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Wednesday, November 30, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Professor apologizes for e-mail

Intelligent design class upsets some.

A University of Kansas religion professor apologized Monday for a recent e-mail that infuriated religious conservatives already upset about his decision to teach a course that equates intelligent design and creationism with mythology.

Also Monday, faculty approved the course but dropped the reference to mythology. The course, originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies," will instead be called "Intelligent Design and Creationism."

The class was added to next spring’s curriculum after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

In the e-mail, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university’s Religious Studies Department, called supporters of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism religious "fundies" and said it would be a "nice slap in their big fat face" to teach the subjects as mythology.

In a written apology Monday, the professor said he will teach the class "as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view."

Mirecki’s e-mail was sent Nov. 19 to a list-serve for the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, a student organization for which Mirecki serves as faculty adviser. Mirecki addressed the message to "my fellow damned" and signed off with, "Doing my part to" tick "off the religious right, Evil Dr. P."

The university on Monday defended the teaching of the class.

"Given the current national debate, it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class," Provost David Shulenburger said in a statement.

During the weekend, Chancellor Robert Hemenway began a review of Mirecki’s e-mail, which resulted in Mirecki’s apology, issued Monday night in a written statement.

"I accept full responsibility for an ill-advised e-mail I sent to a small group of students and friends that has unintentionally impugned the integrity and good name of both the university and my faculty colleagues," Mirecki wrote. "My words were offensive, and I apologize to all for that."

He said he had assured the university provost that he will teach the course "as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view."

In response to the controversy, talk swirled among legislators about withholding funding from the university.


Also read here: College course seeks to debunk intelligent design

Tuesday, November 29, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Intelligent-design ruling could affect Ohio schools

Scott Stephens – Plain Dealer

Intelligent design went on trial this year, and the verdict could soon put Ohio's new biology standards under a microscope.

The six-week federal court trial, which ended earlier this month, was the result of a decision last year by the Dover, Pa., school board that teachers must mention the controversial concept to high school biology students. Eleven parents in the small agricultural town about 100 miles west of Philadelphia sued to block the policy. A verdict is expected by early January.

The case marks the first time that intelligent design, which maintains that life is so complex that a higher being must have had a hand in its creation, has gone to trial.

It comes 80 years after the famous "monkey trial" in which Tennessee teacher John Scopes faced criminal charges for teaching evolution, Charles Darwin's widely accepted theory that life on Earth descended from common ancestors.

A verdict declaring intelligent design warmed-over creationism -- a religion-based interpretation of life's origins banned by the U.S. Supreme Court from public schools since 1987 -- could bring Ohio's science standards under scrutiny.

While Ohio's standards don't endorse intelligent design, critics say some of the lesson plans based on those standards would teach the concept.

"The decision in Dover should have a dramatic impact across the country because it will be the first time a court has spoken to the issue of intelligent design," said Richard Katskee, the assistant legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which brought the Dover suit in concert with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If the judge rules in our favor, other school boards will need to take a lesson from that holding and correct problems in their own curricula," he said. "Our hope would be that a responsible school board would study the opinion in Dover and take it to heart. Whether litigation follows depends on how they will react to the ruling."

It has been nearly two years since a sharply divided Ohio Board of Education adopted a series of science lesson plans that included a lesson called "Critical Analysis of Evolution." Supporters say it simply encourages a rigorous debate over evolution.

"The lesson plan is very defens ible," said Robert Lattimer, a Hudson chemist and outspoken intelligent-design supporter. "It is, first of all, not mandatory in any sense of the word. It is also very consistent with the 2002 science standards. Finally, the lesson contains no hint of religion or intelligent design."

But the Ohio lesson plan was castigated by the National Academy of Science, which characterized it as thinly disguised intelligent design. That could make the plan a target if intelligent design is ruled unconstitutional.

"It contains misstatements that come directly from creationist literature," said Patricia Princehouse, an evolutionary biologist at Case Western Reserve University. Said Katskee: "We think there are difficulties with [the Ohio lesson], and we've been monitoring the situation all along."

It was hardly a surprise that Katskee would find difficulties with the actions of Dover school officials. At the end of the 2003-04 school year, science teachers were summoned to a special meeting to watch "Icons of Evolution," a video that attacked evolution and supported intelligent design. The following summer, the school board delayed ordering new biology texts, charging that the ones under consideration were "laced with Darwinism."

