Friday, November 30, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pope blames atheism for world's woes

Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized modern-day atheism in a major document released today, saying it had led to some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known to mankind.

But in his second encyclical, Benedict also critically questioned modern Christianity, saying its focus on individual salvation had ignored Jesus' message that true Christian hope involves salvation for all.

"Saved by Hope" is a deeply theological exploration of Christian hope in the afterlife - that in the suffering and misery of daily life, Christianity provides the faithful with a "journey of hope" to the Kingdom of God.

"We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world is not in our power," Benedict wrote. "Only God is able to do this."

In the 76-page document, Benedict elaborates on how the Christian understanding of hope had changed in the modern age, when man sought to relieve the suffering and injustice around him. Benedict points to two historical upheavals: the French Revolution and the proletarian revolution instigated by Karl Marx.

Benedict sharply criticizes Marx and the 19th and 20th century atheism spawned by his revolution, although he acknowledges that both were responding to the deep injustices of the time.

"A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God," he wrote. But he said the idea that man can do what God cannot by creating a new salvation on Earth was "both presumptuous and intrinsically false."

"It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice," he wrote. "A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope."

STORY LINK

Thursday, November 29, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Music minister and youth leader goes to prison for pedophilia

Christians rally in support of the minister

ASHEVILLE – A former church youth leader was sentenced to at least 14 years and four months in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to seven counts of indecent liberties with a child.

The charges against Leonard Smith date back 20 years and involve three children. Three more serious charges, which were dropped in a plea bargain, date to 1976.

David Clement, spokesman for the extended family that brought charges against Smith, said he is pleased with the jail sentence.

“We knew him and his family for 30 years,” Clement said. “We trusted him and we loved him. … You can’t undo love, but if anybody needs the light turned on them, it’s a pedophile.”

Smith, 53, was music director and worked with the youths of Sycamore Temple Church of God in Christ in Asheville.

About 50 people turned out in support of Smith, and six ministers and three others testified in support of mercy in sentencing him. The other side of the courtroom, where the Clement family sat, was nearly empty.

“We have been ostracized,” Clement said. “Not one church leader has reached out to us.”

The Rev. Charles Mosley said he still sees Smith as a Christian man who has done good things in the church and the community.

“He is still needed in the church,” Mosley said. “He is still needed with the young people. He is still needed with the senior adults.”

Assistant District Attorney Kate Dreher jump-ed in, asking whether Mosley knew Smith was performing sex acts on boys.

“And you still say the youth need him?” she said.

Dreher called Smith “a pedophile masquerading as a man of God.”

Each of the nine people who testified on behalf of Smith said they believed he deserved punishment but each also asked for mercy.

“It hurts,” said the Rev. L.C. Ray, pastor of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church and co-founder of the youth mentoring agency One Youth at a Time. “It really hurts. But I can’t get around the fact that God calls me to fall on the side of mercy.”

The Rev. Louis Grant, pastor of Little Mount Zion and Mount Carmel Baptist churches in West Asheville, called for the church to apologize.

He also said Smith should get counseling, and that both the Smith and Clement families should get counseling for all the damage that has been done.

Smith was arrested in May after a member of the Clement family said he had been molested by Smith, and then two other family members came forward.

Before Judge James Downs issued the sentence, Smith spoke to the court.

As he rose, weeping, his attorney, Todd Williams, told the judge Smith had been molested as a youth and never told anyone.

Smith, who uses a walker and has health problems, apologized to the Clement family and to his own family, and then tried to explain his actions.

“In these situations, the care and concern went a little too far,” he said. “I shouldn’t have overstepped my boundaries.”

Smith went on to describe the good deeds he had done for children. He also said he never “manipulated” any child in his care.

District Attorney Ron Moore said after the sentencing he was not impressed with Smith’s words.

“It was not much of an apology,” he said.

Downs sentenced Smith to 16-20 months in jail for each of four counts of indecent liberties with a child that happened after 1994, when sentencing laws changed, and three years each for the three counts that occurred before 1994, all to be served consecutively.

STORY LINK

Pastor charged with rape and sodomy

The pastor of a small Washington County church has been arrested and charged with second-degree rape and second-degree sodomy for an incident that allegedly occurred nearly 10 years ago with a 15-year-old girl.

