Thursday, January 26, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor jailed in child sexual-abuse case

Floyd Blackwell is accused of failing to report allegations that a man sexually abused three girls.

A longtime Newport News (VA) pastor was arrested and held without bond Wednesday on charges that he failed to report allegations that a man he knew had sexually abused three young girls, and that he also discouraged another person from telling police.

The Rev. Floyd Blackwell, pastor of Miracle Temple Baptist Church on 32nd Street, turned himself in during the early afternoon, Officer Harold Eley said. Warrants had been issued for his arrest Tuesday. He was booked on three felony counts of obstruction. He also was booked on three misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, "because he was aware of the situation and didn't report it. He allowed the situation to continue," Eley said. Child Protective Services received an anonymous call on Nov. 30, claiming that a 19-year-old man had been sexually assaulting three girls, ages 7, 8 and 9, for the past three years, Eley said.

Officers investigated the report and arrested the man Jan. 14. He was booked on eight counts of sodomy, eight counts of taking indecent liberties with children and two counts of abduction.

The man is related to the victims, Eley said. The Daily Press is not publishing the man's name because doing so would reveal the identities of the alleged victims.

During their investigation, police learned that a relative of the victims had told Blackwell about the alleged abuse, Eley said. Blackwell reportedly told the person that he would "handle it" within the church and then discouraged that person from reporting it to police, Eley said.

Everyone, including Blackwell, has an obligation to tell authorities of information regarding suspected crimes, Eley said.

"There is an expectation that you would bring forth any information that you know about a crime or an alleged crime so that it can be investigated," he said.

News of Blackwell's arrest stunned members of his congregation and people who knew him. He is entering his 30th year leading the Miracle Temple congregation. Dorothy Rouse Bottom said she has attended Blackwell's church occasionally during the past 10 years. She praised him as a compelling and compassionate preacher who has dedicated himself to helping black youths, particularly young black men.

Blackwell's church "is a place where miracles do happen, and where the pastor is constantly trying to make a change among black men," she said. "And he has done so, and I'm sure he will continue to do so. He's really a hero and I'm really sad about this."

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Culpeper minister faces sex charges

A prominent Culpeper VA minister charged last week with child endangerment has been arrested again.

This time, Charles V. Shifflett, 54, faces one count of "intentionally proposing [that a child under 18] feel or fondle the accused's sexual or genital parts," according to Culpeper sheriff's Sgt. Vern Fox. Shifflett is being held without bond, Fox said.

The charge alleges the incident occurred between Dec. 1, 1991, and June 1, 1993, Fox said. He added that the latest charges were brought by the unidentified victim and not as a result of a Sheriff's Office investigation.

Last week's charges were brought as the result of the office's investigation into incidents alleged to have occurred in 1992 and 1993. Neither of those involved any sexual misconduct.

Fox said yesterday that last week's two charges point to a single victim, not two different victims as the Sheriff's Office had initially reported.

Chad Robison, 26, told The Free Lance-Star Thursday that he was the alleged victim in that case. Robison was a student at Calvary Baptist Academy in 1992 and '93.

Fox would not release the name of Shifflett's latest accuser and offered no further details about the charges.

Shifflett assumed pastorship of Calvary Baptist Church in Culpeper in 1983 and transformed it from a 25-member congregation to one with more than 1,000 members. The academy, which Shifflett and his deacons oversaw, was added in the early 1990s.

Shifflett abruptly resigned as pastor about three months ago over what he called a difference of opinion between himself and church elders. He attributed the earlier charges to vindictiveness by some church members.

"It's strictly out of hate," Shifflett said Thursday.

Archie Seale, who says he is now interim pastor at Calvary on Alum Springs Road, said that is not the case. Seale said in a Thursday e-mail to The Free Lance-Star that an investigation began before Shifflett resigned and "was not initiated by anyone who is still a member of our church."

"We had the meeting [on Nov. 2, 2005] with the hopes of talking about the investigation but after about five minutes of discussion, Pastor Shifflett lost his temper, resigned and walked out, informing us to find a new pastor. Since this was the fourth time he had resigned, all [seven] of the men present accepted his resignation," Seale wrote.

Seale said Shifflett later gave the elders a letter--to be read to the congregation the following Sunday--saying that he had resigned "at the request of his doctor for medical reasons."

Following his resignation, Shifflett formed the First Baptist Church of Culpeper, which has been meeting at Dominion Skating Center. About 150 people, including many former Calvary members, are reportedly attending his new church.

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Prisoner: Why I killed paedophile priest

A US inmate who strangled a convicted child molester priest behind bars said tonight that he decided to kill him after the clergyman brushed off criticism that he had “destroyed all kinds of lives.”

Joseph Druce took the stand in Worcester, Massachusetts for a second day at his trial for killing John Geoghan, who was serving time for groping a 10-year-old boy and had been accused of molesting 150 other children.

