Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY and DAVID DeCAMP, The Times-Union
State legislators called them "The God Squad" -- one man each from the state Christian Coalition, the Florida Catholic Conference and the Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Convention. They appeared in the visitors' galleries in the Legislature about five years ago, watching, listening and taking notes.
Former House Speaker John Thrasher of Orange Park remembers the three, although not all by name, watching closely as Republicans supported their causes during high-profile debates on issues such as abortion.
"They were very interested, and there was a lot of activity at that time," said Thrasher, now a Tallahassee lobbyist. "A lot of the issues were kind of no-brainers for them and us, particularly crime issues, and they were really getting involved in the process."
Today, some say what began with The God Squad has grown larger, more influential and more involved in the political process.
Whether that's good or bad depends on who is being asked.
Some Democrats and Republicans say the rise of Florida's religious conservatives is potentially dangerous because it threatens to erode traditional church-state separations. But members of those groups say they are simply …