The Rev. Leonard Frazier, 55, of Stonewall Baptist Church nearChatom, was arrested Tuesday and released from Mobile County Metro Jail on $15,000 bail, according to jail records.

The alleged victim is now in her mid-20s, said Mobile County assistant district attorney Steve Giardini.

"It took a number of years for her to come forward," he said.

Alabama does not have a statute of limitations involving sex crimes against children.

Giardini said he didn't know if the woman was ever a member of Frazier's church, but that she knew him through her family.

The chairman of Stonewall's deacon board expressed surprise at the allegations against Frazier.

"I find him to be a righteous man, and his life has always been lined up with the word," Roscoe Gatson said.

Story Link

Sunday, November 25, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

ORU President Richard Roberts resigns in dishonor

The president of Oral Roberts University who is facing accusations he misspent university funds to support a lavish lifestyle resigned from his position, officials said Friday.

Richard Roberts' resignation is effective immediately, according to a statement e-mailed from George Pearsons, chairman of the school's Board of Regents.

Roberts and the university have come under fire since a lawsuit was filed by three former professors.

The lawsuit includes allegations of a $39,000 shopping tab at one store for Richard Roberts' wife, Lindsay, a $29,411 Bahamas senior trip on the university jet for one of Roberts' daughters, and a stable of horses for the Roberts children.

Roberts, son of school founder and televangelist Oral Roberts, had been on temporary leave from the evangelical university, fighting the accusations against him. In a recent interview, the couple denied wrongdoing.

Roberts has said the lawsuit amounted to "intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

On Friday, he said in the statement that he loved the university. He became president in 1993. "I love ORU with all my heart," Roberts said in the statement. "I love the students, faculty, staff and administration and I want to see God's best for all of them."

The school's regents will meet Monday and Tuesday to determine action in the search process for a new president, Pearsons said in the statement.

Executive Regent Billy Joe Daugherty will assume the president's administrative responsibilities, working with Oral Roberts until the regents' meeting, the statement said.

STORY LINK


Related stories:
Oral Roberts: True Christianity
Oral R.U. Without Dick ?



More related stories

Friday, November 23, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Sunday, November 18, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with sexual abuse. Bond set at $400,000



A 49-year-old Chicago pastor is free on bond after being charged with sexually assaulting a young male church member over several years.

Jose Rolando Morales of Mount Prospect has posted ten percent of his $400,000 bond and has been released. He's charged with one count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and one count of criminal sexual assault.

He is accused of abusing the church member starting in 1996 when the young man was eleven years old. The alleged victim is now 22.

Morales is the founding pastor of Ashland Christian Ministries on Chicago's Northwest Side.

No phone listing for Jose Morales at the address provided by authorities could be found. A listed phone number for the church has been disconnected.

MORE:

For half of his life, a young Chicago man feared that if he told his secret, he'd be humiliated in front of his family — maybe even deported.

That, he says, was what his church pastor told him.

And that's what he says drove the 22-year-old to tell no one that the Rev. Jose Rolando Morales had regularly molested him for 11 years.

But with encouragement from friends and fear there might be new, young victims at Ashland Christian Ministries in Albany Park, the young man came forward.

Thursday, Morales, founding pastor of the storefront church at 3637 W. Montrose, was hit with two sexual assault charges.

"This began as the manipulation of a young child and turned into threats against a young man," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office pursued the case. "And there's a strong possibility there might be other kids involved."

The victim and an investigator in Dart's office have mutual friends and the case came together quickly, he said, adding, "Thank God these [mutual friends] were vigilant and injected themselves into the situation when they saw something a bit odd."

Morales, 49, of Mount Prospect, is not married and has no children.

Morales, who police say admitted to the abuse during questioning, was in the Cook County Jail Friday night with bond set at $400,000.

Anyone with concerns about other victims should call (708) 865-4875.



Story Links: #1 , #2 & #3.

Thursday, November 15, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pro-Life activist arrested by priest

A pro-life activist banned from stepping on the grounds of St. Matthew’s Church in San Mateo after a controversy over his display of signs showing graphic pictures of aborted babies was arrested on Tuesday, Nov. 13, for trespassing on church grounds.

St. Matthew’s pastor, the Rev. Anthony McGuire, placed Ross Foti, 72, under citizen’s arrest when he came for the 8:15 a.m. Mass on Tuesday, the Nov. 14 Oakland Tribune reported. San Mateo police arrived and cited Foti for misdemeanor trespassing and released him. Foti has been ordered to appear in San Mateo County Superior Court on Dec. 27.