Druce, 40, said that in the weeks before the killing he twice confronted Geoghan about molesting children.

Instead of denying the accusations, Geoghan was “arrogant” and said he was worth far more than the millions the Boston Archdiocese had paid to settle lawsuits against him, Druce testified.

“I was just, like, ‘That’s it. That’s it. I’ve got to stop this,”’ Druce said. “I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

After Geoghan was dead, Druce said, he felt relief: “It had been done. It was over … I had peace of mind.”

Druce, who is already serving a life sentence for another killing, is using an insanity defence, arguing that his own molestation as a child and years in prison had filled him with rage.

Geoghan helped spark the sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church after court records were found showing that Boston Archdiocese officials allowed him to continue having contact with children even after the abuse allegations surfaced.

Druce did not describe the actual killing, but was asked by his attorney, John LaChance, to describe what was going through his mind during the August 23, 2003 murder and the weeks leading up to it.

He said he heard Geoghan talking on the phone to his sister and also overheard conversations he had with other inmates about plans to move to South America once he was released so he could work with children again.

In one conversation, Druce said, he overheard Geoghan discussing with other inmates how to molest young boys.

“That just, like, freaked me out,” he said.

He said that during one conversation, he told Geoghan, “You’re bankrupting the archdiocese, you’re costing them $10m,” a reference to the amount the church had paid out in lawsuits.

Geoghan replied, “I’m worth $20m,” Druce said.

During a later conversation, Druce said, he told Geoghan he had molested 150 to 200 children and “destroyed all kinds of lives.” Druce said Geoghan responded: “I’m worth 300 of them.”

When asked by his lawyer why he killed Geoghan, Druce referred to his claims that he was molested as a child.

“I wanted to get the thoughts out of my mind of being molested myself, and the arrogant way he answered my questions,” Druce said.

He also said he wanted to “make a statement.”

“I had seen myself as the designated individual who had to put a stop to the paedophilia in the church,” he said.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

A local Pastor in trouble with the law

The Duplin County Sheriff's office charged 56 year old Thomas Lindell Robinson -- Pastor of New Life Christian Center -- with first degree rape of a child and taking indecent liberties with a child. The Sheriff tells Nine on Your Side the incidents happened at the Church Daycare Center where the girl spent a lot of time.
The sheriff's office can't say exactly how long the relationship has gone on, but there could be other victims. Now Pastor Robinson is in jail under a 250,000 dollar bond, but the question is how could this have gone unnoticed.

What was once a daycare full of life is now closed because of a Pastor. He's a well-known face in Duplin County. Sheriff Blake Wallace says he's a sexual predator.

"We have a gentleman who is in a position of public trust, who should be a role model for the community and he has abused that position and assaulted a young girl," Sheriff Wallace says.

The girl is 12 years old, pregnant, and due any day now. The daycare, which is run by Pastor Robinson's wife, is on the churches property. The sheriff's department says the only reason they found out this was happening was by a news tip.

"I'm not prepared to speculate on why someone didn't call our office to notify us of this," Sheriff Wallace says.

A full investigation is underway. Even though Pastor Robinson is behind bars, some people say they just can't accept the charges. "No, I knew a little girl was pregnant, but I did not think by him and I still don't believe it. I won't believe it," Jennifer Edmonds says.

Nine on Your Side tried to contact the church, but no one would comment. Sheriff Wallace tells us he's not sure how long the two were having sexual relations, but it happened more than once.

"You can rest assure that if he is released, we are going to do everything in our power to make sure the citizens of Duplin County are safe," Sheriff Wallace says.

It's still unclear whether Pastor Robinson is still affiliated with the church. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wallace tells us the daycare center at the Church is closed and because of the seriousness of the charges, they're trying to determine if other children could be involved.

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Friday, January 20, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

First Coast Pastor Goes to Jail, Many Parishoners Still Support Him

sent in by madamehel

He was thrown in jail for just 6 months, and given 3 years probation.

That's four and a half years less than the minimum time in jail for statutory rape.

Last Friday, Pastor Alexie Kelly violated that probation, and now he may be joined by many others not returning to his church come Sunday.

He could be considered a lucky man. Many of the people who listened to his sermons every Sunday are standing by him, even after his second arrest.

Joia Suggs is one of the few who say they're disappointed. "I was enjoying his sermons, I was feeling the spirit, so I continued to go. But now I'm questioning whether I should return," said Joia Suggs, Little Rock Baptist Church parishoner.

Arrested last March for allegedly having an affair with a 13-year-old girl, the 35-year-old pastor is behind bars again, this time, police say, for violating his parole for trying to contact the girl.

Many Little Rock Baptist Church parishoners share the same street.

Those in support of Kelly didn't want to go on camera.

Chtavia Felton is not supporting him.

