Keeping Satan at bay
From the Orlando Sentinel
Keeping Satan at bay isn't town's only worry
By Michael McLeod | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted March 17, 2002
INGLIS -- When retired Tampa businessman Gene Kiger ran for Town Commission in this historic Florida fishing village, he talked about potholes, of which there are many, and a sewage-treatment plant, of which there is none.
He thought of it as a solid, down-to-earth campaign. Now, he realizes he left out a key issue: hell.
Although Kiger won his commission seat in the election last week, he wonders what he's in for as civic leader of the 1,400 souls of this remote Levy County community 90 miles north of Tampa.
"It's frustrating," he says. "I want to talk about improving the roads, and it seems like everybody else is concerned about Satan. I mean, how can you compete with that?"
You can't, at least not in Inglis, where for the past four months the talk around Town Hall has been more metaphysical than municipal -- ever since Mayor Carolyn Risher declared war on Satan.
"I just wanted to make it crystal clear that he is not welcome here," she says.
Presumably, the devil would be an unwelcome guest in any American community, with the possible exception of parts of New Orleans and Las Vegas.
The difference is that, in Inglis, it's official. In Inglis, the ban on Beelzebub is written on town letterhead and emblazoned with the town seal. It reads, in part:
"Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis. Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens.
"In the past, Satan has caused division, animosity, hate, confusion, ungodly acts on our youth, and discord among our friends and loved ones. NO LONGER!"
Risher wrote the proclamation in October.
Unless you count crank calls, she has yet to receive a reply. ("I want your soul!" a sepulchral voice intoned to Town Clerk Sally McCranie one afternoon. She responded, cheerfully: "Sorry. It already belongs to God!")
Diabolical phone calls do not deter the mayor. Nor does the American Civil Liberties Union. That organization's Gainesville chapter threatened a lawsuit in a letter that argued that Risher's proclamation represented a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees separation of church and state.
Risher and the Town Commission sidestepped the issue when they passed a resolution declaring that the mayor was acting on her own when she issued the Beelzebub ban.
To further appease any lingering legal sticklers, the town's police chief volunteered to pay for the paper upon which the proclamation is printed.
"I will stand my ground," says the mayor, an energetic woman who grew up in Inglis and has served for 10 years as mayor, a part-time position that pays $350 a month.
"Satan is not allowed in my office, he is not allowed in my life, and he is not allowed in my town."
Sermon inspired action
Her campaign against the underworld figure began at Halloween.
Risher, a 61-year-old prayer leader at the local Church of God, was listening to a sermon during a church cookout held as an alternative to trick-or-treating, which some Christians frown upon.
Pastor Rick Moore spoke of a vision that he had of a black shroud descending upon the land. Then fireballs rained down from the sky, penetrating the darkness.
To Moore, the vision was a call to arms, a message from God that good people need to do something dramatic to cut through the evil in the world.
It's not enough to pray, says Moore: "You've got to put legs on those prayers."
So he told the people at the Halloween gathering that he wanted to do something to make it clear that the community was taking a stand against the devil.
He wanted to put four wooden posts at the town limits, with three words written on them -- repent, resist and request.
He also wanted to have a prayer or message of some sort inserted in a hollowed-out compartment in each of the posts.
That was when the mayor stepped in.
"I'll write something, Brother Moore," she said.
That night, sitting at her kitchen table, feeling a sensation that she describes as electricity coursing through her body, she wrote the proclamation.
"I know God led me to do it," she says.
The next day, she had the message copied onto town stationery.
She made five copies. Four were for the posts, which she and several Christian townspeople duly planted next to the highways on the outskirts of town.
The other she hung on her office wall.
Vandals stole the posts two weeks ago.
"All I know is, it couldn't have been Christians who stole them. Christians don't steal," Risher says.
Stolen posts replaced
No matter. The minister had stronger replacements made.
Now the posts are back, planted once again on private property on the outskirts of town, mute sentinels against evil forces, painted a fire-and-brimstone orange and fortified by 4 feet of righteous, steel-reinforced concrete.
Did it work?
"Well, the police chief says it's been very quiet around here," Risher observed, hopefully.
"The posts themselves don't do anything," says Moore. "But they have done a great deal to unite the community, and to spread the name of Jesus across the world."
Since the proclamation, Risher has received hundreds of letters -- a map of the United States on the wall in her office bristles with push-pins denoting where they came from. The vast majority, she says, are supportive.
In Inglis, where there are seven churches and one stoplight in a 2-mile radius, support for the mayor has been substantial, although not unanimous.
"She's basking in the glory and, meanwhile, the whole town is a laughingstock," says Floyd Craig, a retired farmer, postal worker and merchant marine who operates F. Craig Produce & Feed -- the only place in Inglis where you can buy a bale of hay, a parvo injection for your dog, a pound of portobello mushrooms or a $4 used movie.
"Some of them are R-rated," confesses Craig, looking down, a little embarrassed, and kicking at the weathered, plywood floor. Old-timers like Craig find it a little disheartening that Inglis, forgotten by the rest of the world for so long, had to have something like this happen to get the world's attention.
Until the posts went up, the most notable local landmark was a plaque that reads:
"ELVIS PRESLEY Spent July and August of 1961 in this area filming his ninth major motion picture, FOLLOW THAT DREAM."
Risher agreed to name a street in the town Follow That Dream Boulevard, but only after checking out the movie to see if it was wholesome.
"It had family values," she decided.
No middleman for her
On most weekdays, she rises early to fix breakfast for her husband, who operates a garage in town, drops a granddaughter off at school and makes a dash for Town Hall, roughly the size of a convenience store.
She manages the town pretty much the same way she manages her campaign against Lucifer, bypassing the middleman and handling the matter herself.
She is the sort of mayor who goes door to door to local businesses every year, taking up a collection so the town can have a fireworks display.
She is less interested in the vagaries of constitutional law. What if someone in her town was, say, a Buddhist who resented her proclamation?
She shrugs. "They don't need to accept the protection," she says.
Why did she say, in a part of the proclamation that raised ACLU eyebrows, that she was "appointed by God to this position of leadership?"
"Because he always cleared the way for me," she says. "I even ran unopposed. I always had support. I took it as a sign."
Progress on the horizon
Lucifer may choose to avoid Inglis, but progress surely will not.
Once a thriving port town where shrimpers and shippers made a good living, Inglis is a sleepy town where half the residents live in mobile homes and people have to drive to the next town to have prescriptions filled or find a franchise restaurant.
Inglis has no sewage treatment; people have to get by with septic tanks. Many of the streets are gravel or dirt, and a small tax base has made it hard for the town to keep up with paving requests.
But a highway spur from the south is due within the next few years, and the population boom that has overtaken the Gulf Coast farther south will follow.
"We need to address some practical issues, or all these thing are going to overtake us," says Kiger, the newly elected commissioner who wants to bring Inglis back down to earth.
"I wish we could get this Satan thing to just go away."
Otherwise, he says, there will be hell to pay.
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