Foti expressed surprise at his arrest to the Tribune, saying he had attended two Masses at St. Matthew’s on the previous Saturday and had received communion from McGuire. McGuire told the newspaper that he had been unable to do anything about Foti’s Saturday appearance, since Foti had left the church before McGuire could speak with him.

Foti, a well-known pro-life activist, has long been controversial at St. Matthew’s. Parents of children at the parish school began complaining last year of Foti’s truck, displaying the graphic signs, which he parked on a public street adjacent to the school. Parents, who dropped their children off on the street for school, complained that their children had to view the graphic pictures.

Foti told California Catholic Daily in October that he parked his truck on the street adjacent to the church only three days a week, when he attended Mass before going to San Mateo’s Planned Parenthood clinic. McGuire, however, said that, beginning this school year, Foti parked his truck on the street every weekday morning.

McGuire told Foti he could no longer come to the parish after he, according to the priest, reneged on an agreement not to attend the Friday morning children’s Mass. Foti claimed that McGuire had said the ban was not permanent, a claim McGuire denied. Part of the agreement was that Foti cover the offending signs on his truck; but, later, McGuire requested that Foti also cover up the signs that simply said, “Abortion is murder.” (See “An aborted baby’s head” and “Picture of an aborted baby’s head,” Oct. 1-2 California Catholic Daily.)

Foti told the Nov. 14 Tribune he did not feel McGuire “had any valid grounds to ban me from the church. Right now, I am going to call my attorney and see what I can do and what I should do."

STORY LINK

Kentucky Baptists finally do something

Kentucky's largest religious body is urging its churches to take sweeping steps to prevent sexual abuse in its congregations, action an advocate for victims says is a good first move, though it falls short of what is needed.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention approved a resolution Tuesday at its annual meeting that urges churches to increase their awareness of the issue and obtain professional background checks on all staff members and volunteers who work with minors.

The resolution came a day after the convention's Mission Board adopted a more detailed report calling for such policies.

The convention also says it will use ads, direct mail and training to educate churches about the threat of sexual abuse and how to detect it.

And it has arranged for Protect My Ministry, a company that does background checks, to give Kentucky Baptist churches reduced rates for screening potential workers.

"Churches are more than wanting to deal with this, but they don't always know how," said Robert Reeves, director of communications for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The Kentucky convention also considered a proposal to create a registry of sexual abusers in the ministry but decided against it, saying it could create a "false sense of security" because it may not be up to date, and it would be difficult to decide what to do about accusations that haven't been confirmed in court.

But professional background checkers could use existing public registries of sex offenders, and the convention plans to provide links on its Web site for churches to use such registries themselves, Reeves said.

The resolution follows growing attention to incidents of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention, which also is considering establishing a registry. The Southern Baptist Convention is the Kentucky convention's national affiliate.

While the Roman Catholic Church underwent a massive crisis in 2002 after revelations of a widespread cover-up of sexual abusers in the priesthood, news reports and court cases also have revealed numerous instances of a cover-up of abuse among Baptist and other religious denominations.

In seeking to curb sexual misconduct, the Kentucky Baptist Convention's new policy also urges churches to establish safeguards for counseling vulnerable clients by ministers and others in church-based settings.

It also is urging establishment of polices for Internet use on church computers, reflecting growing concern about the use of Internet pornography by Christians.

"Comments such as: 'It won't happen to us,' 'We are just a small congregation and know all of our people,' 'That kind of thing doesn't happen here,' may reflect a lack of awareness of the potential hazard facing a church," the report said. "Volunteer-hungry churches are also especially sensitive to doing anything they feel may offend a potential volunteer or church member."

Christa Brown of the group SNAP Baptist, which advocates for victims of abuse by Baptist clergy and works with the Catholic group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the convention could go further.

Most sex crimes against children never result in a court conviction that would place the offender on a registry, said Brown. She said she was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist minister when she was a child and that the man remained in the ministry even though another minister knew of his actions.

Brown added that Baptist associations and conventions should have a process for someone to report abuse "within the faith community," even years after the fact.

"Until they (victims) are received with compassion and with some system in place for allowing that, other steps will never be adequate," she said.

