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Friday, September 30, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

On family Web site, Papa Pilgrim says he obeys God’s will

Anchorage, Alaska - From Anchorage to Alaska's borders, law enforcement officials are scouring every square inch of our state for Robert Hale, or Papa Pilgrim. Hale’s Web site sheds an interesting light on his family and his life journey. And in light of the serious charges he’s facing, there's one part of that Web site that is particularly chilling.

Head to and you'll find pictures and biographies of each Hale family member. Click on a picture and get a detailed account of that person's life, written by Papa Pilgrim (This is changing right now - the site has been taken over by the family, but if you look up Google's cache of the site, you can see some of it). Throughout the site, Hale writes about how God speaks to him and how he's his servant and obeys his will.

The Web site also has a link to an Anchorage Daily News article from 2003. In that interview, Hale, who's now accused of kidnapping, sexual assault and incest, dating back seven years, said all of his children are virgins. He says they bathe fully clothed and have never seen a naked human body.

The mother, Country Rose, told KTUU last night that she would like people's prayers for her family and that she and her children are OK.

In the meantime, it's important to point out that Hale is only being charged with acts that allegedly occurred in Alaska.

“Any conduct that occurred prior to living in Alaska, I could not pursue charges on that conduct, if any. That would be outside the state's jurisdiction,” said Richard Payne, assistant district attorney in Palmer.

As law enforcement officials continue their search for Hale, Canadian border officials have been warned to keep a lookout for the fugitive and Anchorage police are following every lead.

“We’ve gotten several tips from citizens all over Anchorage having possible sightings of him everywhere from in the downtown areas to the university area and even on the highways out towards Girdwood,” said Anita Shell, APD.

None of the tips have resulted in Hale’s arrest, but police want you to keep a lookout, and keep in mind Hale may have changed his appearance.

“This person has a very long beard, he's quite distinguished, but may have shaved that so the physical description could change based on what he may have done to hide his identity,” said Shell.

State troopers say Hale (pictured at left) is believed to be driving a Dodge camper van which is said to be navy blue. The license number is EPN 405. Anyone with information is asked to contact Alaska State Troopers.

New Mexico state officials were not aware of the Alaska indictment and said they are not currently investigating Hale. But they did say that they plan to contact Alaska State Troopers to find out if the alleged abuse occurred before 1998 when the Hale family lived in New Mexico.

Also see this article.

Senator: Hurricanes are God’s Judgement on Sinful Nation

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, – An Alabama Senator wrote that hurricanes Katrina and Rita are God’s judgment being visited upon a sinful nation.

New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness,” Sen. Hank Erwin wrote in a column appearing in the Birmingham News Wednesday. “It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God.”

He said that after visiting the Alabama gulf coast, he was “awed” but not surprised at the devastation that occurred. “Warnings year after year by godly evangelists and preachers went unheeded. So why were we surprised when finally the hand of judgment fell?” the Republican senator from Montevallo, situated between Birmingham and Montgomery, wrote. “Sadly, innocents suffered along with the guilty. Sin always brings suffering to good people as well as the bad.”

“America has been moving away from God,” he added. “We all need to embrace godliness and churchgoing and good, godly living, and we can get divine protection for that point.”

New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas, after witnessing the horrors first hand and hearing talk of Sodom and Gomorrah commented earlier this month, “Maybe God's going to cleanse us.” link

See the related report:
New Orleans City Council President: "Maybe God's Going To Cleanse Us"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

Sunday, September 25, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

‘Intelligent design’ faces first big court test

Parents sue after alternate to evolution added to science curriculum

By Alex Johnson

A federal judge in Pennsylvania will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit that both sides say could set the fundamental ground rules for how American students are taught the origins of life for years to come.

At issue is an alternative to the standard theory of evolution called “intelligent design.” Proponents argue that the structure of life on Earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, challenging a core principle of the biological theory launched by Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859. Instead, contend adherents of intelligent design, life is probably the result of intervention by an intelligent agent.

Intelligent design has been bubbling up since 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not teach the biblical account of creation instead of evolution, because doing so would violate the constitutional ban on establishment of an official religion.

Critics deride intelligent design as creationism gussied up for the courts; advocates say it is an explicitly scientific construct that makes no supposition about the identity or nature of the designer.

The disagreement has led to anguished public debates and hearings before local school boards for almost 20 years. While judges have considered smaller questions barnacled to the issue, the trial that opens Monday is believed to be the first time a federal court has been asked to decide the fundamental question: Is intelligent design religion or science?

Finally, a chance for a definitive ruling
The Pennsylvania case “is probably the most important legal situation of creation and evolution in the last 18 years,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which opposes challenges to the standard model of evolution.

“This will be the first legal challenge to intelligent design, and we’ll see whether they have been able to mask the creationist underpinnings and basic orientation of intelligent design,” she said. Regardless who wins, “it will have quite a significant impact on what happens in American public school education.”

The suit, brought by 11 parents, challenges the Dover Area School District’s adoption last year of an addition to the science curriculum directing teachers — in addition to teaching evolution — to tell students about intelligent design and refer them to an alternative textbook that champions it. Three opposing board members resigned after the vote.

The parents contended that the directive amounted to an attempt to inject religion into the curriculum in violation of the First Amendment. Their case was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation for Church and State, with support from Scott’s organization.

The school board is being defended pro bono by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. The case is being heard without a jury in Harrisburg by U.S. District Judge John Jones III, whom President Bush appointed to the bench in 2002.

Science organizations have generally turned their backs on forums in which they have been challenged to defend Darwinian evolution, on the theory that engaging the intelligent design school in any way is to take its ideas too seriously. For example, when the Kansas Board of Education held hearings this year on new science standards that criticized evolution, science groups boycotted.

The Pennsylvania case, however, gives scientists the chance to go on the attack, forcing intelligent-design advocates to defend their beliefs. But because local school boards have almost complete latitude to set the content of the curriculum, the plaintiffs must navigate a narrow path.

It isn't enough for them to discredit intelligent design — indeed, that is almost irrelevant to the legal question. Instead, what they must do is show that the school board’s decision would have an unconstitutionally religious purpose and effect, Scott said.

Even so, Scott and others make no bones about their principal motivation: Intelligent design as science is bogus, they insist, and teaching it is a grave disservice to students.

“Intelligent design is simply the most recent version of creationism, which is admittedly a religious concept,” said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and publisher of the journal Science. “There is no scientific basis to intelligent design.”

Debating the terms of the debate
This is where things get sticky, because it all boils down to a basic argument over just what is evolution and what is religion.

Advocates have labored for years to have intelligent design be taken seriously as science. Although many of the leading thinkers in the movement openly acknowledge their Christian faith, they also sport Ph.D.s in hard science and maintain that their suppositions are rooted in principled observance of the scientific method.

And they generally have no problem with much of evolutionary theory, which can — in part —be stated as the change of species over time. Evidence, they agree, amply bears out this observation, which is known as micro-evolution.

Where they dissent is in what’s known as macro-evolution — the transformation over time of a species into another species. The distinction is drawn in “Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins,” the alternative text endorsed by the Dover school board:

“Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their primitive features intact, rather than gradually developing.”

In other words, their argument is not so much with evolution per se as it is with what they see as the failure of evolution to account for how it all started. It is perfectly reasonable as science, they believe, to explore whether an outside agent triggered diversity of complex biological structures seemingly engineered to sustain life on Earth.

Intelligent-design supporters are careful to say they don’t know who or what that outside agent was, but to the large majority of biologists, that’s beside the point: Science is concerned with the natural world, while intelligent design supposes an agent independent of the natural world.

You can teach such concepts, Leshner and Scott say; indeed, you should — just do it in philosophy and religion and literature classes. Don’t do it in science classes, because, by definition, that’s religion. It isn’t science.

“If we human beings evolved as a result of natural cause, are we special to God? Does life then have some sort of purpose?” Scott asked.

