News and views.


Postby HumanAtheist on February 25th, 2011, 1:59 pm


Plea bargain accepted 8/30/2012

1 year probation; to be terminated at 6 months if all requirements met:
- Letters of apology to police officers
- Anger Management Class
- Court fees
- Stay out of trouble

Ledger news article: ... ting&tc=ar

Probation terminated 2-28-2013


Case synopsis:

    Atheist of Florida President JOHN KIEFFER was arrested on charges related to his nonparticipation in a Christian prayer ritual conducted BEFORE a Polk County School Board meeting was called to order.

    Instead of participating in the prayer ritual BEFORE the meeting had officially started, John, who was wearing a “ONE NATION INDIVISIBLE” ATHEISTS OF FLORIDA t-shirt, walked around, took photos documenting the Christian ritual and talked to another attendee in reference to the photo taking.

    John wearing the ATHEISTS OF FLORIDA shirt.

    As of 4/17/2012, two of the three charges were "Nolle Prosequi" (dropped, see below); but John still faces up to 1 year in jail if convicted on the remaining charge.

So what was the cause for arrest?

The "crime" (continuing to converse in a normal voice while taking a few pictures) occurred BEFORE the school board meeting was officially gavelled/called to order. This is peaceful behavior that any law-abiding citizen should feel free to exercise.

WHY are the prayer rituals (which are exclusively Christian/Protestant/evangelical) done PRIOR to the official start of the meeting? The school board had earlier in the month implemented this strategy to get around existing church/state separation case law in order TO AVOID A LAWSUIT from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The illusion and confusion that the school board created was to make it appear that the meeting had already begun but yet claim, if sued, that these Christian prayers were not part of the meeting.

So what is the result of this illusion and confusion? For the public at large--most of those in the school board auditorium--the result is that they would naturally imagine the meeting had started. Who would see through the charade? Who could? The school board members, obviously.

The potential sentence: 1 year (maximum incarceration if convicted)[/list]


Feb. 22, 2011 -- This is a pic of the $1000 "atheist" cash just prior to it being used to bail Kieffer out of jail (courtesy EllenBeth Wachs)


Charges, status, potential fines and/or prison sentences if convicted:

FL Statute, Description & Penalties:

(DROPPED) 877.03 ... DISORDERLY CONDUCT: 2nd deg. misdemeanor; $500 max. fine; 60 days max imprisonment
(DROPPED) 871.01 ... DISTURBING SCHOOL, RELIGIOUS, OR LAWFUL ASSEMBLY*: 2nd deg. misdemeanor; $500 max. fine; 60 days max. imprisonment
843.02 ... RESISTING ARREST WITHOUT VIOLENCE: 1st degree misdemeanor; $1000 max. fine; 1 year max. imprisonment

* FL Statute 871.01 states: "Whoever willfully interrupts or disturbs any school or any assembly of people met for the worship of God or for any lawful purpose commits a misdemeanor of the second degree."

The Disorderly Conduct (877.03) and Disturbing Assemby (871.01) charges were NOLLE PROSEQUI* (dropped) by the prosecutor on 4/17/2012.

*NOLLE PROSEQUI n. Latin for "we shall no longer prosecute," which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim, or the district attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent.
Ref: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictiona ... e+prosequi

John Kieffer's latest scheduled court proceedings
All proceedings at the Imperial Polk County Courthouse (Florida 10th Judicial Circuit) in Bartow, Florida.

August 9, 2011 ... Hearing for Motion to Dismiss; motion to dismiss denied; trial/jury selection set for November 7
October 26, 2011 ... Defense Attorney replaced; defense request for continuance approved; trial set for January 5
December 15, 2011 ... Mandatory Docket Call; Assistant State Attorney (prosecutor) request for continuance approved; January 5 trial postponed
January 19, 2012 ... Pretrial Conference, Assistant State Attorney (prosecutor) request for continuance approved
February 23, 2012 ... Pretrial Conference
March 30, 2012 ... Prosecution requested hearing; Motion in Limine* (see below for explanation & why prosecutor asked for it)
April 17, 2012 ... Two charges (Disorderly Conduct; Disrupting Lawful Assembly) Nolle Prosequi (DROPPED)
April 17 (continued) ... Original charge of 2/22/2011, Resisting Arrest w/o Violence, filed/amended
April 17 (continued) ... Prosecution requested hearing; Prosecution Motion to Quash subpoenas of witnesses (school board members), judge grants motion
April 19, 2012 ... Mandatory Docket Call for scheduled trial April 23, 2012; Defense motion to recuse judge
April 20, 2012 ... Order of Recusal; new judge assigned
April 23, 2012 ... Trial (scheduled April 23-26, 2012) postponed
April 24, 2012 ... Pretrial conference and Hearing scheduled for May 31, 2012
May 31, 2012 ... Pretrial conference; amended information filed; motions filed
July 5, 2012 .. Pretrial conference; scheduled Mandatory Docket Call - Aug. 30; Trial - Sept. 4, 2012