She said that because Baptist churches are self-governing, victims who report abuse to these larger bodies are told to bring their allegations to the congregation where the abuse occurred, and often meet a hostile reaction from those who know and admire the accused.

A convention or association review board could respond compassionately to the victim and report its findings to the congregation, she said.

She cited the recent decision of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to adopt a policy for investigating abuse allegations.

"That is certainly what I would urge the Kentucky Baptist organization to do -- look at that Alabama policy and ask themselves why they can't do something like that," Brown said.

STORY LINK

WM's observation: It's a good sign that this Christian denomination finally realizes that their GOD is not going to magically protect HIS sheep from HIS people.

Saturday, November 10, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

More distortions in the culture war

Reposted from the Freethought Cafe by J.C. Samuelson

As has been previously documented, the war on the "War on Christmas" continues to be one of the major seasonal pillars of religious activism in this country. In prosecuting this so-called war, however, religious groups frequently resort to distortions or outright lies in order to further promote a persecution complex among their religious constituency. As before, the American Family Association (AFA) is among those leading the propaganda campaign.

The headline of an action item on the AFA website reads, "Federal government tells 85-year-old grandmother she cannot put an angel on Christmas tree." Having thus provoked our sense of fairness, righteous indignation begins to swell and brows furrow picturing grandma being preyed upon by jackbooted (but otherwise smartly dressed) government officials. The Feds must have surreptitiously implemented legislation governing how private citizens may decorate for the holidays.

Of course, this isn't really what happened. This is a not-so-subtle straw man that serves as a focal point for stirring the pot.

According to the AFA article, the Plant City Living Center reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) directed a ban on "any religious symbols or religious words associated with Christmas." This refers to an email dated October 29th which reads (in part):

Any religious symbols or religious words associated with Christmas should not be used. For example, the following items should not be on display: nativity scene (or any of the people represented in the nativity scene alone or together), the Star of David, angels, etc. This means no angel on your Christmas tree either.


The article also alleges that Christmas parties cannot be termed as such. This refers to a section in the email that contains the sentence, "[T]o be on the safe side you can always call them 'Holiday' parties." Moreover, the article alleges that these restrictions effectively banned the Center's tradition of having a Hanging of the Greens and Christmas party hosted by a Sunday School class from a nearby church, and says that the federal government has become "increasingly active in banning Christianity from the public square," citing the removal of certain words and phrases from monuments and ceremonies.

In reading the referenced email, however, we find that the AFA has again made much ado about nothing. Although the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII (42 U.S.C. 3601) does place limitations on religious displays in common areas - a fact acknowledged by the article - it places no limitations on what a person may do in the privacy of their own homes. Indeed, the AFA conveniently ignores this fact, leaving out the section of the referenced email that reads:

This decorating information applies to all common areas, including but not limited to: hallways, offices, community rooms, entrances, etc. Keep in mind that residents are free to decorate their apartments, as well as the exterior door to their apartment...however they wish.


It's clear from this one paragraph that concerns about residents' rights to express their religious faith during the holiday season are simply unfounded. If grandma wants to hang a crucifix, a wall-mounted nativity scene, angels, or other type of religious symbol on her door outside her apartment to express her religious convictions during Christmas, that's just dandy. If she wants to plant an angel at the top of her own tree, that's fine too. To be sure, she may not be allowed to place a tree with religious decorations out in the hall, but is that really a crisis of religious freedom?

With respect to the other allegation, that Christmas parties can't be called "Christmas" parties, this is false as well. The following is the relevant section of the email, this time in context:

Christmas dinners, parties, and get-togethers are acceptable. If your community does something like this, it must be open to all residents and be made widely known that all residents regardless of religious affiliation are invited to attend. To be on the safe side you can always call them "Holiday" parties.


Note that calling them Christmas parties is not at all prohibited. Instead, property managers are given the discretion to call them what they like, based on the desires of their communities. The suggestion to call them "Holiday" parties is a cautionary option, not a directive as the AFA alleged. In fact, the law says nothing of the sort with respect to religious activities.

Since we're on the subject, let's take a look at what the law actually says. According to HUD, the relevant restrictions appear to fall under the prohibition against advertising or making any statement that "indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap." In other words, no one gets preference. The idea is to keep common areas of public dwellings religiously neutral. In a pluralistic society, that makes perfect sense. Which is, of course, why the AFA objects.