They’re legitimate questions, but “these are issues that are outside of science,” she said. “These are not issues that should be part of the science curriculum.”

Tough spot for ID crowd
The Dover case raises difficult issues for many advocates of intelligent design, who sometimes feel as if they’re dismissed as rubes or Bible thumpers trying to wiggle God back into the classroom in a white lab coat.

Indeed, the Discovery Institute — the Seattle-based think tank that is the intellectual engine of the movement — finds itself opposing both sides. While it criticized the ACLU for pursuing an “Orwellian” stifling of scientific debate, it also disagreed with the Dover school board’s vote last year.

“Discovery Institute strongly opposes the ACLU’s effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal. At the same time, we disagree with efforts to get the government to require the teaching of intelligent design,” the institute said in a statement this week.

“Misguided policies like the one adopted by the Dover School District are likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community, points we have made repeatedly since we first learned about the Dover policy in 2004.”

Regardless, the end result could be some judicial proclamation of that kind. Because the losing side is likely to appeal every step of the way, the case may well end up at the Supreme Court, leading to a ruling that could set a national precedent.

That is “a disturbing prospect,” the Discovery Institute said — judges should not be telling scientists “what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not.”

Link to the orignal article.

Link to NPR's Science Friday broadcast on this topic.

Article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer - quick free registration required to view.

Click on Understanding Evolution to educate yourself.

Friday, September 23, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

School Expels Girl for Having Gay Parents

ONTARIO, Calif. -- A 14-year-old student was expelled from a Christian school because her parents are lesbians, the school's superintendent said in a letter.

Shay Clark was expelled from Ontario Christian School on Thursday.

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission," Superintendent Leonard Stob wrote to Tina Clark, the girl's biological mother.

Stob wrote that school policy requires that at least one parent may not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian life style, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship," The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's edition.

Stob could not be reached for comment by the newspaper. Shay and her parents said they won't fight the ruling.

School administrators learned of the parents' relationship this week after Shay was reprimanded for talking to the crowd during a football game, Tina Clark said.

Clark and her partner have been together 22 years and have two other daughters, ages 9 and 19.


Minister charged with rapes

After a manhunt that spanned two states, Wilson County sheriff's detectives arrested a pastor of a Wilson church Wednesday night wanted on charges of 19 counts of statutory rape.

Sheriff's detectives along with members of the U.S. Marshal's Service's fugitive task force arrested Nathaniel Rasberry, of 9013 U.S. 301 S., Kenly, in connection with repeated sexual assaults on two women who are now 19 and 25 years old.

Reports of Rasberry's activities first came to the Sheriff's Office in August. After an investigation by Detective Denise Wilkins, which included an interview with Rasberry, warrants for his arrest were issued. When detectives went to serve the warrants, Rasberry was no where to be found, Farmer said.

Rasberry, a pastor of World Vision Outreach Center, had been on the run since August when the Wilson County Sheriff's Office issued warrants for his arrest. Those warrants include charges of child incest, parental sex offense, statutory rape, felony child abuse, assault and inflicting serious injury.

He is now in jail at the Wilson County Detention Center under a $1 million bond.

Maj. J.H. Farmer of the Wilson County Sheriff's Office said the investigation into Rasberry's activities indicates the assaults had been ongoing for several years, back to when the victims were minors.

Warrants issued for Rasberry include charges of incest of a child, parental sex offense, 19 counts of statutory rape, felony child abuse and nine counts of assault and inflicting serious injury.

Investigators believed Rasberry had absconded to New Jersey, but intelligence reports indicated he had been back to Wilson and the surrounding area from time to time. Such a tip came to investigators Wednesday morning. Rasberry, 34, and pastor of World Vision Outreach Center, 311 Herring Ave., was arrested Wednesday night in Rocky Mount. He is being held in the Wilson County Detention Center under a $1 million bond. Lt. D.W. Bailey of the Sheriff's Department said more charges will likely be filed against Rasberry today.

Sheriff's investigators also arrested Rasberry's wife, Katie. She was charged with obstructing and delaying an officer in the line of duty. She's being held under a $2,000 bond.

link and link

Tuesday, September 20, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Detective speaks out on Dollar tortures

Lisa Wall says she will always remember the children, but will never understand what led the parents to such abuses.

Published September 16, 2005

INVERNESS - From her first glance at the Dollar children, sheriff's Detective Lisa Wall knew something wasn't right.

Several looked tiny. The 14-year-old twins appeared to be only 7 or 8. They weighed 36 and 38 pounds.

"When I first saw the children, my first impression was, "Oh my gosh!' " she said Thursday.

The kids told her they were tortured, but it wasn't until she saw a cattle prod pulled from a drawer in the Dollars' Pine Ridge home that she began to understand the horrors involved. It was then she realized the case of John and Linda Dollar would be the one case that would keep the seasoned detective awake at night.

"It blew me away, honestly," she said.

Normally soft spoken and camera shy, Wall sat down with reporters the day after the Dollars pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated child abuse and agreed to serve 15-year prison sentences. She felt compelled to do it.

"Can you tell I'm, like, nervous?" she said moments before the television cameras were turned on.

Wall wasn't a novice to heinous crimes when she was assigned to the case. She has worked in law enforcement for nearly 22 years. Twenty of those years have been spent investigating crimes against children.

But the Dollar case was different. The magnitude of the abuses - the Dollars shocked five of their eight adopted children with a cattle prod, pulled out their toenails with pliers and hit them with hammers - surprised her.

Among the questions she's asked herself:

How could such awful abuses escape notice for so long? Is this an isolated case or are other children in the community facing torture, too?

And, most puzzling of all, when and why did the Dollars change from caring parents to cruel ones?

Wall said she felt obligated to speak out Thursday to explain why the Dollars were offered a deal that gave them each only 15 years in prison. If convicted on all counts at trial, they each would have faced 150 years.

"Would I have liked to see them get 150 years?" she said. "Absolutely."

The decision was made for the children, she said.

The Dollar children, who range in age from 13 to 17, are in therapy. Several are in a residential treatment program outside of the county, while others are in foster care. Some have stopped using "Dollar" as their last name, she said.

"They're doing pretty well," she said. "They're growing. The children look absolutely wonderful."

But the kids still feel somehow responsible for the pain their parents inflicted, she said.

She credited the Dollars' oldest adopted daughter, Shanda Rae Shelton, 26, with providing comfort and support to her siblings. Shelton moved out of the Dollar home a few years ago. She now has a child of her own and battled in court to be able to visit her brothers and sisters.

The kids were scheduled to testify privately, with a videotape of the testimony showed later to the jury. The Dollars' defense attorney, Charles Vaughn, was fighting that arrangement.

Wall said she worried Vaughn might win, forcing the children to face their parents. Even if the kids could testify by videotape, she worried about the impact of having to relive the abuses.

"These children need to move on with their lives," she said.

One thing she still doesn't understand is what went wrong in the Dollar home. From the Dollars' explanation, she said, it seems they twisted biblical principles to justify torture.

"I think in their mind they were following the Bible," Wall said.

Several acquaintances of the Dollars' have described them as deeply religious.

In 1999, the couple opened a private Christian school called Mountain View Christian Academy in Strawberry Plains, Tenn. They attended the nearby Mount Harmony Baptist Church, where several of the children were baptized.

But shortly after opening the school, the Dollars left the church. They believed the world would end at the year 2000 and became angry when Pastor Bruce Martin refused to agree, he said.

After that point, details on the inner workings of the family are sketchy. But at their sentencing, the Dollars said they tried to follow God's principles in teaching the children.

"We are sorry that the children are hurt," John Dollar said. "We are firm believers in the God almighty ... because of those principles we were led to do certain things."

It's possible no one will ever understand what went wrong, Wall said.

"I think, genuinely, in their own strange way, (the Dollars) do love these children," she said.