That fall, biology teachers were ordered to tell their students about an alternative science text, "Of Pandas and People," a book widely viewed by scientists as a creationist tome with language about intelligent design tacked on. The teachers refused. Then they were told the principal would come to their classrooms to make the announcement. Again, they refused. Finally, the school held an assembly to inform students of the alternative text, 60 copies of which were donated to the school by the church of board member William Cunningham.

"Two thousand years ago, someone died on the cross," news accounts reported Cunningham declaring at a board meeting. "Can't someone take a stand for him?"

The way the district handled the episode made even intelligent-design backers squeamish. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank and the nation's most vocal intelligent-design advocate, called the mandate to teach intelligent design "misguided."

The majority of Dover voters apparently agreed. On Nov. 8, they voted eight members of the nine-member board out of office. All had supported the intelligent- design policy.

"The Dover case is a sad affair," Lattimer said. "The Dover policy is very poorly written, so in a sense it shouldn't be upheld in court. I hope the case doesn't go any further than the Pennsylvania court. It just is not a good test case for our side."

People on both sides of the evolution-intelligent design argument agree that it's impossible to know exactly what is being done in every Ohio biology class. This is only the second full school year that the controversial "Critical Analysis of Evolution" has been available, and the origins-of-life portion of 10th-grade biology is generally taught in the second semester.

Questions related to the lesson did not show up on the science portion of the Ohio Graduation Test given last spring - the first time the test was given - but could surface on future versions. That's not to say there aren't tensions. During a recent talk by Princehouse at Case, security was called to help remove a heckler from a Clapp Hall classroom.

The heckler, who was not a student, interrupted Princehouse regularly during her 90-minute presentation, at one point declar ing that "decent scientists making advancements in science get slandered" by the pro-evolution scientific community.

But even in a war of ideas, there are lighter moments.

At the conclusion of the Dover trial, banter between Patrick Gillen, the lawyer for the school board, and U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III sparked laughter and applause.

"Your honor," Gillen said, "I have one question, and that's this: By my reckoning, this is the 40th day since the trial began and tonight will be the 40th night, and I would like to know if you did that on purpose."

"Mr. Gillen," the judge deadpanned, "that is an interesting coincidence - but it was not by design."

Saturday, November 26, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Do you believe in God?

Some leading thinkers have strong opinions about God, while others are reserving judgment

By Matt Donnelly

Science needs God. Or does it?

Together, the four contributors below — Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michio Kaku and David Deutsch — are some of the most influential thinkers and writers on science. Dennett and Pinker are listed as numbers 24 and 26, respectively, on Prospect magazine’s recent list of the top one hundred public intellectuals in the world.

Some of the contributors are open about their atheism, while others are more agnostic. None profess to be theologians, but in their writings they all express a sense of wonder at the natural world. We offer their comments as a semi-representative snapshot of how those who influence our culture think about the relationship between science and religion.

No. There is no concept of God that strikes me as remotely worthy of belief.
— Daniel Dennett

I don’t believe in God, and I think the question is backwards. I don’t believe in Santa Claus either, and the burden of proof should be on those who do.

But if you must: (a) Since the 1600s, phenomena attributed to God have been increasingly explained by natural causes, and now that we are understanding the brain, the last phenomenon reserved for religion, namely the soul, will be explained as well. (b) Postulating God as an explanation for where of life and the universe came from, or how they work, explains nothing, since it just begs the question of where God came from, and how he works. (c) The existence of unnecessary evil, suffering, and tragedy disprove the existence of a beneficent deity. (d) Ethical precepts don’t require a god, as Plato showed more than 2000 years ago, because one has to ask why God chose the precepts he did. If he had no reason, why should we obey them; if he did have a reason, we can invoke those reasons directly.
— Steven Pinker

I don't believe in the supernatural. My principal negative reason is that there is an infinity of mutually inconsistent accounts of supernatural entities, between which reason cannot distinguish. Were I to accept the offer of one which, as it were, knocked at my door offering an underlying meaning in return for my agreeing to suspend my critical faculties, I should have no decent reply to the next one that knocked and asked “Why did you not choose me?”

My principal positive reason is that, for various reasons (about which I am writing a book, The Beginning of Infinity), I have come to the conclusion that the world is fundamentally comprehensible — but in a way that rules out the possibility that any ultimate explanation can be discovered. For the latter would necessarily be in terms of entities and attributes which themselves cannot be explained. I expect every true answer to create not closure, but a better question. To seek a final answer is to hope that everything beyond that is incomprehensible. And since that move is always available to shore up any false theory, it must be a mistake.
— David Deutsch

I tend to agree with Einstein, that we have to distinguish between two types of God.