Online docket info:

* Motion in Limine ...
    A "Motion in Limine" requests that the judge rule that certain evidence MAY NOT be introduced in trial. A Motion in Limine generally addresses issues which would be prejudicial for the jury to hear in open court

      Noteworthy is that usually the Motion in Limine is a defense tool. In this case, however, it is the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Brad Copley, who had asked for this hearing to limit what John's defense attorney could introduce in trial.

      Among the items listed, the prosecutor, ASA Copley, demanded that John's military service and/or combat duty NOT be mentioned to the jury
      (John served honorably in the US Army from 1968-1990 as an infantry officer, including infantry combat duty during the Vietnam War ...John's military bio & some of his Vietnam pics)



22 February 2011

Bartow, Fla. – In front of a packed audience, Atheists of Florida officer, John Kieffer, President, was arrested by City of Bartow police officers. Kieffer had been taking photos and speaking to another attendee in the front area of the room when a local area pastor stepped up to conduct a Christian prayer prior to the official start of the school board meeting.

Why prior to the meeting?

The practice of conducting the prayer ritual just prior to calling the meeting to order resulted from a letter to the school board from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). They asserted that the school board's Christian prayer rituals conducted during meetings was unconstitutional and that continuing the practice would place the board at risk of a lawsuit. In order to avoid an expensive court battle, the school board adopted a new protocol in an attempt to continue sectarian prayers by having them performed just before the official start of the meeting. This tactic allowed the meeting to appear, in practice, to start with a Christian prayer while simultaneously maintaining that "technically" the meeting had not yet officially started. The first of such pre-board meeting prayer rituals occurred on February 8, 2011. Tuesday (2/22/2011) represented the board's second time conducting such pre-meeting prayer ritual.

What happened:

With the audience seated and board members and staff positioned at their official seats at the dais and without calling the meeting to order, the chair of the school board, Kay Fields, invited a pastor, Alex Harper (who is incidentally her own church pastor), to the speaker’s podium, introduced him and ordered everyone in the room to stand for prayer. During this prayer ritual, Kieffer continued his conversation, already in progress, and took photos of board members, the pastor and of each other.

However, when the prayer ended, it was school board member, Frank O'Reilly, who verbally attacked Kieffer. O’Reilly scolded Kieffer for being disrespectful to the prayer being offered by the preacher. At this point, several people in the audience began to loudly berate and curse at the atheists. Kieffer asked: “Has the meeting been called to order?”

Arrest as a tool of intimidation:

Within seconds, City of Bartow police officers physically engaged and subdued Kieffer. Kieffer was wearing the organization’s shirt, which depicted an American Flag inscribed with the words “ONE NATION INDIVISIBLE” and “ATHEISTS OF FLORIDA.”

Kieffer was handcuffed, removed from the meeting room by two police officers and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He was released on bail early morning of the following day.

Polk County School Board auditorium with school board members seated.
Left to Right: Wes Bridges (Board Atty), Frank O’Reilly, Lori Cunningham, Hazel Sellers, Kay Fields (Chair), Dick Mullenax, Debra Wright, Tim Harris, Sherrie Nickell (Supt.)

Below is a photo that John Kieffer took BEFORE the meeting was called to order.

John Kieffer took this photo of Alex Harper saying a Christian prayer, BEFORE meeting called to order.
Polk School Board Chairperson Kay Fields identified Harper as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland.
Chairperson Fields is a member of Harper's church.
Harper closed his prayer with:
"We ask it in the precious, loving and master’s name of Jesus the Christ."

Board members and audience responded loudly with
"Amen !"

John was siezed by police and arrested within seconds after the pastor had finished his prayer along with the school board members and audience saying "Amen." All BEFORE the school board meeting was called to order.