Now the case is resolved, she's hoping the community can begin to heal from the trauma of the Dollar case as well as the slaying of Jessica Lunsford.

She's also hoping for healing for herself. She plans to keep in touch with the Dollar children, to make sure they're doing well.

Whatever happens, she said, she won't forget them.

Monday, September 19, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Non-believers raising voice in capital

By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Americans who don't believe in God have decided it's time they had a lobbyist in the nation's capital. Their new advocate describes herself as a "soft, fuzzy atheist."

Lori Lipman Brown starts Monday as executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. Her two goals: keep religion out of government and win respect for a stigmatized minority.

The magnitude of those challenges is, well, biblical. Think Daniel entering the lion's den, or David taking on Goliath.

Christian conservatives wield enormous clout here through a network of advocacy groups and relationships with politicians from President Bush on down. Atheists, humanists and freethinkers, as Brown's constituents call themselves, are usually ignored .

Is she scared? "Nah," says Brown, 47, an atheist with a Jewish background. "It feels good to be the first."

Brown likens atheists today to gays in the 1970s: people just coming out of the closet to fight for acceptance. "There's been so much rhetoric in the past decade about how important religion is to being a good person," she says, that "it's been scary" for people to say they don't believe in God. She vows to "use the A-word and not cringe."

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 11% said they do not believe in God but do believe in a "universal spirit" or "higher power"; 3% said they do not believe in God or a spirit or power. In a separate question, 1% said they are atheists (those who believe there is no God), 2% said they are agnostics (those unsure whether there is a God), and 11% said they have no religious preference.

The no-preference category includes people "who may not be ready to declare themselves atheists or agnostics," Pew Director Andrew Kohut says.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, counts them as non--believers — part of "a 30-million-strong constituency that is informed about the issues and votes."

Brown plans to work for non-believers in three ways:

• As part of broad coalitions fighting policies rooted in religious beliefs, such as limits on stem cell research and access to emergency contraception.

• In alliances with groups opposed to policies they believe breach the wall between church and state, such as giving taxpayer money to "faith-based" service programs.

• On causes Brown concedes are hard for politicians and the public to swallow, such as eliminating references to God from the U.S. oath of citizenship. She plans to stay out of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy for now because "the courts are on our side." Last week, a federal judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge's phrase "under God" in public schools is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Gary Bauer, a Christian conservative and former presidential candidate who now lobbies against gay marriage and for conservative values, says atheists' timing couldn't be worse, given Hurricane Katrina. "We're right in the middle of a horrible event when people are turning to God," he says. "They're going to find it very hard to get people to vote for the sort of things they're in favor of."

Brown says she doesn't expect immediate success on tough issues but, as the only advocate for non--believers in Washington, it's her job to raise them.

"We want to get people thinking about what they do that excludes us," she says. "The things that ... perpetuate the idea that we are outsiders — that we can't be patriotic or that we can't be moral or ethical — when in reality our community is tremendously active in making the world a better place to live."

A lawyer and teacher, Brown is used to controversy. As a Nevada state senator from 1992 to 1994, she fought for gun control, gay rights and abortion rights. She says she received threats and hate messages and calls.

Five humanist and atheist groups formed the Secular Coalition for America after the Sept. 11 attacks, unsettled by talk linking God and patriotism. "That was a major impetus to try to raise our profile," said Duncan Crary, a spokesman for one coalition member, the Institute for Humanist Studies in Albany, N.Y.

The institute had a lobbyist, Tim Gordinier, at the New York Legislature but nobody at Congress. "The cultural wars are going to be fought in Washington, D.C.," Gordinier says. "This is where we're going to have our skirmishes."

The first-year budget for the coalition office here, including Brown's salary and a six-month stipend for a legislative assistant, is $100,000. That's minuscule for a Washington lobbying office.

Brown, who taught college-level constitutional law as well as high school English, is taking a pay cut. "It's important to do the work, even if you're not a high-paid lobbyist," she says. "At least there'll be an atheist voice in the mix."

Sunday, September 18, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Police say minister wrote bad checks

OLIVE BRANCH — A Memphis, Tenn., minister has been charged with obtaining money by false pretenses after Olive Branch police said he wrote checks totaling $11,000 on a closed bank account.

The Rev. Carlton Kneeland, pastor of Greater Emmanuel Christian Assembly in Memphis, was arrested Friday. He was being held Saturday on $75,000 bond in the DeSoto County jail in Hernando.

"We received a complaint from Chex-In, a check-cashing business, that he had been writing checks based on the church's account. But the account (with Bank of America) was closed April 19," said Maj. Don Gammage, chief of detectives for the Olive Branch Police Department.

Gammage said police have recovered eight checks totaling $5,450 that were returned because of the closed account.

"We believe that he may have written 12 to 15 checks for an additional $6,000 to $7,000," he said. "We know there are other checks out there, but we aren't sure how many he wrote."

Kneeland, 46, formerly preached at several churches in the Olive Branch area, but he was running the Great Emmanuel church from his home in Memphis.

"Each one of the checks — usually for amounts ranging from $500 to $750 — in the memo section showed something like, 'vacation,' 'salary' or 'cash advance,' " Gammage said. "Some people who cashed his checks knew him as a reverend. He was using that status to prey on these small businesses."


Pastor convicted of child cruelty gets out of prison

ATLANTA — A minister is free after serving two years in prison for having children at his church whipped with belts.

The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. was released Wednesday from Central State Prison in Macon, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Peggy Chapman said.

Allen's wife, Trina, picked up the minister from the medium security prison, Chapman said.

Allen, 73, has been in the prison since 2003 on child cruelty and aggravated assault charges stemming from activities at the House of Prayer church in northwest Atlanta.

He was accused of ordering church members to discipline children with whips and belts when they misbehaved. The spankings left welts on two boys.

He served a 90-day jail sentence but refused to comply with the condition of his 10-year probation that children in his congregation could only be hand spanked at home by their parents.

Allen skipped a probation revocation hearing and was on the run for five months before his capture in Cobb County two years ago.

Four other church members also were convicted three years ago in connection with the beatings of children at the church and served jail time.

Wearing jeans and a casual shirt, Allen gathered with his small congregation Wednesday afternoon at the church. He declined to comment on his release.


Supernatural Selection

by Mark Fiore


Hollywood – Pat Robertson on Sunday said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of expressing its anger at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its selection of Ellen Degeneres to host this year’s Emmy Awards. “By choosing an avowed lesbian for this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God’s wrath,” Robertson said on “The 700 Club” on Sunday. “Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres’ hometown?”

Robertson also noted that the last time Degeneres hosted the Emmys, in 2001, the September 11 terrorism attacks took place shortly before the ceremony.

“This is the second time in a row that God has invoked a disaster shortly before lesbian Ellen Degeneres hosted the Emmy Awards,” Robertson explained to his approximately one million viewers. “America is waiting for her to apologize for the death and destruction that her sexual deviance has brought onto this great nation.”

Robertson added that other tragedies of the past several years can be linked to Degeneres’ growing national prominence. September, 2003, for example, is both the month that her talk show debuted and when insurgents first gained a foothold in Iraq following the successful March invasion. “Now we know why things took a turn for the worse,” he explained.

In order to avoid further tragedy, Robertson called not only for the Television Academy to find a new heterosexual host, but to bar all homosexuals and bisexuals from taking part in the ceremony.

He said employees at the Christian Broadcasting Network had put together a list of 283 nominees, presenters, and invited guests at the Emmys known to be of sexually deviant persuasions.

“God already allows one awards show to promote the homosexual agenda,” Robertson declared. “But clearly He will not tolerate such sinful behavior to spread beyond the Tonys.”


Saturday, September 17, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Faces Molesting Charges

BY JEN GIBSON, Times-Union Staff Writer

Mark Allen Johnson, 40, of 2210 E. Market St., Warsaw, was booked into the Kosciusko County Jail around 8:09 p.m. Wednesday evening on one charge of child molesting (a Class C felony) and two counts of sexual misconduct (both Class B felonies). He is being held on $50,000 Bond.