"How could you get in front of a body, a large body of people and try to preach them the word, and you doing wrong yourself," said Chtavia Felton, a church visitor.

Suggs, who went to church nearly every Sunday, says she won't be there this week, or possibly ever again.

Kelly's attorney would not comment on the case, and a deacon at Little Rock Baptist would not return our call.

Kelly's attorney says the church still wants him to continue to work there as pastor.

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Senate candidate unapologetic for saying GOP hijacked by fanatics

sent in by Nanabanana

Ohio's Republican leader wants Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hackett to apologize for calling some conservative Republicans religious fanatics and comparing them to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Hackett was unapologetic Tuesday for the comments in a newspaper story, saying religious fanatics of any flavor should be ashamed.

"I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it," he said.

Hackett said in a Sunday column in The Columbus Dispatch: "The Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden and a lot of the other religious nuts around the world."

Hackett, an Iraq war veteran from the Cincinnati suburb of Indian Hill, is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against Rep. Sherrod Brown of Lorain. They are vying to run against two-term Republican Sen. Mike DeWine.

Hackett also said the practice of denying homosexuals equal rights is un-American. The newspaper asked Hackett if that meant the 62 percent of Ohioans who voted to ban gay marriage were un-American.

"If what they believe is that we're going to have a scale on judging which Americans have equal rights, yeah, that's un-American," Hackett said.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said Hackett should apologize, saying his comments applied to any "people of faith" and, therefore, most Ohioans.

"These intolerant views have no place in the public debate, and I hope his fellow Democrats reject this divisive hate speech," Bennett said, while calling on Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern to condemn the remarks.

"If Bob Bennett needs an apology, he should apologize for Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Bob Taft and Tom Noe," state Democratic spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. "This is nothing more than a smokescreen from the corruption that surrounds him."

DeLay, of Texas, and Ney, of Ohio, are Republican congressmen who have stepped down from leadership posts because of their ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to bribing members of Congress and other charges.

Taft, Ohio's Republican governor, was convicted of ethics charges for failing to report gifts. Noe, a GOP fundraiser, is charged with illegally funneling money to President Bush's re-election campaign.

Hackett said Pat Robertson, a television evangelist and former GOP presidential candidate, is an example of the kind of Republican he was criticizing. Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent stroke was divine punishment for ceding the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Baptist pastor guilty in scam

A Baptist pastor faces up to five years in prison for his role in a real estate scheme that bilked $1.5 million from lenders and home buyers, including some members of his congregation.

The Rev. Paul J. Starnes, 40, pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to wire fraud and money laundering charges.

The leader of the Morning Star Church in Springfield is scheduled to be sentenced on May 9. His lawyer, Peter Ettenberg, said he will ask that Starnes be placed on probation. But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Welch indicated he would push for Starnes to serve 51 to 63 months behind bars.

Welch said Starnes and two others were involved in a land-flip scheme that involved buying depressed properties, paying off appraisers to inflate their values, recruiting poor first-time buyers and drafting phony financial documents to obtain mortgages.

Welch said at least two of the approximately 20 home buyers who wound up defaulting on their mortgages were members of Starnes' congregation.

Starnes formerly owned Trinity Mortgage Brokerage Inc. and was a partner in Trinity Land Co., which purchased and sold properties in the Springfield area.

The two others charged in the case, David McCoy and Marc Brown, were also brokers at the mortgage company, authorities have said.

McCoy is scheduled to stand trial next week, and Brown pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme last month.

Ettenberg said Starnes is "glad this part of the process is behind him."

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

BTK killer denied exorcism

A Kansas sheriff refused to let the BTK killer's pastor perform a jailhouse exorcism on Dennis Rader, the Rev. Michael Clark said after a speech.

Clark, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, told listeners at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Overland Park that he believes Rader was driven by the devil to kill 10 people during a 13-year period, the Kansas City Star reported. Rader, who pleaded guilty, is serving 10 consecutive life sentences.

"Dennis was influenced, I believe, by some kind of demonic force and that played a role in the choices and decisions he made," Clark said.

Clark did not totally absolve Rader from responsibility for the killings, saying that he decided to respond to the demonic force.

Rader was known at his church as a devout man who served as president of the congregation. In his neighborhood, he was known as a stickler for rules and regulations.

Clark refused to answer a question about whether Rader had shown remorse.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor picked up on drug charges

Arrest not the first for Baptist minister

The pastor of a prominent Flint church was arrested Friday on suspicion of cocaine possession.

Derrick A. Aldridge, pastor of Foss Avenue Baptist Church, was booked into the Genesee County Jail Friday afternoon on pending charges of possession with intent to deliver cocaine, carrying a concealed weapon and driving under the influence of drugs, jail officials said.

Formal charges against Aldridge had not been issued as of late Friday afternoon, and it was unclear if he would be lodged in the jail or released pending further investigation.