Interestingly enough, the law grants special permission to religious organizations, associations, and societies, along with nonprofit organizations with religious affiliations to discriminate on a religious basis. That is, under the Fair Housing Act, a church, ministry organization, or other religious entity that owns property can choose to give preferential treatment to those who share their convictions, and in fact can refuse to deal equitably with those who don't.

To put it bluntly, some religious groups (including the AFA) want to be able to discriminate at will and hamstring the rights of those who don't believe as they do, but cry foul at the merest hint that religious freedom is being infringed upon.

Returning to the issue, what about the Hanging of the Greens event? Well, it does seem clear from the email that the angel-mounting part of the ceremony might have to be left out. However, this isn't necessarily clear from reading the Federal Housing Act. Perhaps this is an example of an overly cautious application of the law. Yet even if this is the correct application, the traditional party is hardly banned. The Sunday School class is still permitted to hold the event (even calling it a Christmas party), and instead might elect to mount another tree-topping decoration, such as a star. Even with its traditional Christian association with the Star of Bethlehem, certainly it's ambiguous enough to be permissible.

The bottom line is that the AFA is once again guilty of sensationalism, distortion, and substituting blatant falsehoods for facts. By perpetuating the myth of Christian persecution in America, they are able to mobilize their base to act in favor of a continued or increasingly special place for their faith in the public arena. Clearly, to some Christians, its worthwhile to bear false witness in order to manufacture controversy as long as the desired outcome is achieved.

Then again, is anyone surprised?

Stay tuned.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial



Reposted from the Freethought Cafe by J.C. Samuelson

On November 13th at 8:00 PM, the Public Broadcasting Service program NOVA will be airing a two-hour special that "captures the turmoil that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in one of the latest battles over teaching evolution in public schools." The program is titled, Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, and features trial reenactments as well as interviews with those involved in the trial.

"Judgment Day captures on film a landmark court case with a powerful scientific message at its core," says NOVA's Senior Executive Producer, Paula Apsell. "Evolution is one of the most essential yet, for many people, least understood of all scientific theories, the foundation of biological science." She also says that one of the goals of the program is to "[h]eighten the public understanding of what constitutes science and what does not, and therefore, what is acceptable for inclusion in the science curriculum in our public schools."

For those interested in watching the program, visit the program website or look for local PBS TV schedules.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

SHARE Responds to the California Fires

Reposted from the Freethought Café by J.C. Samuelson

Those who found interesting the recent article (also here) about secular charity in the context of the California fires might find encouragement from the following press release from the Center for Inquiry.

By James Underdown

On October 26, 2007, the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles launched a fund-raising campaign through the Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE) to aid some of the less fortunate victims of the recent California wildfires.

The devastation out here is vast. At least fifteen fires destroyed over 1,500 homes in southern California. The fires razed nearly half a million acres and forced the evacuation of over a half million people from their homes. The burned areas stretch from Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles east to the San Bernardino National Forest and south to the U.S.-Mexico border. For almost a week, a smoky haze drifted over our Hollywood offices.

Losses total at least $1 billion in San Diego County alone and include much of the state's southern farmland. The state's avocado crop has been severely damaged. The loss of agricultural products will no doubt put some of our neighbors and their children at risk from a major loss of income. This is something that many families can ill afford and may affect their foreseeable future. CFI has decided to earmark the funds we raise for lower-income folks who are least able to absorb sudden financial loss.

As with the flooding from Katrina and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, secular humanists expressed a desire to help, so we sent out an e-mail nationwide. As of this moment we have raised just under six thousand dollars. We hope more contributions will continue to come in.

Those wishing to help may send funds to SHARE at PO Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226 or visit https://secure.ga1.org/05/california_fire_relief . All funds sent to SHARE are tax-exempt in the United States. Thanks to those who gave and to those firefighters who worked so hard to contain the blazes.

Jim Underdown is Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles

Prosperity gospel called to judgement

The gospel message that links God with dollars has been called to judgment before a powerful U.S. senator.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent letters requesting detailed financial documents to two metro Atlanta preachers and four other ministries nationwide whose leaders are known for opulent, or as the ministers would say, blessed, lifestyles.

Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and has developed a reputation for demanding financial transparency from non-profits.