Johnson is the pastor at the Pentecostal Church of Refuge on West Lake Street in Warsaw.

Officers from the Warsaw Police Department and the Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office went to the church to serve a warrant for Johnson’s arrest Wednesday, but Johnson fled the church.

Johnson later turned himself in to the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department and was taken to the jail Wednesday night.

In the probable cause affidavit, Johnson is accused of fondling a 9-yearold boy in the summer of 1997.

The document also says Johnson “did perform deviate sexual conduct” with the same child in both the summer of 2002 and in April 2003. At the time of those incidents, the child was at least 14 years of age but less than 16.

According to the probable cause affidavit, while Johnson was babysitting a 9-year-old boy in 1997, Johnson reportedly removed his clothes while the two were sitting under a blanket together at the boy’s residence. Johnson then allegedly exposed himself and placed the boy’s hand on his penis.

The 2002 incident occurred when the child was 14. Johnson and the boy reportedly went to an abandoned house in Waraw where Johnson took off his pants and underwear and exposed himself. The boy allegedly performed oral sex on him at that time, the affadavit says.

In 2003 when the boy was 15, Johnson allegedly took him to a barn. Again Johnson reportedly removed his pants and had the boy perform oral sex, according to the affadavit.

Johnson faces charges in Kosciusko Circuit Court.

Messed Up Messiah

For the full size version, which shows more detail on Jebus' tatoo and necklace, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Federal judge declares Pledge unconstitutional

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A federal judge declared Wednesday that the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional, a decision that could potentially put the divisive issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case was brought by the same atheist whose previous battle against the words "under God" was rejected last year by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

The Supreme Court dismissed the case last year, saying Newdow lacked standing because he did not have custody of his elementary school daughter he sued on behalf of.

Newdow, an attorney and a medical doctor, filed an identical case on behalf of three unnamed parents and their children. Karlton said those families have the right to sue.

"Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists,"' Newdow said in an interview with AP Radio after the ruling.

"I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, 'Oh, what harm is that.' They'd be furious. And that's exactly what goes on against atheists. And it shouldn't."

Karlton, ruling in Sacramento, said he would sign a restraining order preventing the recitation of the pledge at the Elk Grove Unified, Rio Linda and Elverta Joint Elementary school districts in Sacramento County, where the plaintiffs' children attend.

The order would not extend beyond those districts unless it is affirmed by the 9th Circuit, in which case it could apply to nine western states, or the Supreme Court, which would apply to all states.

The decision sets up another showdown over the pledge in schools, at a time when the makeup of the Supreme Court is in flux.

Wednesday's ruling comes as Supreme Court nominee John Roberts faces day three of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He would succeed the late William H. Rehnquist as chief justice.

In July, Sandra Day O'Connor announced her plans to retire when a successor is confirmed.

The Becket Fund, a religious rights group that is a party to the case, said it would immediately appeal the case to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the court does not change its precedent, the group would go to the Supreme Court.

"It's a way to get this issue to the Supreme Court for a final decision to be made," said fund attorney Jared Leland.

The decisions by Karlton and the 9th Circuit conflict with an August opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. That court upheld a Virginia law requiring public schools lead daily Pledge of Allegiance recitation, which is similar to the requirement in California.

A three-judge panel of that circuit ruled that the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious affirmation similar to a prayer.

"Undoubtedly, the pledge contains a religious phrase, and it is demeaning to persons of any faith to assert that the words 'under God' contain no religious significance," Judge Karen Williams wrote for the 4th Circuit. "The inclusion of those two words, however, does not alter the nature of the pledge as a patriotic activity."

Karlton, appointed to the Sacramento bench in 1979 by President Carter, wrote that the case concerned "the ongoing struggle as to the role of religion in the civil life of this nation" and added that his opinion "will satisfy no one involved in that debate."

Karlton dismissed claims that the 1954 Congressional legislation inserting the words "under God" was unconstitutional. If his ruling stands, he reasoned that the school children and their parents in the case would not be harmed by the phrase because they would no longer have to recite it at school.

"All it has to do is put the pledge as it was before, and say that we are one nation, indivisible, instead of dividing us on religious basis," Newdow said.

Terence Cassidy, a lawyer representing the school districts, said he was reviewing the opinion and was not immediately prepared to comment.

Sunday, September 11, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Did T-rex graze in the Garden of Eden?

By Ashley Powers
The Los Angeles Times

CABAZON, Calif. -- Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.

The 45-foot-high concrete Apatosaurus has towered over I-10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two-by-two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least a half-dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25 million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous.

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of the National Center for Science Education, a group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."

Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over the Earth's origins and the continuing fight over whether Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" or Genesis best explains the development of life.

Science holds that dinosaurs were the Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the forebears to birds.

Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

A different story is told at Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, Fla. Its slogan: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"

The theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days. The dinosaurs dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned -- and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.

About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark, and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The ark-borne animals repopulated the planet -- meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs, who still roamed the planet.

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and founder of Reasons To Believe ministry in Pasadena, frets that "young-Earth theologians" damage the credibility of scientists who are Christian and push intellectuals away from religion.

"I'd put them in the same category as flat-Earth people and the people that think the sun goes around the Earth," he said. "They think they're defending the truth, but the young-Earth model has no scientific integrity."

Saturday, September 10, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Associate pastor faces sex charge

WETUMPKA -- The Elmore County Sheriff's Office arrested an associate pastor Friday afternoon on a charge of sexual abuse.

Lonnie Earl Floyd, 50, of 210 Mount Zion Road in Wetumpka remained in the Elmore County Jail on Friday under a bond of $10,000, investigator Jeremy Amerson said. Floyd serves as associate pastor for Wetumpka Church of God, police reports stated.

Neither Floyd nor members of the church could not be reached for comment.

The alleged victim is a juvenile female, authorities said.

"DHR (Department of Human Resources) received an anonymous call, and they contacted us," Amerson said. "We talked with the victim and made the arrest in the midafternoon. The investigation continues, and more charges may be filed if other victims come forward."

This marks the second time in less than a year a minister from Elmore County has faced allegations of sexual abuse. In December 2004, Garett Dykes, minister of Calvary Baptist Church in Wetumpka, was charged with several counts of sexual abuse, police reports stated. The church removed him from his position shortly after his arrest. Dykes has admitted his involvement in the abuse, Sheriff Bill Franklin said.

"Another preacher. I just can't explain it," said District Attorney Randall Houston. "I can't stand it when a person uses their position to prey on children. We'll work hard to convict this man and make sure he goes to prison for a long time."

Friday, September 09, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested in Internet sex sting

ORDWAY — A church pastor has been arrested on suspicion of attempted sexual assault on a child after he allegedly tried to arrange a meeting over the Internet with a detective posing as a 14-year-old girl.

Lucky Jerome Ashida, 44, pastor of River of Life Fellowship, was arrested Monday and released the next day on $50,000 bail, Pueblo County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Bryant said.

An arrest affidavit says Pueblo police Detective Daniel Anderson posed as a girl while communicating with Ashida in an online chat room.

The affidavit says that after a series of increasingly sexual chat room exchanges, Ashida and the person he thought was the young girl agreed to meet at a park on Aug. 30. Police said they secretly videotaped Ashida looking for the girl there.

The detective, again posing as a girl, then told Ashida through the chat room she had grown tired of waiting for him and returned to school, police said. They arranged a second meeting at the same park for Monday, and Ashida was arrested after he arrived, the affidavit says.

Ashida did not immediately return a telephone message left Wednesday at the church.


Local Church's Sign Offends Evacuees

A confrontation erupted between an East Texas church and an evacuee from New Orleans. It centers around a sign out front of Woodland Hills Baptist Church on Old Jacksonville Road in Tyler, about a mile inside the loop. Some say the message is offensive.