Aldridge was arrested Friday morning in the Ballenger Highway and Flushing Road area, although police hadn't released details.

Acting Flint Police Chief Gary Hagler and the church could not be reached by The Journal on Friday. Police officials had made no formal comment about the arrest.

Aldridge, 51, is the son of the late Avery Aldridge, a civil rights activist, former pastor at Foss Avenue and a leader in Flint's religious community. The younger Aldridge became pastor after his father died in 2003.

This isn't the first brush with the law for Derrick Aldridge, who was charged with embezzling more than $11,000 from the Flint City Market in the mid-1990s, when he was manager of the market.

In an unusual arrangement, he was allowed to plead no contest to attempted embezzlement, with the plea held in abeyance during a term of intensive probation.

Aldridge paid restitution and satisfied the terms of the deal and was allowed to plead guilty to willful neglect of duty by a public official. He received a suspended sentence, court records say.

At the time, prosecutors said the embezzlement resulted from a substance abuse problem for which he sought treatment on his own.

Aldridge also was convicted of grand larceny in Arkansas in 1972 but was granted an executive pardon in 1980. He also had a 1978 drug conviction in Alabama.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Gov. repeats call for teaching intelligent design

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The concept of "intelligent design" is not a question of religion and Kentucky's public school districts should consider teaching it along with other ideas of how the world began, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fletcher said he encouraged schools to teach the concept because it's "the foundational principal of our nation."

"Our inalienable rights are based on the self-evident truth of those endowed inalienable rights. And all I was saying is that from my perspective that's not a matter of faith and it's not a matter of religion," Fletcher said. "It's a matter of something called self-evident truth."

It was during the governor's State of the Commonwealth speech Monday night when Fletcher threw in a quick mention asking rhetorically, "What is wrong with teaching 'intelligent design' in our schools?" Fletcher said it was a matter of "self-evident truth."

Intelligent design attributes the existence of complex organisms to an unidentified intelligent cause. Meanwhile, the theory of evolution maintains that life evolved over time through natural selection.

"I think clearly there are some changes that have occurred over a period of time," Fletcher said. "Personally, I think that we were designed to improve based on our environment. It seems like we do have the capacity for adaptation."

The issue has led to lawsuits in other states, including Pennsylvania where last week a school district rescinded a policy requiring that intelligent design get equal billing with evolution in the classroom. A judge ruled the policy unconstitutional in December, saying the local school board's real purpose was "to promote religion in the public school classroom."

Fletcher said he wants school districts in Kentucky to approach the issue from a historical prospective, not a religious one. He said that's why he briefly mentioned intelligent design in his Monday night speech.

"What we have from our founding fathers is there was a creator and the assumption there and from self-evident truth was that that creator was an intelligent creator and that he endowed us with certain inalienable rights," Fletcher said, loosely quoting from the Declaration of Independece. "If you take away the fact of this basic understanding of our nation, what basis do you have inalienable rights placed on, which was the foundation of our nation? That's all I'm raising."

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said state law specifically allows public schools to teach creationism, a concept similar to the intelligent design theory.

"But having said that, the decisions on what to teach in the classroom are made at the local level," Gross said. "Really, there are no limitations on the state level on what teachers teach."

State law says teachers dealing with evolution in the classroom may include instruction on Biblical creation, and may read passages from the Bible related to the belief of creation.

The law prohibits teachers from stressing any particular denominational religious belief.

Gross said the courses dealing with intelligent design aren't necessarily limited to science classes. Sometimes, she said, it is included in comparative religion courses.

"The folks who support intelligent design say it is not biblically based, that it does not relate specifically to the Christian faith," Gross said.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said arguments could be made that the terms creationism and intelligent design are interchangeable.

"It depends entirely on the definition used by the teacher," Hughes said. "It could mean the same thing.

Hughes said it appears few school districts are taking advantage of the law, which was first adopted in 1976 and readopted in 1990 under the Kentucky Education Reform Act. The state law has never been tested in the courts, he said.

A recent e-mail survey turned up no school districts where intelligent design was a routine part of the curriculum.

"If it's going on, it's very limited," Hughes said. "We've gotten no phone calls in our legal section on this issue. I feel like if it was going on much at all, we would have had inquiries."

Jerry Gels, a science teacher at Lloyd Memorial High School in Erlanger, said he deals with the issue of intelligent design and creationism with his students in a sophomore biology class. But he said he doesn't know of other teachers who do the same.

"Because it is a sensitive issue, teachers want to avoid it," he said.

Gels said it's only natural that he discuss intelligent design with his students when he begins teaching the theory of evolution. That, he said, is because they are predominantly Christian and often have strong beliefs about the genesis of life. Last year, he said, one of his students was a 13-year-old ordained minister.

"They've got a lot of questions, and if you can answer those questions and have open discussions about those things, then you can really move forward," Gels said.