He wants to know how much Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia and the Rev. Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International in College Park make, how their church-issued credit cards are managed and how many cars, planes and foreign bank accounts they own. He has asked for information on the ministries' boards, business relationships and associated organizations.

"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said in a press release.

The other ministers are the Rev. Benny Hinn, based in Grapevine, Texas; David and Joyce Meyer, Fenton, Mo.; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Newark, Texas, and Randy and Paula White, Tampa, Fla. All are well known in the evangelical religious broadcasting world. They are also known for preaching that financial blessings are part of Christian life.

"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowance and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces," Grassley said.

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

A spokesman for Long said that he intends to comply fully with Grassley's request.

Dollar said in a written response that Grassley is setting a precedent that would allow the Senate to pry into donations from any church or church school.

"Because of this fact, we feel it is prudent to consult well-respected legal professors and scholars to see what their thoughts are," the statement said in part.

"The questions are much bigger than World Changers as it could affect the privacy of every community church in America."

Dollar said his life and ministry have always been an open book.

Not so, said Rod Pitzer, who helps run Ministrywatch.com.

The 7-year-old group finds and asks for information on ministries and grades them on openness so that donors can decide where to give their money.

Many nonprofits have to file Form 990s with the Internal Revenue Service that detail salaries and expenses. Those forms are public documents, but religious ministries are exempt from filing them.

Pitzer said because of that, he depends on churches to voluntarily provide information. He has requested documentation from Dollar's church, such as audited statements or yearly reports. He has never received anything from them, he said.

Because of its lack of transparency, Ministrywatch.com grades World Changers an F.

"He's one of the few organizations that have an F, among about 500 that we are currently grading," Pitzer said.

Pitzer has not dealt with Long's ministry.

None of the six organizations that got Grassley's letters belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

It is a voluntary organization of more than 2,000 members that sets professional standards for ministries.

Ken Behr, its president, was an executive with Ford for 24 years. He called the letter from Grassley unprecedented.

"If they were [ECFA members], this probably wouldn't have happened," Behr said.

The agency requires its members to have independent boards that do not include family members, but do adhere to high accounting standards and justify expenses.

"When a person using a credit card turns in a receipt, they have to justify that charges were ministry purposes, not for a family vacation to Hawaii," he said.

Jill Kozeny, a Grassley spokeswoman, said the senators chose the six ministries because of reports from third parties, whistle-blowers and the press.

In 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story that looked into Long's founding of a charity that paid the minister more than $3 million over a 3-year period, bought him a $1.4 million house and paid for the use of a $350,000 Bentley car.

Grassley's letter to the Dollars mentions information that Dollar tried to raise $1 million from other minister to give to Kenneth and Gloria Copeland for a celebration of their 40th year of ministry and that Dollar's ministries gave more than $500,000 to them.

Kozeny said, "Some of the accounts were of particular concern about lack of transparency, about how [the ministries] spend millions while you have it all exempted from federal taxes."

WHO'S BEING INVESTIGATED

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating the finances of six well-known televangelists.

The organizations and their leaders are:

* Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.

* Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas

* David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.

* Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas

* Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia

* Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park.

STORY LINK

Related:

Senate Inquiry Targets Televangelists

Senator: Count preachers' blessings

Grassley probes televangelists' finances

Spotlight on Televangelists

Tuesday, November 06, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Dan Barker Debates in D/FW

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, will be coming to the Dallas/Fort Worth area next Monday to speak to the Freethinkers of UTA (a member of the Secular Student Alliance), and will also be debating a local Christian apologist, Kevin Harris. Kevin is a regular participant in the Apologia discussion, and is the co-host of the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig.

If you're local to D/FW, you really should come and see the debate- and that goes for both theists and atheists. I'd love to see a good mix of people there on Monday. Official information about the event can be found at the Freethinkers of UTA homepage.

Date: Monday, November 12, 2007
Time: 7:00 PM
Place: University of Texas at Arlington, University Center, Red River/Concho Rooms
Participants: Dan Barker (Atheist), Kevin Harris (Christian)

Click here for Google Map goodness to help find directions.

Monday, November 05, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Whoremonging pastor gets stung

West Palm Beach Police said one of their police officers was posing as a prostitute on South Dixie near the Economy Inn on Friday. During the sting they arrested 13 people. One of them is a pastor of a church.