"I drove by that sign and was just horrified when I saw that," says Kelly Jackman who now lives in Tyler but used to live in New Orleans.

That sign at Woodland Hills Baptist Church reads ,"The big easy is the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah."

Kelly along with her sister Robin Lafont, an evacuee from New Orleans, showed up this morning at the church to talk to the man who put it up, Pastor Wiley Bennett.

During a heated discussion, Robin asked, "What's the point of the sign out there?" Pastor Bennett replied, "The point of the sign is New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New York City are some of the most wicked cities in America."

Robin, who still has family members unaccounted for in New Orleans, is offended by the sign. "I'm telling you. This hurts. Why would you want to put more hurt, more salt in my wounds and why would you want to do this to me?"

Kelly adds, "And to go by and see this church saying that God did this to destroy these people and basically they're celebrating that by putting that sign up there saying look at what God has done. He has destroyed the city of New Orleans because it is evil."

Pastor Bennett says, "Anybody that's ever visited New Orleans, the very name its self - Big Easy - denotes that it's easy to find sin there."

Pastor Bennett says the sign, is a sign of the times. "The purpose of the sign is to wake American up to the fact that America is going away from God. New York City's 9/11 was a call of judgment and New Orlean's horrible incident was judgment on a wicked city."

Pastor Bennett was quick to point out that the church has helped evacuees by donating clothing, food and lodging, but their good will seems to be overshadowed by the sign.

"I'm not saying that you were evil and didn't have good intentions but it is hurtful. It's extremely hurt full. That's all I'm saying. I'm asking you to take it down," pleaded Robin.

"If I was doing it to hurt people I would take it down, but I'm not doing it to hurt people. I'm doing it to point out the sins of America," said Bennett.

Even after the sisters left the church, the confrontation continued in the parking lot. Kelly said, "That sign also says a lot about your character and your integrity and it's nothing good I assure you."

"They both called me an ungodly person with bad character and all that, and that's their right, but I have people that would say differently," Bennett told us.

Finally, the confrontation came to an end, but with no resolution. Robin tried one last time, "I'm asking you to take it down." Bennett said, "We can not go any further so we may as well go." Robin said, "That's fine. I need to go."

Robin and Kelly say they are going to spread the word of opposition to the sign and encourage people to contact the church. They hope the church will eventually take it down.

Since the sign went up, many KLTV viewers have e-mailed us with their comments. Wednesday night, a viewer named Tammy told us:

"Encouragement is needed, not more salt in the wounds... How could anyone see that sign as appropriate or bearing witness for Christ?"

We were at Woodland Hills as they prepared for Wednesday Night services.

They say earlier in the day, they were deluged with phone calls from people urging them to take the sign down.

But they say after our report, the response has been 100 percent positive. They began their service with a prayer for the people of New Orleans and Mississippi, and we spoke with many members including these who say they support the message on the sign.

Betty George has been a member for 23 years.

"Our pastor has a strong stand on the Bible and he preaches God's word, and he has compassion for America and the souls of America."

Randy Hays joined Woodland Hills in 1999.

"All our pastor was trying to say is that America is pulling away from God, and He wants America to realize that."

Pastor Bennett told us once again he has no plans to take down the sign right now, despite outcry from the community.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Woman sues pastor, church over sexual relations

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — A disabled woman who says she had sex with a pastor has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the pastor and the church that used to employ him.

Barbara Jo Stacey filed the suit in Lane County last week. It names Roger Stevens of Klamath Falls and BBC Ministries.

According to the suit, Stacey, at age 18, joined a college group at BBC Ministries, where Stevens was a pastor. A year later, on Nov. 20, 2000, she was involved in a car accident that hurt her physically and mentally.

Stacey went to her parents' home in Eastern Oregon before deciding to move into Stevens' home. The pastor handled Stacey's daily care, administering medications and dealing with her financial affairs.

The suit says he used that counseling relationship to induce her to into sexual acts that took in the home, at BBC Ministries, and other locations from the summer of 2001 to September 2003.

The suit alleges that the church was negligent because it either knew or should have known that Stevens "had engaged in inappropriate intimate contact" with other young women and was engaging in such contact with Stacey.

Stacey seeks up to $50,000 for economic damages and up to $1 million for punitive damages.

Gary Turner of Ashland, Stevens' lawyer, said his client denies the allegations. Turner said he'd looked at a law enforcement report and did not "find independent evidence to support her claims. There's substantial evidence discrediting her claims."

Klamath County District Attorney Ed Caleb said the sheriff's office investigated the case, but "determined the case couldn't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court."

Ben Brown, the senior pastor BBC, formerly known as Bible Baptist Church, said the church would have a statement after he consults with its board of directors.


Monday, September 05, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Church leaders seek more influence in state government

Repository staff writer

The Rev. Russell Johnson says he doesn’t want to take over Ohio; he just wants to improve it based on his Christian faith.

The way that he’s going about it is making some people nervous.

Bolstered by a pivotal role in President Bush’s re-election and passage of a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, some Ohio conservative evangelicals are working to ensure they have an impact in the 2006 elections.

Russell’s Ohio Restoration Project has set up a network of “patriot pastors” and “minutemen of prayer” to mobilize like-minded voters, pushing hard to align public policy with its biblically based views.

Its Web site warns that “Today’s America allows abortion of unwanted pregnancies, increasingly accepts homosexuality, rejects the teaching of intelligent creation in our schools, and many other issues that are in opposition to biblical truth. We are on a path of destruction, and nothing is going to change if Christian citizens deny their responsibilities.”

Only 3 months old, the organization has drawn international media, and state political, attention. Last week, Ohio Restoration hosted its first statewide meeting, drawing 500 pastors — and politicians including gubernatorial contender J. Kenneth Blackwell — to suburban Cincinnati.

Among the group’s goals:

• To recruit 2,000 patriot pastors to “inform and equip” Christians “to be engaged in the 2006 elections.”• “To bring to the forefront issues ... relevant to the Christian community and provide candidates a forum to specifically address these issues ... including such matters as marriage, right-to-life, educational choice, taxes, employment and other values-voter issues.”

• To create an “E-Prayer” network of 100,000 people to pray “at a moment’s notice.”

So far, said Johnson, his group has support from 900 pastors. Each, he hopes, will register 300 new “values voters” — ones he describes as “pro-life and pro-family with a biblical worldview.”

“We basically are wanting to mobilize pastors to raise the banner,” said Johnson. “People need to be praying for Ohio and for their communities.” He said the group also wants to galvanize volunteers for efforts ranging from nursing homes to youth sports coaching.

The organization’s motto, he said, is “Pray, serve, engage.”

“The hinges of history for our country are moving, and Ohio is at the epicenter,” he said. “In terms of definition of marriage, the definition of life, will we be the culture of death or the culture of life?”

Rise of the ‘TheoCons’?

Johnson and similar groups have been accused of trying to establish a theocracy. Not true, he said.

“We’re not trying to impose, we’re trying to propose,” he said. “The theocracy claim is a hyperbolic exaggeration by those trying to generate fear. Those who are saying this is an attempt at a theocracy are those who want to muzzle Christians.”

But the Rev. John Mann, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton, said he’s disturbed by what he sees as attempts to dismantle the wall between religion and government.

“The last time a political party co-opted the church was during the rise of the Third Reich (in Germany), and it didn’t turn out very well,” he said. “I’m very concerned that this kind of merge of political ideology and religious ideology will do very significant harm to both. I’m afraid that ‘patriot pastors’ will become ‘pastor politicians.’ ”

Mann disagrees with the contention by some Christian conservatives that their faith is under siege.

“Christians have a responsibility and obligation to put our 2 cents into the public conservation about values in our society,” he said, and “those of us who are Christians are in no danger of being overlooked in America.”

But it’s government backing of churches that has weakened churches in Europe, Mann said. “The wisdom of separation of church and state is the best blessing the church has ever had. The church has been way better off going on its own course and relying on its own followers.”