Gels said many of the students in his classes have been taught at home and at church that evolution is a false theory.

"It's imperative that my students understand the concept of evolution," he said. "If they don't understand evolution, they're not going to be very successful in the realm of science. If they're ignorant of evolution, they're not going to be ready for college."

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Sunday, January 08, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Is religion the root of all evil?

Known as ‘ Darwin’s Rottweiler’, Professor Richard Dawkins relishes controversy. In his new TV series he explains how religion is a form of abuse – and why God is man’s most destructive invention ++ Why do you believe in your God? Because he talks to you inside your head? The Yorkshire Ripper claimed his murders were ordered by Jesus.

Imagine, sang John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Kashmir dispute, no Indian partition, no Israel/Palestine war, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland “troubles”. Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it. Imagine no persecutions of the Jews – no Jews to persecute indeed, for, without religious taboos against marrying out, the Diaspora would long ago have merged into Europe.

Hitler invoked “My feelings as a Christian” to justify his anti-Semitism, and he wrote in Mein Kampf: “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Nevertheless, most such atrocities are not directly motivated by religion. IRA gunmen didn’t kill Protestants (or vice versa) over disagreements about transubstantiation or such theological niceties. The motive was more likely to be tribal vengeance. One of “them” killed one of “us”. “They” drove “our” great-grandfathers out of ancestral lands. Grievances are economic and political, not religious; and vendettas stretch “unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”. Quoting Exodus reminds me, incidentally, that humanists prefer Gandhi’s version: “An eye for an eye make the whole world blind.”

But if tribal wars are not about religion, the fact that there are separate tribes at all frequently is. Some tribes may divide along racial or linguistic lines, but in Northern Ireland what else is there but religion? The same applies to Indo-Pakistan, Serbo-Croatia, and various regions of Indonesia and Africa. Religion is today’s most divisive label of group identity and hostility. If a social engineer set out to devise a system for perpetuating our most vicious enmities, he could find no better formula than sectarian education. The main point of faith schools is that the children of “our” tribe must be taught “their own” religion. Since the children of the other tribe are simultaneously being taught the rival religion with, of course, the rival version of the vendetta-riven history, the prognosis is all too predictable.

But what can it mean to speak of a child’s “own” religion? Imagine a world in which it was normal to speak of a Keynesian child, a Hayekian child, or a Marxist child. Or imagine a proposal to pour government money into separate primary schools for Labour children, Tory children and Lib Dem children. Everyone agrees that small children are too young to know whether they are Keynesian or Monetarist, Labour or Tory: too young to bear the burden of heavy parental labels. Why, then, is almost our entire society happy to privilege religion, and slap a lab like Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, on a tiny child? Isn’t that a form of mental child abuse?a I once made that poiint in a broadcast debate with a Roman Catholic spokeswoman. I’ve forgotten her name but I she was some kind of agony aunt, and a stalwart of the Today programme’s “Thought f the Day”. When I said that a primary school child was too young to know whether it was a CCatholic child, she bristled: “Just come and talk to some of the children in our local Catholic school! I can assure you they know very well that they are Catholic children.” I believe it. The Jesuit boast – “Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man”– is no less sinister for being familiar to the point of cliché.

But what if religion is true? Surely sectarian indoctrination wouldn’t be child abuse if it saved the child’s immortal soul? Despite the smug presumptuousness of that, I can almost sympathise, if you sincerely believe your religion is the absolute truth. Let me, then, be ambitious if not presumptuous, and try to shake your belief.

Why do you believe in your God? Because he talks to you inside your head? Alas, the Yorkshire Ripper’s murders were ordered by the perceived voice of Jesus inside his head. The human brain is a consummate hallucinator, and hallucinations are a poor basis for real world beliefs. Or perhaps you believe in God because life would be intolerable without him. That’s an even weaker argument. Lots of things are intolerable and it doesn’t make them untrue. It may be intolerable that you are starving, but you can’t eat a stone by believing – no matter how passionately and sincerely – that it is made of cheese.

By far the favourite reason for believing in God is the argument from improbability. Eyes and skeletons, hearts and nerve cells are too improbable to have come about by chance. Man-made machines are improbable too, and designed by engineers for a purpose. Surely any fool can see that eyes and kidneys, wings and blood corpuscles must also be designed for a purpose, by a master Engineer? Well, maybe any fool can see it, but let’s stop playing the fool and grow up. It is 146 years since Charles Darwin gave us what is arguably the cleverest idea ever to occur to a human mind. He demonstrated a beautiful, working process whereby natural forces, by gradual degrees and with no deliberate purpose, forge an elegant illusion of design, to almost limitless levels of complexity.

