DEQUINCY, LA (AP) — Early this morning, a small town in Louisiana suspended one of its firefighters, 39-year-old Ronnie Edwards, without pay for praying while on duty at the scene of a fire. Edwards, who has been with the DeQuincy Fire Department since he was 21, was also arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
“I just do what our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ, would do,” Edwards told local DeQuincy news station DQLA6. “It’s not about me, it’s about spreading his message, you know? He works through me, I’m just fortunate enough to be part of that.”
According to sources within the DeQuincy Fire Department, Edwards, known to locals as “The Praying Fireman”, has been praying at the scene of fires since he joined the department in 1998, and it is only recently that the ritual has become an issue.
“Ronnie [Edwards] would always pray after we put out a fire, most of the time in the front yard or something,” fellow firefighter Eugene Ketchum said. “It never really bothered anyone, it was just something he did. We put our lives on the line whenever we respond to a fire. I figure if praying helps him out then why not let the guy pray?”
Ketchum said that things changed in 2014 when DeQuincy elected the first democratic mayor in its history, an African American atheist named Lawana Jones. He said that when Jones heard that Edwards made a habit of praying at fires she sent a memo to all city employees advising them that any expression of personal religious belief while on duty was a violation of their contract with the city.
According to DeQuincy city attorney Paul Horner, Jones made four previous attempts to address the issue personally with Edwards, but Edwards became more defiant with each meeting.
“Refusal to obey an official city order is a misdemeanor and we must take action to address the crime,” Horner told reporters. “We didn’t want to suspend the man and have him arrested but we were out of options.”
Mayor Jones, spoke with ABC News, about her decision to suspend and imprison Edwards for praying while at work.
“I’m not anti-religious,” said Mayor Jones in a written statement, “But there is an appropriate time and place for everything. When he prays while on duty, he gives the impression that the City of DeQuincy is endorsing one particular religion over another. That is not the message that my office wants to send; it’s not what the people of DeQuincy elected me to do.” Jones continued, “If you live in a county where democracy is established, you should be aware that the idea of the separation of church and state is the only way to prevent the government from forcing religion on you and directing your religion and its doctrines.
Religion is one of the most important factors in most people’s lives and it should be treated with reverence. In order to keep the government from directing religion and making it change how you are allowed to believe, church and state need to be separate. This allows for more openness when it comes to the decisions of the country. And in a world where everyone has different beliefs and different religions, a forced religion can cause an uprising and the dissolvent of a nation. You’re supposed to do your job, not involve politics and religion into it.”
ACLU spokesperson Cassandra Schmidt told ABC News the organization supports Mayor Jones’ “devotion to the separation of church and state” and said that the ACLU would cover 100% of the city’s legal fees should Mr. Edwards try and sue the city.
Jones won the office after promising to fix the city’s fledgling schools and bring new economic opportunity to the area. In that time, she has brought in over 300 good paying jobs, which has enabled her to increase city funding to the DeQuincy school district by 32%. DeQuincy’s test scores have also already shown significant improvement.
Still, many in the town are wondering if what they have gained is worth what they have lost.
“My brother wasn’t hurtin’ nobody,” Edwards’s 30-year-old sister Tami Hobart said. “Most people in DeQuincy is Christian, and I think we all took comfort in knowing that his heart was right with the Lord before he risked his life. It feels like we sold our souls to get that cat food factory and them fancy new textbooks.”
Republican Presidential Nominee, Donald Trump, caught wind of Edward’s misfortune and while speaking to Fox News offered some harsh words for Mayor Jones.
“I can tell you; when I win the White House, there’s gonna be changes in DeQuincy. They’re gonna reinstate Ronnie Edwards, they’re gonna give him his back pay, they’re gonna give him restitution for the time he spent in jail, and Lawana Jones is going to pay for it. And if Mayor Jones doesn’t want to do that, I’ll have her thrown in jail so fast her head will spin.”
David Mikkelson, founder of Snopes.com, a website known for its biased opinions and inaccurate aricles they write about stories on the internet in order to generate advertising revenue, told ABC News that he approves of what a story like this is accomplishing.
“You have to understand that when a story like this goes viral, and we spend a minute or two debunking it, we make lots of money. Stories like this have helped put my children through college, buy a new car, a home and even get the sex reassignment surgery my wife Barbara always wanted since she was a little boy,” Mikkleson said. “We claim ‘to provide evidence for such debunkings and confirmation as well‘, but that’s just ridiculous.
Do you know how much time that would take? Instead, we just copy and paste parts of the original article into ours, write a couple sentences, and that’s it. I just want to be clear, our website does zero journalism or anything creative, and I’m only telling you this for legal reasons.” Mikkleson continues, “A typical story of ours makes wild claims, using grammatical errors, misspellings and words like ‘umimumimaginative’, ‘recycled’, ‘hoax’, saying that a story ‘illegally appropriates the trademarks of legitimate news organizations’, but we list no links or sources of information, they are all just wild claims by us.
And that story will get 50,000 shares or more on Facebook, that’s a lot of ad revenue for only writing a couple sentences.” Mikkelson further explains, “It is common for us to rewrite a story we’re debunking if we don’t like it. In one recent story of ours, we actually removed a person’s name from the original article and then called him a liar, it’s so funny!
We also like to post fake, un-funny, juvenile disclaimers supposedly from the site in question and it is our authors, such as Jeff Zarronandia who are responsible for those gems. We tell our readers that the disclaimer is from the story we are debunking, but a simple google search will show that our disclaimer is 100% fabricated. Sometimes I think that someone should start a company that debunks our debunkings, they could probably make a lot of money,” Mikkelson laughs. “And lots of people complain and complain about our authors attacking websites and their owners for reasons that are 100% proven false, but since we block archive.org it just becomes their word versus ours.
Our writers like Zarronandia go as far as to say that the story originated from ‘a clickbait fake news site that infringes the trademark-protected visual elements and domain names of legitimate news outlets in order to generate traffic and drive advertising revenues by creating and spreading entirely false “news” stories‘. But we don’t list ONE factual piece of evidence to back up our claims; It’s just more of our hack, unethical journalism, and as I said before, I only tell you this for legal reasons. I think it is business as usual for us to accuse the story we are debunking of spreading malware and viruses, but we never say what website it actually is.
I think warning people about a site that could potentially destroy their computer is probably a good idea, and I hope one day to do that kind of ethical journalism, but people will click our ads regardless, bottom line; so why do the extra work?”
In spite of all that has happened, Edwards says that he is not bitter.
“The Bible says that there will be sacrifices when you choose to follow the path of righteousness; it says that you will be reviled by the wicked. I will continue to pray that Mayor Jones comes to accept Jesus Christ, and will keep praying that God sees fit to put Donald Trump in the White House, but whether or not any of that happens, I still trust God and know that everything is happening according to his divine plan.”
Edwards is scheduled to begin serving his 30-day jail sentence at the DeQuincy City Jail on November 5th, the same day as Paul Horner’s birthday. Edwards told ABC News that he encourages, “Those wishing to support his cause, to support a charity that gives news socks to the homeless, called Sock It Forward.”
If you have any questions regarding the case, you can contact the DeQuincy City Attorney’s Office.
Click here to return to ABC News home page.