A recent column written by the mayor of Live Oak has ignited reactions from online Democrat readers worldwide.

After the column, “Mayor’s Corner”, written by Mayor Sonny Nobles was published online last week, the Democrat received more than 60 comments from online readers as of press time Tuesday who were offended by the mayors remarks.

“Wow! The mayor's bigotry and ignorance takes my breath away,” wrote John Shuey, formerly of Gainesville.

The first paragraph of the column addresses Nobles’ response to the beliefs of “atheists, agnostic’s and non-believers.”

It reads as follows: “The Easter Season is one of the holiest times for Christians around the world. Believers join together to remember, celebrate and give thanks to God for the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made to save believers and ensure eternal life. There are those that don’t acknowledge the existence of God. Their souls are in mortal danger of being lost for eternity. These atheists, agnostics or non believers point to the injustices and tribulations that befall man. These are things of man’s doing, not God. The main point is that if people around the world truly had God in their lives, there would not be any of the things that atheists point to in order to discredit a belief in the Almighty. God is caring and loving. He is not a mean God. If people were to turn toward God and not away from Him, there would be a heaven on earth. God bless us all.”

Randy Lewis, director of Atheist of North Florida, said he feels that Nobles’ column was intentionally directed at his group. At a city council meeting held earlier this month Lewis requested that council members stop praying before meetings and instead observe a moment of silence. He excited emotions when he held up posters of emaciated children and a young amputee victim, and told Live Oak City Council members that they pray to a “prolific child murderer”.

“... It is quite unfortunate that the mayor used his office illegally to promote his religion and to attack people that do not share his bronze age beliefs!!,” Lewis said via email. “This is absolutely outrageous behavior by a government official. He has done nothing but cause even more division in the community.”

Nobles told the Democrat by phone Monday that his column was not intended to be critical of anyone’s beliefs, but that it was his intention to make a point.

“Part of what I said was in reaction to their (Lewis and his group) visit to City Hall and how they presented themselves,” he said.

Nobles wished to react to the poster Lewis presented at the meeting and to Lewis’ statements.

“These groups cannot expect not to have any reactions,” said Nobles.

He said he simply wished to exercise his rights to freedom of speech and announce his own personal beliefs.

“They need to respect freedom of expression, too,” he said. “If they don’t, then they need to be quiet.”

However, those offended by the mayor’s column are shouting out.

“First, in my opinion the mayor was just saying what he thinks his constituents want to hear. Second, if he had simply stated his beliefs, I would have thought it inappropriate for his office but not singled out as a group. Finally, once he said, ‘There are those that don’t acknowledge the existence of God. Their souls are in mortal danger of being lost for eternity.’ He was clearly pointing at us and saying there is something wrong with these people,” said Lewis Simpson of Plant City by email. “And then to go on and completely mischaracterize us and what we think, was not only wrong, but propagates misunderstanding and hatred toward fellow citizens. I can't begin to express how disappointing it is to see a government official being allowed to do this kind of thing. It's reminiscent of the way prejudice used to be acceptable in race relations.”

Steve Williamson, of the United Kingdom, said although he is not an American citizen, he feels the mayor’s use of “religious proselytizing” firmly goes against the Constitution.

“1st Amendment to the US Constitution begins as follows: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’,” he said via email. “This man should be removed from office, as he has used his position as Mayor to ‘establish’ a case for religious belief.”

There were two readers who had expressed support of Nobles, however.

“Mr. Nobles' aptly referenced faith is not evidence of prejudice; nor is it ‘delusional’,” said an online reader identified simply as “John”.

An online reader known as “Zack” said that Nobles was simply stating what he felt from the heart, with no ill-will toward anyone.

“He is wishing that people could feel the peace he feels through knowing Jesus is Lord.  He's not bashing anyone else, he's stating that if everyone felt the way he felt in his heart, the world would be a better place,” he wrote online. “Bigotry? I say he's trying to share his love. Lets all just ease off the panic button a bit and enjoy the moment of someone caring about you.”

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