I have written books on the subject and obviously can’t repeat the whole argument in a short article. Let me give just two guidelines to understanding. First, the commonest fallacy about natural selection is that it is a theory of chance. If it were, it is entirely obvious that it couldn’t explain the illusion of design. But natural selection, properly understood, is the antithesis of chance. Second, it is often said that natural selection makes God unnecessary, but leaves his existence an open plausibility. I think we can do better than that. When you think it through, the argument from improbability, which traditionally is deployed in God’s favour, turns out to be the strongest argument against him.

The beauty of Darwinian evolution is that it explains the very improbable, by gradual degrees. It starts from primeval simplicity (relatively easy to understand) and works up, by plausibly small steps, to complex entities whose genesis, by any non-gradual process, would be too improbable for serious contemplation. Design is a real alternative, but only if the designer is himself the product of an escalatory process such as evolution by natural selection, either on this planet or elsewhere. There may be alien life forms so advanced that we would worship them as gods. But they too must ultimately be explained by gradual escalation. Gods that exist ab initio are ruled out by the argument from improbability, even more surely than are spontaneously erupting eyes or elbow joints.

Religion may not be the root of all evil, but it is a serious contender. Even so it could be justified, if only its claims were true. But they are undermined by science and reason. Imagine a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason, wherever it leads. “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”

Professor Richard Dawkins is the Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. The Root of All Evil?, Professor Dawkins’ series looking at religion, is on 9 and 16 January at 8pm on Channel 4 link

Tampa Neighbor Charged Month After Teen's Slaying

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST UPDATES on CNN

TAMPA, Fla. -- A youth minister was charged with strangling his 13-year-old neighbor, about a month after the teen's body was discovered in a park, authorities said.

Joshua Rosa, 19, was arrested Friday at his job at a Sports Authority after DNA evidence linked him to the slaying of Stephen Tomlinson, the Hillsborough County's sheriff's office said. Rosa was being held without bail on a murder charge. He made his initial court appearance Saturday, but it was not known if he had an attorney, a jail official said.

<--- Stephen Tomlinson

Rosa lived across the street from Tomlinson for four years, and both teens attended the same church in Citrus Park. Detectives said witnesses saw him leaving a neighborhood park on Dec. 8, the night of Tomlinson's death.

Detectives said Tomlinson's blood was found on Rosa's hands and on a pair of white gloves and fingernail clippers which Rosa was carrying. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said the clippers were probably used to "remove evidence."

Rosa gave several misleading statements when detectives interviewed him, and he had been under constant surveillance for the past weeks, Gee said.

A motive was unclear, Gee said, adding that the boy's clothes were in disarray and there was evidence of a struggle.

Ron Tomlinson, the victim's father, said he had always trusted Rosa in the past. When asked Friday what he would say to Rosa now, Tomlinson said, "I hope you burn in hell."

Previous Story:
December 9, 2005: 13-Year-Old Found Slain In Tampa Park

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UPDATE, July 21, 2008, on CNN

Saturday, January 07, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Robertson suggests God smote Sharon

link provided by madamehel

Television evangelist Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which Robertson opposed.

"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,'" Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, "The 700 Club."

"God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone,'" he said.

Robertson's show airs on the ABC Family cable network and claims about 1 million viewers daily.

Sharon, 77, clung to life in a Jerusalem hospital Thursday after surgery to treat a severe stroke, his doctors said.

The prime minister, who withdrew Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza and parts of the West Bank last summer over heated objections from his own Likud Party, was breathing with the aid of a ventilator after doctors operated to stop the bleeding in his brain.

In Washington, President Bush offered praise for Sharon in a speech on Thursday.

"We pray for his recovery," Bush said. "He's a good man, a strong man. A man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people, and a man who had a vision for peace. May God bless him."

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, compared Robertson's remarks to the overheated rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Full story)

He called the comments "outrageous" and said they were not something to expect "from any of our friends."

"He is a great friend of Israel and a great friend of Prime Minister Sharon himself, so I am very surprised," Ayalon told CNN.

Robertson, 75, founded the Christian Coalition and in 1988 failed in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He last stirred controversy in August, when he called for the assassination of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. (Full story)

Robertson later apologized, but still compared Chavez to Hitler and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the process.

The same month, the Anti-Defamation League criticized Robertson for warning that God would "bring judgment" against Israel for its withdrawal from Gaza, which it had occupied since the 1967 Mideast war.

Robertson said Thursday that Sharon was "a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition."

He linked Sharon's health problems to the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords that granted limited self-rule to Palestinians.

"It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, now he's dead," Robertson said.

Rabin was gunned down by a religious student opposed to the Oslo accords. The killer, Yigal Amir, admitted to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison.

Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized Robertson's comments Thursday, saying the televangelist "has a political agenda for the entire world."

"He seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda," Lynn said in a written statement.

"A religious leader should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life," he said. "I'm appalled."

Ralph Neas, president of liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, said "it is astonishing that Pat Robertson still wields substantial influence" in the Republican Party.

