, so glad I am out of that state!)

  • KG Bailess

    Do you whether this woman’s story or the petition have reached Pharyngula yet?

    • Justin Griffith

      Pretty sure not. I saw THIS post referenced in a comment on a thread about LA PD vehicle with a jesus sticker (it could be worse than a ‘jesus freak’ sticker on a cop car. Both situations are bad and fixable though!)

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