Mann contends that the American church is suffering from its own success.

Some desire a “kind of authoritarian control of other people’s thoughts and behavior that comes with the desire for power,” he said. But “God does not micromanage the world. He gives people freedom to make decisions and error, to grow and learn, which is an important part of faith.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of Christians running the country who are feeling pretty heady, who honestly want to dictate and control behavior and the culture in a way that is not Christian at all. ... It is far more like a tyrannical theocracy than it is a democracy influenced by Christian participation. ... The arrogance and hubris of this movement is just scary to me.”

Getting involved

Tom Smith, public policy director for the Ohio Council of Churches, said he has no problem with Christians’ being politically active, but does have reservations about how some groups are doing it.

“I believe faith-based people should be involved in the political process, but not necessarily dictated to by a denomination or pastor,” he said. “Information should be shared with people in the faith-based community so they know what’s going on with government and legislation.

“I guess that where we differ is, they kind of want their (members) to fall in line behind a leadership position.”

Smith said evangelicals perform a great deal of outreach and mission work.

“It’s just that they believe that some of their beliefs are not being heard in government, and the leadership is pushing harder and harder to bring those things to surface,” he said. “Other faith-based groups that don’t necessarily agree with those positions need to step up and get involved in the process so other voices are heard.”

Like Smith, Rabbi John Spitzer of Temple Israel in Canton said he has no problem with groups such as the Ohio Restoration Project encouraging people to get more involved in politics. But he has concerns.

“The whole concept of encouraging religious people to get involved is within the law and in the spirit of our democracy,” he said. “My concern is about the public face as expressed on (Ohio Restoration Project’s) Web site.

“The public face seems to assume there is one sense of morality, there is one sense of faith. All Americans seem to be painted with the same brush.”

But Spitzer sees “legitimate differences of opinion,” and “to label those differences as somehow immoral because they don’t conform to this movement is not only wrong, but dangerous.

“When they suggest there’s only one point of view on stem-cell research, a woman’s right to choose, or same-sex unions and so on, that’s obviously incorrect,” Spitzer continued. “What they believe is a moral spiritual religious society where ‘secular’ is almost used as an epithet. We’re a religious people living in a free society. It is the glory of America. It makes it possible for diversity of Americans to live in harmony.”

A great awakening

The restoration movement, Spitzer said, is nothing new.

“We are now experiencing is one of those ‘great awakenings’ in American society,” he said. “In the face of instability and concerns, people gravitate toward religious fervor. ... Having said that, I guess it surprises and dismays me how difficult it seems to be to motivate the great center.

“I still believe the great bulk of Americans are pluralistic and ... essentially open to different ideas and coexistence. (But) it seems to be so difficult to motivate that group of people.”

Attempts by groups such as Johnson’s to fix American society, he said, actually threaten it.

“There’s this conflict of ideas that there is one right that will fix everything,” he said. “One of the things that happens when conservatives or a religious political philosophy holds sway, the options of the majority are diminished. ... The Ohio Constitution is now being used to withdraw rights from people.”

But Spitzer, too, rejects the idea that groups such as the Ohio Reformation Project want to establish a theocracy.

“I think what we’re seeing is really a thrust toward two different directions. There’s a sense of anxiety that society is out of control, and the only way to get it under control is one, right point of view. I think the second thing we’re seeing is this desire to remake society in ‘our image.’ I think people who are involved in the Ohio Restoration Project feel society has been made in the liberals’ point of view.”

Reformation Ohio

Columbus-based TV evangelist Rod Parsley, founder of the 12,000-member World Harvest Church and the Center for Moral Clarity, launched Reformation Ohio.

It’s based on a 10-point, three-step program that includes converting 100,000 Ohioans to Christianity, registering 400,000 voters with a special outreach to minorities, projects to assist needy people, and a radio and television campaign.

“Ohio was the focus of the world in 2004,” Parsley said. “It is my objective to see that ‘values voters’ in the state become engaged in the process.”

He defines values voters as people concerned with life, marriage and religious liberty issues.

“I formed Reformation Ohio to address spiritual and moral needs,” Parsley said. “I believe we must equally focus on both.”

Parsley has clout. Blackwell, who is now Ohio’s secretary of state, appeared with him while campaigning for the gay marriage ban, and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also has sought Parsley’s counsel.

“We hope to stand in the middle and look at left and the right and say that we believe the only way to get it consistently right is based on what we believe are biblical, Christian ethics,” Parsley said.

Parsley noted his ministry has condemned genocide around the world and speaks out on many issues other than value politics, and he said Reformation Ohio is more broad-based than the Ohio Restoration Project, which seems to have voter registration as one of its top priorities.

“But we’re glad to have anyone on our side championing causes of morals and religious liberty.”

Patriot pastor

His movement has a lot of support in Stark County, Johnson said.

Johnson recently spoke at First Christian Church, whose senior pastor is the Rev. John Hampton, a longtime friend of his. Hampton said many pastors were already doing much of what Johnson is suggesting. First Christian registered voters in 2000 and 2004, and has invited candidates to visit the church and meet the congregation, he said.

“I don’t see this as anything different than what I’ve been about in my ministry — encouraging people to try and get involved and to minister,” Hampton said. “We’ve been registering voters for years. In appreciation of the heritage and freedom we have, we’ve had ‘I Love America’ services for about eight years.”

As a patriot pastor, he said, his goal is to “help connect people to the heritage, to the faith, that really is the underlying of the establishment of our nation.”

“Certainly, there was respect by our founding fathers for people of all faith,” Hampton continued, but “we can’t look at our heritage without acknowledging that they had a Judeo-Christian worldview.”

Many memorials and government buildings in Washington, D.C., bear Scripture or references to God, he noted. “Jesus said, ‘If people don’t pray for me, the stones will cry out.’ The stones are crying out as a testimony to the faith these people had.”

Another supporter is the Rev. Dana Gammill, the second-generation senior pastor at Cathedral of Life in Plain Township.

“What they’re doing is trying to inform the community about the issues that pertain to values and ethics,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to take a back seat because we’re Christian. We shouldn’t impose our beliefs on every person, but at the same time, we have a right to express our conscience. ... I think people who have Judeo-Christian values should be able to exercise their freedom to influence the law if they’re in the majority.”

Prayer and politics

Johnson said the Restoration Project is making concerted efforts to form a coalition with conservative Catholics and black Christians, whom he says have been taken for granted by Democrats and liberals. President Bush doubled his votes among blacks from 8 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2004.

Johnson warned, however, that evangelicals will not be pandered to by conservatives who want their vote but not their input.

“The power brokers have welcomed the evangelical vote whenever it’s a close election, when they need 22 percent more,” he said.

Among Johnson’s targets are Republicans who he said aren’t doing enough to support President Bush’s agenda — Sens. Michael DeWine and George Voinovich among them.

DeWine was among the moderates who opposed a “nuclear option” to ban minority-party filibusters of judicial appointments in the Senate. Voinovich’s stand against deficit spending, and his objection to the appointment of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador are thorns in the side of the Bush administration.

“Michael DeWine needs to be supportive of the president,” Johnson said, “instead of holding hands with Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer. We elected him to be senator of Ohio, not Massachusetts.”

‘Secular jihad’

But specific political races aren’t his group’s only target, Johnson said. He said it needs to fight “a secular jihad against expressions of faith in the public square the last 40 years.”

Johnson said creationism — the faith-based interpretation of the origin of man — belongs in public school curriculum, and maintains that evolution teaching has become a “fact-by-default more than a theory. They protect their theory with no evidence.”

“Hitler was an evolutionist to the core,” he said. “It fueled his bigotry. He called (black Olympian) Jesse Owens an animal. We’re one blood, one race — the human race.”