"Once again, Pat Robertson leaves us speechless with his insensitivity and arrogance," Neas said in a written statement.

According to The Associated Press, Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts said of people who criticized the comments: "What they're basically saying is, 'How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?'"

"This is what the word of God says," Watts told the AP. "This is nothing new to the Christian community."

Friday, January 06, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Tulsa Pastor Arrested In OKC On Lewdness Charge

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An executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention was arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a plainclothes policeman outside a hotel, police said.

Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, was booked into Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday night on a misdemeanor charge of offering to engage in an act of lewdness, police Capt. Jeffrey Becker said. Latham was released on $500 bail Wednesday afternoon.

Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was arrested and his 2005 Mercedes automobile was impounded, Becker said.

Calls to Latham at his church were not immediately returned Wednesday.

When he left jail, he said:

"I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police."

The arrest took place in the parking lot of the Habana Inn, which is in an area where the public has complained about male prostitutes flagging down cars, Becker said. The plainclothes officers was investigating these complaints.

The lewdness charge carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Latham is one of four Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members from Oklahoma.

He spoke out last year against a measure, ultimately approved by voters, to expand tribal gaming.

He has also spoken out against same-sex marriage and in support of a Southern Baptist Convention directive urging its 42,000 churches to befriend gays and lesbians and try to convince them that they can become heterosexual "if they accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their 'sinful, destructive lifestyle."'

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

God is a product of evolution

By JEFF SMITH

If you believe in evolution you have to say, "Thank God for Darwin." And you also have to say, "Thank Darwin for God." Or at least thank the Darwinian evolution.

It's our biology that gives us a long childhood. And our long childhood gives us time to learn all the things we need to know to survive in this world. If we didn't learn them, we wouldn't survive. We learn what to eat and what not to eat, to play in the yard and not in the street, things like that. We learn by experience and by trusting the experiences of others.

We learn to learn. We learn to look for meaning and evidence, to ask questions. We learn that our parents know the answers to our questions -- all the questions we know how to ask when we are young. In fact, we learn that there is always an answer. All we have to do is to find out who knows it.

But when we get past the toddler stage, we learn that there are questions that even our parents don't have the answers to. And some of those questions are the big ones. You know, like where did we come from, stuff like that. And some are little, like where does chocolate come from.

And some are fuzzy, often we call them moral questions, like the difference between right and wrong. And there are questions we can't know the answer to, like how does an owl think and what does he think about? And even some that are beyond the capacity of our brains to comprehend. No matter, we grew up learning that there is always an answer, but who, we may ask, can answer the hard questions, and where is he so I can ask and learn? Well, it's someone somewhere.

Difficult questions need not be idle questions; they may be matters of life and death. Or so they can seem. Our desire for certainty, even for absolute knowledge, is built into us just as surely as our brains are. And the anxiety of not knowing -- about what's around the corner, about imminent danger, about the threats of the weather -- has led us to fashion answers and a source of those answers.

That source can be speculation and guessing, it can be divining by looking at chicken entrails, questing like a pilgrim monk or creating a being that knows everything. Yes, a god.

And all of this happens because it's the way we have learned to survive. If we didn't do it, we wouldn't survive as a species. It's the essence of natural selection. Yes, God is a product of evolution.

Whoever said that if gods didn't exist man would have to invent them was right. Because that is just what happened. And what could be better. We can make our gods omnipotent, able to do anything and everything. We can make our gods omnipresent, always there to answer our questions. We can make them omniscient, knowing everything, even things we don't know and can't know. We can make our gods any thing and any way we like.

And that's exactly what we do. I call that intelligent design.

"South Park" Parked by Complaints

by Sarah Hall

Did Comedy Central grant the Catholic League its Christmas wish?

Following the Dec. 7 season finale of South Park, titled "Bloody Mary," the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights slammed the network for its irreverent portrayal of church icons and sought to block the episode from being rebroadcast.

It appears the group may have met with success. A repeat of the finale was scheduled to air Wednesday night, but was seemingly pulled from the Comedy Central lineup without explanation.

In the episode, a statue of the Virgin Mary is believed to be bleeding from its rear end, inspiring faithful parishioners to flock from miles around to be healed by the miraculous blood.

Eventually, Pope Benedict XVI is called in to investigate, whereupon he determines that the statue is actually menstruating and thus is nothing special.

"A chick bleeding out her vagina is no miracle," the pope declares in the episode. "Chicks bleed out their vaginas all the time."

Somewhat predictably, the Catholic League was incensed by the satirical portrayal of the Virgin Mary and the pope and by the fact that the episode aired on the day before the Catholic Church celebrated its Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The conservative group demanded an apology from Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company, to Roman Catholics everywhere and "a pledge that this episode be permanently retired and not be made available on DVD."

The Catholic League also sought a personal condemnation from Viacom board member Joseph A. Califano Jr., who the group noted is a "practicing Catholic."

