In what members deem an act of jest, the atheist group Humanists of Florida took to scrubbing a section of U.S. Route 98 in Florida Saturday to protest the "Polk Under Prayer" campaign.
The "Polk Under Prayer" campaign was initiated in 2011 and involved the Christian churches of Polk County, Fla., anointing part of the U.S. Route 98 highway, between Polk and Pasco counties, with olive oil.
"Mainly we want this to be a safe haven for folks who want to raise their families," "Polk Under Prayer" organizer, Dr. Richard Geringswald told ABC News affiliate WFTS-TV in Tampa. "Asking God's protection from ne'er do wells and evil doers."
Atheist groups in Florida argue that the anointing of the highway with holy oil excludes those residents of the county who are not Christian.
Atheists of Florida member Rob Curry told WFTS-TV that the anointing sends "a very chilling message that, if you're not a Christian, if you don't believe as we do, then you're not welcome."
The Huffington Post reports that Atheists of Florida then discovered on local pastor Frank Smith's blog that the intention of the anointing was to "ask God to have angels inspect every vehicle that travels into and out of this county if they will not submit to God's way of living, then the prayer is to have them incarcerated or removed from the county."
To counteract this initial anointing, the Humanists of Florida showed up to the strip of highway on Saturday morning with a large vat, labeled "unholy water," and several mops.
The atheists then used Twitter to invite others to join them as they scrubbed off the "oils of intolerance."
"[The Humanists of Florida] understand that a year later, there's no oil left on the roadway. It's just a symbolic gesture to show that we can poke a little bit of fun at the 'Polk Under Prayer' gesture. We're not going to tolerate their bigotry," Ellen Beth Wachs, president of the Humanists of Florida Association and Atheists of Florida, told ABC News.
Still, "Polk Under Prayer" members argue that the purpose of the anointing is to protect the city from evil, not to alienate any members of the community.
"The results were immediate. There have been a number of arrests for drugs and drug manufacturing [sic] in Polk County since this project began. We are hoping to spread this project to all towns in Polk County so that God's protection and influence will be felt throughout the entire county. We encourage people to do the same with their drive ways [sic] and property lines," Pastor Smith wrote on his blog, as reported by The Huffington Post.