Atheists in Polk County symbolically scrubbed away at a major highway leading into the county Saturday. The were removing a blessing placed there a year ago by a group of religious leaders.
Brooms, mops and water hoses in hand, the atheists gathered at the roadside. "We come in peace .. now that's normally what aliens say when they visit a new planet, but we're not aliens, we're atheists!" Humanists of Florida director Mark Palmer shouted to the group along Highway 98.
Representatives from various atheist groups in the area scrubbed the road at the Pasco-Polk county line. They were figuratively removing holy oil that had been put on the road last year by a group of area religious leaders. That group was Polk Under Prayer, or PUP.
PUP director Richard Geringswald said his group had been blessing the county line. "And praying for that entryway in to the city, that God would protect us from evildoers, mainly the drug crowd, that they would be dissuaded to come in to the county," Geringswald said.
But Humanists of Florida members don't see it that way. They say it makes them feel unwelcome. "It sends a very bad signal to everyone in Polk County, and (anyone) who travels through Polk county who doesn't happen to be Christian,” Palmer said, “This event is not about atheist rights; this is about welcoming everybody into Polk county."
So they took their "unholy water" and washed the road.
It's been an ongoing feud between the groups in the county: the atheists are also unhappy with prayer bricks PUP members buried along I-4 and various other roadway leading in to the county, engraved with Psalm 37.
"For the wicked shall be destroyed, but those who trust the Lord shall be given every blessing," Geringswald said, reading the psalm from his Bible.
Geringswald said PUP is trying to do something positive - to keep crime out and encourage faith. He says they also plan to run TV ads later this year that will say they are trying to send a positive message about criminals turning their lives around.
The humanists say they don't plan on stopping their protests any time soon.