Apparently, according to these government officials/police, Christian religious speech is privileged, permitted & protected BEFORE a government meeting is called to order but photography speech by atheists is prohibited, warrants trespass action for one; and, in John's case, it was a criminal act warranting arrest, incarceration in the Polk County jail until bail could be arranged, and a trial, which may result in a year in prison if he is convicted.

Further, the religious dimension, privilege and interest in John's misdemeanor case is apparent given that it is being prosecuted not by one of the State Attorney's usual misdemeanor atttorneys, who are newer and less experienced, but by the State Attorney's most experienced, high-profile felony prosecutor, who is being assisted by another top felony prosecutor who also handles appeal cases for the State Attorney.

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Matt Staver, Dean of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Law School

Postby HumanAtheist on February 25th, 2011, 8:49 pm

Just one week prior to Mr. Kieffer's arrest, , Mat Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and the Dean of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University's School of Law, expressed interest in the Polk County School Board prayer ritual issue:

OneNewsNow wrote:Image

Following a lawsuit threat from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Florida's Polk County School Board is changing how it handles school prayer.

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Liberty University's School of Law tells OneNewsNow this is just another attempt from the atheist group to remove God and Christianity from the public sphere.

"Now, the prayers will continue," he reports. "But the school board will actually have a disclaimer saying that the voluntary invocation may be offered before the opening of the school board meeting by a private citizen, and therefore, the views expressed in the invocation have not been reviewed or approved by the school board."


Staver sees nothing wrong with that approach, as it puts people on notice that the person praying is responsible for the wording and that the school is not drafting or composing prayers. So he believes the policy will be upheld if challenged, but he does not think the atheist group will be satisfied.

"Freedom From Religion Foundation is not interested in a disclaimer; it's not interested in having prayer at all," the Liberty Counsel founder contends. "It's particularly interested in eliminating Christian viewpoints and Christian heritage and history from America."

One concern expressed by school board members, however, is the potential $300,000 to $500,000 in legal fees if the prayer is challenged in court. ... id=1294296



* Mat Staver is founder of LIBERTY COUNSEL and the Dean of Jerry Falwell's LIBERTY UNIVERSITY Law School.

Jerry Falwell: "In 1971, [Falwell] founded Liberty University, an accredited Christian university for evangelical believers."

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Media ...

Postby John Kieffer on December 14th, 2011, 12:19 am

Media ...



Video & article WTSP 10 (Tampa) ... ... yid=176636

Excerpts ...

Polk School Board Frank O'Reilly:
"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."

From the officer's report:
they could "hear the crowd of citizens in the auditorium begin to yell and use profanity toward Kieffer".


Video & article Fox13 (Tampa) ... est-022311

"I am absolutely appalled at what happened. I am outraged. I am floored at what was an egregious violation of his First Amendment rights and my First Amendment rights," Wachs told FOX 13 on Wednesday.


From a PZ Meyer's "Pharyngula" blog earlier this year:

PZ Meyers wrote:John Kieffer ... announced that "Prayer has no place in government!" — and he's right — during a recent hypocritical flaunting of Jesus jabber before the meeting, and has been arrested for disorderly conduct. Apparently, invocations that are pro-god are legal, but invocations that reject gods will get you arrested in Polk County. ... county.php

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John Kieffer
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Location: Tampa, Florida

Re: AoF officers ejected @ School Board; Kieffer arrested

Postby HumanAtheist on March 2nd, 2012, 1:58 am

Due to the high profile, religious/political nature of John Kieffer’s trial and the fact that John was the President of Atheists of Florida at the time of his arrest, the Polk County State Attorney has deployed his top prosecutors against John to insure convictions and, potentially, some time behind bars in Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd’s jail.

In response, John has retained a top rated criminal defense attorney, A.R. “Chip” Mander, (Dade City, FL) who, like John, understands the important constitutional issues involved in this case. But this has taken hours of research, meetings, records requests, transcripts, and several court hearings, which have added up in legal fees.

To date John has paid $43,000 from his life savings to pay for legal fees and he expects additional legal defense costs of at least $60,000 to take this case through trial.

If you can, please donate to John’s legal defense fund … every bit helps.

Online donations (Paypal or credit card) ... JOHN KIEFFER LEGAL DEFENSE FUND

If donating by check, please make check out to: AR "Chip" Mander, ESQ with note on check: " for John Kieffer #20110675 "

& send to:

    Greenfelder, Mander, Murphy, Dwyer & Morris
    Attorneys at Law
    14217 Third Street
    Dade City, FL 33523-3828

John Kieffer's bio & contact info ...


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