Ex-sheriff's faith is no secret

(FORT MYERS, Fla.) -- A sheriff with a religious background and a strong belief that abortion is wrong posted his ideas on the county's official Web site. Last month, he was voted out of office.

Now, Sheriff John McDougall's essays vehemently opposing abortion rights and advocating religious education in public schools have been replaced with a photo of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. The word "Peace" is inscribed below.

The open letters with their frank, conservative messages landed McDougall on NBC's "Today" show and may have offended enough people to get him voted out of office last month. Although McDougall would not comment on the site, sheriff's spokesman Rocky Graziano said they were not intended to cause conflict.

"It was a message from the heart," Graziano said. "It wasn't meant to be controversial."

Charlie Merryman, the site's Web master, said McDougall asked him to change the site. He said he did not know the sheriff's motivation for the change. No links to the essays remain.

The controversy started in September 1999, when McDougall posted an essay titled "Wake Up America - Before It's Too Late," on the official Web site of the sheriff's office.

McDougall has never been shy about his religious views since he was elected to office in 1988. He once studied for the priesthood and when he lost the Oct. 3 runoff, his concession speech simply read "Thank you, Jesus," over and over again.

In the first letter, McDougall stated, "To our disgrace as a nation we have caved in to the wishes of the depraved, and have allowed them to systematically exclude God from our midst."

The letter also focused on the prevalence of abortion, and the need to restore prayer to America's schools. That statement was followed by three others.

Some accused McDougall of abusing his office as an elected official by stating his personal views on a taxpayer-funded Web site.

Others commended him for taking a stand for morality. But nearly everyone had something to say about it. Within days of the open letter's posting, so many computer users tried to access the site that its server overloaded and was nearly shut down.

The Web site is: www.sheriffleefl.org.

Rachel Webb
November 29, 2000, Wednesday
Copyright 2000 Scripps Howard, Inc.
Scripps Howard News Service
November 29, 2000, Wednesday
Naples Daily News
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