DEQUINCY, LA (AP) — This morning, a small town in Louisiana sentenced one of its firefighters to thirty days in jail for praying at the scene of a fire. 39-year-old Ronnie Edwards, who has been with the DeQuincy Fire Department since he was 21, was also suspended from work without pay.
“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 CBS 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 CBS 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.”
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 for release from the DeQuincy City Jail on September 29th. If you have any questions regarding the case, you can contact the DeQuincy City Attorney’s office at (785) 273-0325.