Califano was only too happy to oblige. After viewing the episode, he released a statement calling the episode an "appalling and disgusting portrayal of the Virgin Mary."

"It is particularly troubling to me as a Roman Catholic that the segment has run on the eve and day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day for Roman Catholics," Califano said.

Califano also pledged to have Viacom president and CEO Tom Freston review the episode.

Comedy Central did not respond to a request for comment on why "Bloody Mary" was yanked from the schedule.

Screencaps of the episode were no longer available on Comedy Central's press site, or on comedycentral.com's South Park section.

The Catholic League previously tangled with Comedy Central in 2002 over a South Park episode titled "Red Hot Catholic Love," but failed to produce any results.

Sunday, January 01, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Jews for Jesus Sues Google Over Blogger's Alleged Misuse of Trademark

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A Christian evangelical group is suing Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) for allegedly infringing on its trademark.

Jews for Jesus, which publishes several evangelistic Web sites in its mission to reach Jews, is claiming that a Web log hosted through the search giant's Blogspot service is harming its reputation. Google's Blogspot and Blogger are free services that allow people to set up blogs with any available URL.

Jews for Jesus filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York on Wednesday, seeking to force Google to give the organization control of the URL, along with unspecified monetary damages.

Susan Pearlman, associate executive director with Jews for Jesus, told TechNewsWorld that the organization asked the site holder, who goes by the anonymous moniker of "Whistle Blower" to relinquish the name and he, or she, refused.

"We also sent Google several letters making them aware that our trademark was being used on their Blogspot and they did not respond," she said. "So we've filed a complaint with the court."


On a Mission
The blog in question is located at www.jewsforjesus.blogspot.com. Whistle Blower launched it in 2005 and began posting critical opinions of Jews for Jesus, though the site only had three entries until the evangelical organization filed its lawsuit.

"We have a very simple message," Pearlman said. "That Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and savior of the world, and we use our name to proclaim their message. We don't want someone else using it for their particular agenda."

Whistle Blower has responded to the lawsuit with a blog-based attack on the group in the form of a letter to Jews for Jesus employees.

"Hasn't your employer gone too far? Haven't they this time, for sure, brought disrepute on the name of your lord by this action? Could this be the moment of your decision?" Whistle Blower asks in his blog.

Should Have Known Better
Blog expert B.L. Ochman, president of WhatNextOnline.com, told TechNewsWorld she has long wondered about the fact that people can register any URL on Blogger, Blogspot, and other blogging communities. Specifically, she has wondered when a problem like this would arise.

"It is an issue and a very big one. It seems as though there's a huge opportunity for somebody to hurt an organization's reputation by doing something like this," Ochman said. "It wouldn't surprise me if more of this begins to happen. But I am not so sure that Google is responsible."

An Old Dilemma
This is not a new dilemma. The same issue has been raised with non-blog URLs in the past. In fact, Jews for Jesus won a similar case some years ago. But Ochman said if an organization is concerned that someone will use its name in a blog URL in an uncomplimentary way, then that organization should be sure to register that URL for itself.

"We've been here before. It's just that much more indication of how companies are failing to really understand social media and the implications that it has for marketing," Ochman said. "There's always going to be some danger, but it just means there is more for everyone to monitor. It's going to get harder and harder."

Girls thought to be gay sue school over expulsion

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Two 16-year-olds who were expelled from a Lutheran high school because they were suspected of being lesbians have sued the school for invasion of privacy and discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, seeks the girls' re-enrollment at the small California Lutheran High School, unspecified damages and an injunction barring the school from excluding gays and lesbians.

Kirk D. Hanson, an attorney for the girls, said the expulsion traumatized and humiliated them.

"Their entire support network was pulled out from under them because of suspicions about their sexual orientation," said Hanson, who declined to say whether his clients are lesbians.

The school is on Christmas break until next week, and messages left for school officials Thursday were not immediately returned.

The lawsuit alleges that the school's principal, Gregory Bork, called the girls into his office, grilled them on their sexual orientation and "coerced" one girl into saying she loved the other.

The next day, the lawsuit says, Bork told the girls' parents they could not stay at the school with "those feelings." In a Sept. 12 letter to the parents, Bork acknowledged that officials had seen no physical contact between the girls but said their friendship was "uncharacteristic of normal girl relationships and more characteristic of a lesbian one."

"Such a relationship violates our Christian Code of Conduct," Bork wrote in his letter, which was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit. He called the girls' behavior "scandalous" and "immoral."

Hanson said the 142-student school in Wildomar, Calif., must comply with state civil rights laws because it functions as a business by collecting tuition.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on here," Hanson said. "The school is claiming the girls were expelled because their conduct wasn't within the Christian code. But at the same time, (the school) has students who aren't Christians and are even Jewish."