Teaching evolution isn’t the only fault Johnson finds with public schools. For eight years, his ministry has operated a Christian academy for more than 700 students, in Fairfield. That’s in part because “we think the secular system is no longer publicly owned by taxpayers, but the teacher’s union. The unions have become dogmatic. Academic freedom no longer exists.

“The teacher’s union has fostered an anti-Americanism perspective of history ... .They’ve begun using schools for social engineering.

“We see that parents are saying they want schools to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman; about the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence; that our forefathers had a sense of faith and destiny. When it comes to prayer in school, reading the Bible, or our Christian heritage, the teachers’ union consistently comes down on the side of Karl Marx.”

Hampton, however, said that public education cannot be condemned across the board.

“My kids are in North Canton schools, and I’ve been pleased,” he said. “Certainly, some things are introduced in classrooms, but I’ve talked to my daughters about that, and why they should challenge it. There are some wonderful, godly people in the public schools, including some members of my own congregation.”

Paradigm shift

Though the Ohio Restoration Project is officially nonpartisan, Johnson clearly backs Blackwell in his expected bid for governor next year.

Johnson and Blackwell have shared the podium at appearances throughout the state.

“We do not, as a group, endorse candidates,” Johnson said. “That said, we are very appreciative of Secretary Blackwell’s principled stand on marriage. When it came time to pass (the marriage ban), we went to Ken for help. He didn’t need a focus group on marriage; he didn’t need a poll. Ken stood up, when every other state officeholder went to the woods to hide. ... We need someone with the conviction to lead.

“I don’t think the folks in traditional political circles have caught this yet. There’s going to be a paradigm shift. ... We’re still in the education process, but we’re patient and persistent. A lot of people just now are beginning to understand.”

Christians, Johnson said, have allowed their influence to wane for too long.

“You can read People magazine, but don’t read the Bible. You can talk about Gandhi, but don’t talk about Jesus, and don’t talk about creation. ... Christians need to come out of their foxholes, out of the pews, and shine their light.”

On the Web:


Sex rap for pastor

Woman claims she was threatened with death

A TORONTO pastor is behind bars facing allegations that he forced sex on a young woman and later threatened to kill her and the treasurer of his small church.

Frank Seeko Lawrence, 56, founder and current pastor of the Toronto Mount Zion Revival Church of the Apostles, was arrested at his home in the city Saturday afternoon.

"The main complainant is a lady that alleges (Lawrence) forced her to have sex with him," Det. Glenn Emond said yesterday of the sordid case, in which Lawrence is charged with one count of sexual assault and two of threatening death.

He said the 26-year-old woman claims she was befriended by the pastor in the spring of 2003 and that he allowed her to move into his home for a few months and then forced her to "perform sexual acts," which resulted in her getting pregnant.

When Lawrence was served last week with family court documents -- custody and support papers for the now 1-year-old girl -- the pastor allegedly threatened to kill the woman in a phone conversation, Emond said.

"He then (allegedly) threatened to kill another woman within his church, the treasurer," he said.


Lawrence appeared briefly in an Old City Hall courtroom yesterday afternoon and he remains in custody. Despite having several members of his church on hand, ready to post his bail, a judge decided there wasn't enough time to hear the case and put it over until Tuesday -- meaning Lawrence will spend at least another two days in jail.

His obviously distraught supporters wouldn't comment following the hearing. Nor would his lawyer, Robert Geurts, who was approached at the courthouse and asked to represent Lawrence and was not yet up to speed on the case.

A few members of Lawrence's flock -- which police believe is made up of 50 to 60 people -- were at the 347 Oakwood Ave. church yesterday, but they weren't talking either.

Det. Emond said the church has been around for more than 25 years, but Lawrence ran it from his home for many years.

Morning services at the church, a unit within a small strip plaza just south of Rogers Rd., are normally held at 11 a.m. Sundays but appeared to be cancelled yesterday. "It's usually pretty loud down there but it's been quiet today," said Emerson Mejia, 23, explaining he regularly hears the congregation singing from the apartment he shares with his mom above the church.


Some say natural catastrophe was 'divine judgment'

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Steve Lefemine, an anti-abortion activist in Columbia, S.C., was looking at a full-color satellite map of Hurricane Katrina when something in the swirls jumped out at him: the image of an 8-week-old fetus.

"In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion," said Lefemine, who e-mailed the flesh-toned weather map to fellow activists across the country and put a stark message on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life.

"Providence punishes national sins by national calamities," it said. "Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion."

Lefemine is far from the only person to see the wrath of God in the awesome damage that Katrina has wreaked on the Gulf Coast. As with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and last year's South Asian tsunami, the hurricane has spawned many competing explanations and apocalyptic visions from across the religious and ideological spectrum.

"It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire," a Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Mlaifi, wrote Wednesday in the Arabic daily Al-Siyassa under the headline "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah ... "

In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence in the hurricane's arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called "Southern Decadence."

"We take no joy in the death of innocent people," said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization.

"But we believe that God is in control of the weather," he said. "The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. We're calling it an act of God."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, who were roundly criticized for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, feminism and the proliferation of liberal groups, have been silent on the meaning of the hurricane. Most of the major Christian political advocacy groups also have been cautious.

Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, argues in his 2000 book, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America , that Americans have often seen divine will in earthquakes, floods and droughts whose consequences have been worsened by improper planning.

In his opinion "as an atheist," he said, Katrina "was an unnatural disaster if ever there was one." By building levees along the Mississippi and draining marshland, he said, local officials hastened the sinking of New Orleans below sea level and destroyed the barrier islands that protected the Gulf Coast.

"Blaming God," he said, "is moral hand-washing."


Sunday, September 04, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Farrakhan: God punishing U.S. for Iraq with storm

By Frederick Cusick and Michael Currie Schaffer

Speaking to a large crowd in South Philadelphia on Wednesday, August 31, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan suggested that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment for the violence America had inflicted on Iraq.

"New Orleans is the first of the cities going to tumble down... unless America changes its course," Farrakhan said.

"It is the wickedness of the people of America and the government of America that is bringing the wrath of God down," he told several hundred people at Tinsley Temple United Methodist Church.

His remarks were enthusiastically received.

He was in town as part of a multicity tour designed to drum up support for an Oct. 15 event in Washington designed to build on and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March he organized in 1995. The new effort is called the Millions More Movement.

Farrakhan made similar remarks at a luncheon hosted by District 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents blue-collar city workers.

"The justice of God is coming home now," he said in an hour-long speech. Among those attending were City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Mayor Street's son Sharif Street, and Imam Shamsud-din Ali, the Muslim cleric convicted in the City Hall corruption probe.


Extremists say Katrina was result of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As religious and political leaders offered prayers for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, some Christian fundamentalists suggested the storm was the work of an angry God bent on punishing a sinful nation.

In news releases and Internet chat rooms, some fundamentalists said the hurricane was sent to punish New Orleans, a city known for Mardi Gras and other raucous festivals.

Others said the disaster, which may have killed thousands in Louisiana and Mississippi, was revenge for the United States' support of the removal of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip.

"Whenever this country encourages Israel to give up any part of their rightful God-given land we have suffered the consequences," wrote a discussion-board participant on the Web site of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

A Philadelphia group called Repent America said the hurricane was sent by God to prevent an annual gay-pride festival that was due to take place this weekend. "We must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," said Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits."

Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson urged their followers to pray for the victims and contribute to relief efforts, but made no public statements about the reason for the hurricane.

But Franklin Graham, who heads the evangelical charity Samaritan's Purse, said on the Fox News Channel on Thursday night that the mayhem and looting in New Orleans could be traced to a lack of religious instruction.

"This happens in our country when we have taken God out of our schools and God out of our, out of society. We don't have a moral standard," he said.

Political leaders urged prayer as well.

"God is responsible for this and in his own time he will reveal why," said Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. at a news conference.

American Christians have often seen the hand of God behind natural disasters, religious experts said.

Probably half of the U.S. population believes that a divine power sends judgment through hurricanes, floods and natural disasters, said John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a Washington think tank.