Ronald McCaskill, known as "Pastor Ron" by his congregation, is one of 13 men police arrested during a prostitution solicitation sting on Friday. McCaskill was arrested at about 2:00 in the afternoon. By 11:00 P.M. he'd posted $250 dollar bond and been released.

“Every Sunday is a celebration,” Jose Gablus, a member of the McCaskill’s congregation said.

He said this Sunday was no different. Congregation members said McCaskill was back on the pulpit at the New Life Christian Centre in Port Saint Lucie.

“Pastor Ron himself will preach that on the pulpit, that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes including himself,” Patricia McKelvy, a member of New Life Christian Centre said.

Word of his arrest didn't seem to shake many congregation members, who stood firm with beliefs they say they'd learned from McCaskill.

“With a man that's so compassionate and pours out his heart like that, it's hard to believe that a small situation like this would be used against him,” Gablus said, “It's not going to break us. All this is going to do is make us stronger and make us realize that the devil is out there to try to destroy us.”

“All the positive we do, nobody wants to know anything about it, however here we are because the pastor supposedly did something and I don't believe he did,” McKelvy said.

Ultimately that will be up to the courts to decide. West Palm Beach Police said their stings typically include video and audio surveillance.

Police said this is McCaskill's first offense.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Westboro Baptists ordered to pay $11 million to family of Marine

Also see Hate on Trial.

A Baltimore federal jury awarded nearly $11 million Wednesday to the father of a Marine killed in Iraq, deciding that the family's privacy had been invaded by a Kansas church whose members waved anti-gay signs at the funeral.

It was the first-ever verdict against Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian group based in Topeka that has protested military funerals across the country with placards bearing shock-value messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers."

They contend that the deaths are punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality and of gays in the military.

Relatives of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder wept and hugged at the jury's announcement, which came a day after closing arguments in the civil trial in federal district court.

"Now I know it's going to be harder for them to do it to anyone else," said Albert Snyder, who mourned at his son's funeral in March 2006 while seven Westboro members waved signs nearby.

The compensatory damage award alone, $2.9 million, was nearly triple the net worth of Westboro and the three members on trial, their attorney said.

Fred W. Phelps Sr., Westboro's founder, vowed to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va.

"It's going to be reversed in five minutes," he said. This case, he added, "will elevate me to something important," as it draws more publicity to his cause.

The jury found the defendants liable for violating the Snyder family's expectation of privacy at the funeral and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

Snyder's lawsuit spurred a constitutional debate over how far the First Amendment should extend to protect the most extreme forms of expression.

Some legal experts said the judgment could be a setback for those who believe in broad free-speech protections.

"I think when speech is a matter of public concern it still has to be protected, even when by social standards it is extraordinarily rude and outrageous," said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

University of Maryland law professor Mark Graber said the size of award, which included $8 million in punitive damages, could have a chilling effect on speech.

"This was in a public space," Graber said "While the actions are reprehensible, the First Amendment protects a lot that's reprehensible."<

After the verdict, Phelps and his two daughters named in Snyder's lawsuit said they believed that it was really their religious beliefs that were on trial.

"The goofy jury threw a fit at God," Phelps said.

For years Westboro members have crisscrossed the country, turning somber funerals of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan into attention-grabbing platforms to criticize homosexuals as immoral and damned. The church's 75-member congregation is composed mainly of Phelps' relatives.

The group also blames disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the Sept. 11 attacks and AIDS, on what it views as permissive morals in violation of biblical dictates.

Alarmed by Westboro protests, at least 22 states have proposed or enacted laws to limit the rights of protesters at funerals. Only months after Matthew Snyder's death, Maryland passed a law prohibiting targeted picketing within 300 feet of a funeral, burial, memorial service or funeral procession.

The courtroom fight came down to whether Westboro had a legal right to demonstrate at Snyder's funeral or whether the protesters crossed the line because their message impugned the grieving family's reputation and unlawfully invaded the Snyders' privacy.

The Marine's father, a 52-year-old who lives in York, Pa., sued the church and three of its members, founder Phelps and two of his daughters, Rebecca Phelps-Davis and Shirley Phelps-Roper.

For Snyder's claim of invasion of privacy to have succeeded, the jury needed to conclude that the church's actions at the funeral -- and later, in an Internet posting about Matthew Snyder on its Web site -- were "highly offensive to a reasonable person," according to the jury instructions.

