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MASON CITY | Gray skies and light rain didn't keep North Iowans from participating in Cerro Gordo County's second run of the 99 County Bible Reading Marathon early Thursday afternoon.

Around 300 people from local businesses and churches are taking turns reading the Bible from cover to cover outside the courthouse this week, in 15-20 minute stints. The event started last year when then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed the 99 County Bible Reading Marathon proclamation last April.

Karen Campbell is captaining Cerro Gordo County's team of readers again this year. She praised area churches and local politicians for their support.

"Almost all my time slots are full," Campbell said. "I'm not having to call people or drum up support ... it's been easier as people have learned about it."

That support includes several local elected officials, including City Administrator Brent Trout and county auditor Ken Kline, who participated in the introductory readings at noon Tuesday.

Trout said he participated because of his religious background, and was happy to see several businesses and churches involved.

The reading marathon is being held in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a storm that has caused immense flooding and damage in Houston and the surrounding region.

Trout believes while Americans need to unite and help those affected, the storm doesn't affect the purpose of the event.

"I think it's something they're looking at doing on an annual basis," Trout said. "I don't know if it takes on any more or less importance given what is happening right now."

Campbell said she hasn't heard complaints or had any issues with organizing and leading the event. Businesses and churches have reached out to her, asking for blocks of time to participate. They then send a group of volunteers who take turns reading the Bible.

Mark Eldridge, 64, was one of those volunteers participating Thursday afternoon, reading for about 15-20 minutes.

Eldridge, a senior advisor for Financial Freedom Controls in Mason City, said he read Thursday to illustrate the need for solidarity, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

"I think it's more important this year than last year because of all the turmoil that's taking place in our country," Harvey said.

Looking ahead, the Cerro Gordo County Iowa GOP aims to continue hosting the event on an annual basis. Last year, the ACLU threatened to challenge the legality of Gov. Barnstad's proclamation, because a government organization is promoting a particular religion.

Despite the outcry, the readings proceeded in all 99 counties last year. Campbell said the Bible played an instrumental part in our country's founding, and believes its messages should be heeded today.

"You might not agree with the Bible," she said. "But if you don't believe or agree with the Bible, then what standard are you going to choose to live by? We have to have a standard."

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Contact Steve at 641-421-0532 or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.

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