"The basic idea that God is in charge and he expects people to behave and he isn't happy when they don't -- that's a very common idea," Green said.

A small number of Christians believe that the United States needs to support Israel in order to bring about the return of Christ, said William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"Those who hold such a view would tend to see any cataclysmic act as a sign of punishment, but much more responsible theologians would argue that that's far too mechanical a notion of the way God operates," he said.


Saturday, September 03, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Forget Prayer: God Ain't Listening


When Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested a day of prayer amid Hurricane Katrina's devastation, I wondered, "Why bother?"

Other than as a palliative for the thousands in distress, this exercise struck me as futile. I do not believe anyone heard those prayers, nor answered them if he did.

God, in my opinion, is not living up to his advertising. In a year that has witnessed the aftermath of the south Asian tsunami (approximately 225,000 deaths), Katrina (118 confirmed dead and rising), and Wednesday's Baghdad bridge stampede (some 953 Shiite religious pilgrims dead), it has become impossible to reconcile current events with the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient, magnanimous deity. "The Almighty" appears to be either an unaware, powerless, and/or misanthropic absentee landlord -- or no one whatsoever.

Would an all-powerful God stand by helplessly as Katrina sliced into America's belly like a Florida-sized circular saw?

New Orleans _ an immeasurably beguiling place whose gracious denizens have made me smile non-stop during my 13 visits there _ today resembles a combination of Haiti and Bangladesh. Now that running water, electricity, sanitation, and communications have become memories, and with "looters shooting looters," as a friend near there told me, the Crescent City has devolved into what 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called "the state of nature." According to news accounts, bodies have dangled from the city's ancient, stately trees. In Biloxi, Mississippi, caskets littered open lots where structures recently stood. Once re-interred, officials fear they will be joined by thousands of new coffins.

Would an all-knowing God shrug while Katrina crafted something akin to a watery Hieronymus Bosch painting?

A soaked teddy bear sat abandoned amid piles of crushed concrete and splintered lumber that constituted a Biloxi building until last Monday. A shark reportedly trolled the 20-foot-deep waters of New Orleans' streets.

"You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come," said CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She added that cameraman Mark Biello saw "dogs wrapped in electrical lines...that were being electrocuted."

Would an all-loving God reply, "Whatever," as Katrina spread destruction inland from the sea, like Sherman's march in reverse?

Hurricane-related tornadoes demolished structures outside Atlanta. Wind and rain cut power to 75,000 Memphis and Nashville residents. Katrina and another storm inundated Kentucky with 11 inches of rain.

One official summarized this calamity for Fox News: "The best way to describe this is a nuclear holocaust without the radiation."

The question "Why would God permit such anguish?" is nothing new, but the predictable reply of believers is as inadequate as ever. God gives us free will to choose between good and evil, they say.

So why not flatten fast and loose Las Vegas rather the Gulf Coast, essentially the Bible Belt with beach blankets? Why not chasten earthlings by giving Bernard Ebbers, Charles Manson, and Kim Jong Il simultaneous coronaries, rather than whacking a retired double amputee not seen since she and her wheelchair vanished as 140 mph winds lashed New Orleans?

And does such a "supreme being" even deserve devotion? One can fear and respect whatever force dislodged a 1,200-ton, 200-foot-tall oil platform and slammed it into the Mobile, Ala., Cochrane/Africatown Bridge. Those behind local protection rackets also elicit fear and respect, but rarely expect to be worshipped.

The good news is that Americans in and out of uniform already are being generous and compassionate to Katrina's victims.

A Mississippi man waded into alligator-filled waters to pry an elderly couple from their sidelined automobile. When one New Orleans hospital's emergency generators lacked fuel, staffers siphoned now-precious gasoline from their own cars' tanks to keep medical equipment running. Harry Connick, Jr., Wynton Marsalis, and other entertainers plan fundraising concerts and telethons. So far, Americans have donated $27 million to such charities as the Red Cross (800-HELP NOW/

Admittedly, many of these decent people are inspired by religious impulses. But they perform their good deeds with human hands, and the love they share appears through concrete human action, not ethereal "divine intervention."

Relying on each other and ourselves, I believe, not depending on a God who either doesn't care about us or simply isn't there, is all we humans have.

In other words, we are on our own.


New Orleans City Council President: "Maybe God's Going To Cleanse Us"

NEW ORLEANS, September 1, 2005 ( - The popular adage, "there are no atheists in the trenches" sums up the truth that in times of disaster it is natural for people to turn to God, for help and also for an explanation. The devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina has brought that reality home to the United States, particularly in the affected regions.

Yesterday Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco called for a state-wide day of prayer. "As we face the devastation wrought by Katrina, as we search for those in need, as we comfort those in pain and as we begin the long task of rebuilding, we turn to God for strength, hope and comfort," she said. Meanwhile, New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas after witnessing the horrors first hand and hearing talk of Sodom and Gomorrah commented, "Maybe God's going to cleanse us."

The theme of cleansing or purification has become a frequently discussed topic as the tragedy in the affected states unfolds. European papers have suggested that Katrina was the punishment the US received for failing to sign onto the Kyoto accord, Islamic militants have rejoiced that "private" Katrina has joined in the holy war against the U.S. for - among other things - the Iraq war. Some have even suggested that the hurricane was God's punishment on the U.S. for cooperating in the removal of Jews from the Gaza strip.

However, beyond these speculations is a more general acknowledgement that New Orleans, the epicentre of the disaster, was a "sin city" which harboured few rivals. The New Orleans "southern decadence" festival which was to take place Labour Day weekend, is described by a French Quarter tourism site as "sort of like a gayer version of Mardi Gras" which is "most famous (or infamous) for the displays of naked flesh which characterize the event," with "public displays of sexuality . . . pretty much everywhere you look."

The city is also renowned for occult practices, particularly voodoo. Voodoo is also common in violence and crime saturated Haiti.

The American Spectator reports that "New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates in the country. By mid-August of this year, 192 murders had been committed in New Orleans, 'nearly 10 times the national average,' ...New Orleans was ripe for collapse. Its dangerous geography, combined with a dangerous culture, made it susceptible to an unfolding catastrophe. Currents of chaos and lawlessness were running through the city long before this week, and they were bound to come to the surface under the pressure of natural disaster and explode in a scene of looting and mayhem".

Michael Brown, creator of the immensely popular website - popularly known as the Catholic DrudgeReport, has said that Katrina was "definitely" a purification for New Orleans. Brown points out that the name Katrina itself means "pure". And that, Brown told, is not a coincidence. "I don't believe in coincidences," said Brown, adding that God has everything in His control and "I think that everything is interwoven." contacted Brown due to his startlingly accurate prediction of the events in New Orleans in 2001, when he issued what is now being seen as a warning to New Orleans. In 2001 Brown wrote a piece about what he felt was upcoming disaster for New Orleans.

Brown began, "There are few cities with so many good as New Orleans and also few cities where there is such a stark coexistence with the bad. It is this city, the Big Easy, that is home to kind and generous and Christian people . . . and yet also this city that has allowed evil to flourish in a way that has become truly dangerous." Noting the occult practices and the sexual immorality, Brown warned, "When you invoke dark spirits, you get a storm. The very word hurricane comes from the Indian hurukan for evil spirit."

Brown claims no hearing of inner voices, but said in his warning to the city, "When I visited the National Hurricane Center, they told me there was no place that gave them the meteorological willies like your city." Describing what would befall the city if a major hurricane were to strike, Brown said, "On Bourbon Street -- which has turned into a stretch of porn shops, strip joints, and hooter bars -- there would be water to the second story."

"Officials told me that in the best of circumstances 100,000 would be stranded . . . If a category-five made landfall between your city and Baton Rouge . . . it would be 'the most catastrophic hurricane in the history of the United States.'"

See Brown's warning written in 2001 here: