Atheist suing Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd for disregarding separation of Church and State

POLK COUNTY, Fla. - A Polk County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Grady Judd, claiming he's failed to "respect the separation of Church and State" by arresting her several times on "frivolous criminal charges" because she is an atheist.

According to EllenBeth Wachs' attorney, Lawrence Walters, the Atheists of Florida member is the target of "gestapo" arrests, not because she is a criminal, but because she doesn't believe in God.

"This individual has been treated differently than anybody else would, merely because she is a vocal atheist and the Sheriff disagrees with her viewpoint," Walters said.

Walters claims it all began around Christmas last year, when Wachs cried foul as Sheriff Judd donated the jail's basketball hoops to a church. Judd claimed he chose the site for its location in a neighborhood with little ammenities for children.

"The children need the opportunity most to interact in a positive safe environment," Judd said in an interview conducted in December 2010.

Wachs vocally argued it violated the separation of church and state, claiming Judd "played Santa Claus" with taxpayers' money.

"He has forced me to donate to a church," Wachs said in an interview around the same time.

Since the basketball battle, Wachs has been arrested three times, two of them felonies.

"Trumped up, bogus charges," Walters said.

Wachs, a retired attorney, was first charged with illegally practicing law, when she signed "esquire" after her name in an open records request about the basketball hoops.

"She wasn't practicing law. She merely sent a letter to the Sheriff asking for public records relating to his donation of basketball nets to the jails," Walters said.

Walters says that charge led to the search of her house, where deputies found marijuana in a safe.

Wachs was also arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior after a child, playing basketball next door, allegedly overheard her moaning in her bedroom.

"Something like, 'Oh John, Oh, John' and moaned in her own house in a sexual manner," Walters recounted.

For that, Wachs spent six days in jail. She's also dished out about $6,000 in bail.

The complaint, filed Friday, asks a federal judge to stop any new investigations or arrests based soley on Wachs' atheist beliefs.

"The goal of this complaint is to stop the madness," Walters said. "She will not be intimidated by a Sheriff who has been misusing his authority in his attempt to silence her."

ABC Action News contacted Sheriff Judd for his response, but his office says they do not comment on pending litigation.

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