Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Beach Baptism Event Spurs Some Questions

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Beach Baptism Event Spurs Some Questions

Article excerpt

NORTH LIDO: Lively church group surprises some with devotional gathering

SARASOTA

For some, a Sunday afternoon on North Lido Beach means the soft sounds of surf and a good book.

But last Sunday, a more boisterous group arrived with other plans: nearly 200 churchgoers staked out a section of the beach for a live band, a speaker system, tents, flags and several dozen public baptisms to be performed during the afternoon.

At least a few beach regulars, disturbed from their quiet routines, packed up and left. Susan Robinson, a Lido Key resident, was among them and wondered: Is this allowed? And if so, what are the rules?

Robinson had nothing against the church group, she said. But she had come to the beach to drink coffee and read the New York Times, and was unprepared for what happened next.

"I just wondered, how much is too much? And what are the governing principles around a group taking over a large stretch of public space?"

As Robinson learned, such activities are allowed, with the right permits. But which permits are needed isn't always immediately clear, either to event organizers or government officials.

The Church of Hope in Sarasota had obtained a permit from the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department to use part of the beach, and to bring small tents, tables for food and drink, and a small sound system. They followed up with several phone calls as they tried to be sure of complying with the rules, said Curt Preisser, a Sarasota County spokesman.

Lost in that arrangement, and not realized until later, was that a city sound ordinance applied to the event because it involved an amplified sound system. The group probably should have applied to the city for a waiver, said Toni Welicki, the special events permit coordinator. But news of the event didn't reach the city, and county officials did not question the organizers about those requirements. …

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