Albert Snyder also contended that the church's actions were an intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under the law, to find in favor of Snyder, the five women and four men of the jury needed to find that the church's conduct was "intentional or reckless."

Jury instructions also required that the conduct be "extreme and outrageous," leading to severe emotional distress.

"You must balance the defendants' expression of religious belief with another citizen's right to privacy," U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett instructed jurors Tuesday.

The weeklong trial brought together Snyder and his family and the progeny of Phelps, a retired attorney.

In the courtroom, the Phelps family dressed plainly, its women with long hair and no makeup. In testimony, they stood steadfast to their beliefs and did not apologize for their conduct.

Often overcome by emotion, Albert Snyder sat in shirtsleeves and flanked by his attorneys. When the videos made of the protest at his son's funeral were played for jurors during closing arguments, he wept.

During his testimony last week, Snyder told jurors that he was clinically depressed and that the sight of the protest at the funeral made him physically ill.

Fred Phelps took the stand after Snyder, testifying that he had not considered whether children would see a sign carried by protesters with the words "Semper Fi Fags" and two stick figures that appeared to be engaged in sodomy, according to the Associated Press.

Three adults and four children picketed the March 10, 2006, funeral at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster. Westboro members insisted that their demonstration, about 1,000 feet from the Catholic church, took place legally.

In closing arguments, the attorneys sparred over the nature of the protest and whether the demonstrators' "speech" is protected by the Constitution.

Sean E. Summers, one of Snyder's attorneys, said Westboro members personally targeted the family because they brought Marine-specific signs to their rally at the funeral and had researched and posted Albert Snyder's marital history on their Web site in an essay titled "The Burden of Lance. Cpl. Matthew Snyder."

But Westboro attorney Jonathan Katz argued that the protest was no different from thousands of others. Nothing about the demonstration was so offensive or damaging, he said, as to rise to the level of a libelous attack on the family, individually.

Protests by Westboro have produced so much negative reaction that members routinely tell local police departments of their plans so that they can provide added security.

The defendants staged a protest on Pratt Street near the federal courthouse at noontime Wednesday, before the verdict was announced.

Counter protests often follow, and groups such as the Patriot Guard have cropped up to try to shield families from Westboro members' controversial signs and songs.

What sometimes took a back seat in the federal free-speech trial was the life and death of Matthew A. Snyder, a 2003 graduate of Westminster High School. A victim of a vehicle accident in Anbar province in March 2006, the 20-year-old had been in the war zone for less than a month.

Snyder's sexual preference was not an issue at the trial; his father said his son was not gay. Church members said they did not target Snyder's funeral because of his sexual preference; they were there to oppose gays in the military.

They said they waved placards -- "Thank God for IEDs" and "Fag Troops" among others -- near the funeral motorcade to bring attention to their message.

Snyder testified that he never saw the content of the signs as he entered and left St. John's on the day of his son's funeral. He read the signs for the first time during television news reports later that day.

A Google search on the Internet weeks later led him to the church's Web site and the posting about Matthew Snyder.

In arguing for punitive damages after the jury ruled in favor of Snyder, attorney Craig T. Trebilcock urged jurors to "deter [Westboro] from ever doing this to another family again."

"These are malicious people," he said. "These are stone-hearted people. They were celebrants of Matt Snyder's death."

Katz, the defendants' attorney, urged jurors to "look dispassionately" at Westboro's financial status in awarding punitive damages.

He said Fred Phelps is an unpaid pastor, Rebecca Phelps-Davis is a low-paid attorney at the Phelps law firm and that Shirley Phelps- Roper is a part-time law firm employee and mother of 11 children.

As for the church, Katz said, its only income is generated by meager tithings from congregants, many of whom are children or unemployed.

Trebilcock told jurors that they did not have to believe the Phelpses' financial disclosures -- pointing out that Rebecca Phelps- Davis reported just $306 in liquid assets.

Earlier in the trial, the Phelpses testified that they spent $400 apiece on plane tickets to get to Snyder's funeral. And Shirley Phelps-Roper eagerly showed off her iPhone to reporters, which she said was a birthday gift from her children.

Summers, an attorney for Snyder, said after the verdict that the lawsuit was not about money, it was about stopping Westboro.

Summers said he was ready and waiting for the appeal. "We will chase them until they have nothing left."

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