First, there is the God of intervention, the God of prayer, the personal God. The second is the God of harmony and order. Einstein rejected the first, but believed in the second, calling God "the Old One," i.e., the lawgiver who set everything into motion. Today, we physicists face the same question. If one asks, Where did the big bang come from? we can say that it probably came from a unified field theory, such as string theory, my specialty. But then this begs the question: where did string theory come from?

This is embarrassing, since we have no answer. My own answer is that the unified field theory may be unique, i.e., the only mathematically self-consistent theory of the universe. Hundreds of attempts have been made, and all, except string theory, have been proven mathematically inconsistent.

So perhaps God did not have a choice in making the universe, as Einstein suspected. When Einstein set out to create this theory, he would ask himself a question: if I were God, how would I construct a universe? We theoretical physicists, in effect, try to emulate this. And it is much harder than you would suspect. I try this when I construct new theories. I find that the restrictions on a unified field theory are so stringent, so tight, that simple ideas fail immediately. Therefore, I suspect, as Einstein did, that the universe is mathematically unique. In other words, God is a geometer.
— Michio Kaku

Matt Donnelly is Web editor at Science & Theology News.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

College course seeks to debunk intelligent design

Proposed religion class labels creationism as 'mythology'

LAWRENCE, Kansas -- Creationism and intelligent design are going to be studied at the University of Kansas, but not in the way advocated by opponents of the theory of evolution.

A course being offered next semester by the university religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

Earlier this month, the state Board of Education adopted new science teaching standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory, defying the view of science groups.

Although local school boards still decide how science is taught in the classrooms, the vote was seen as a major victory for proponents of intelligent design, which says that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation as the handiwork of God -- camouflaged in scientific language as a way to get around court rulings that creationism injects religion into public schools.

John Calvert, an attorney and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network in Johnson County, Kansas, said Mirecki will go down in history as a laughingstock.

"To equate intelligent design to mythology is really an absurdity, and it's just another example of labeling anybody who proposes [intelligent design] to be simply a religious nut," Calvert said. "That's the reason for this little charade."

Mirecki said his course, limited to 120 students, would explore intelligent design as a modern American mythology. Several faculty members have volunteered to be guest lecturers, he said.

University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Monday he didn't know all the details about the new course.

"If it's a course that's being offered in a serious and intellectually honest way, those are the kind of courses a university frequently offers," he said.


Also read here: Professor apologizes for e-mail

Tuesday, November 22, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Penn Jillette - There Is No God

Original Article

I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The Atheism part is easy.

But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.

Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.

-Penn Jillette, NPR Morning Edition, November 21, 2005

Monsignor in Phoenix arrested on sex charges

PHOENIX (AP) — The former vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix was arrested Monday on charges he fondled boys and young men and asked them prying questions about their sex lives that he pretended were part of confession.
Monsignor Dale Fushek, 53, becomes one of the highest-ranking priests to be charged in the sex scandal that has engulfed the church. The vicar general is the highest-ranking administrator of a diocese next to the bishop.

Fushek was charged with three counts of assault, five of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two of indecent exposure. All are misdemeanors, punishable by no more than three years and nine months in all.

At his initial court appearance, Fushek was placed under house arrest and ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for monitoring. He also was ordered to surrender his passport and not have contact with anyone under age 18. Fushek's arraignment was set for Dec. 6.

Fushek "used a relationship of trust to perform criminal acts, including but not limited to sexual activities, improper sexual discussions and physical contact, upon vulnerable minor and adult victims," prosecutors said in court papers.

Prosecutors said Fushek committed the acts between 1984 and 1994 at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa or on property belonging to the church. The alleged victims were seven young men and boys.

Fushek resigned as pastor of St. Timothy's in April after someone claimed to have recovered a repressed memory involving sexual improprieties by Fushek in 1985. He has denied the allegations and remains on administrative leave.

His attorney, Michael Manning, did not return a call seeking comment Monday. Manning told The Arizona Republic that his client says the incidents never happened and will fight the charges.

Michael Haran, an attorney for the diocese, said the church knew of one of the alleged victims because it had settled with him previously, but the other six names were new to diocese officials.

Maricopa Attorney Andrew Thomas said the priest conducted "sham confessions" in which he extracted details about people's sex lives for his own gratification.

Thomas said the diocese has been cooperative. "I've been impressed by the overall atmosphere that has been projected by this new bishop," he said.

Prosecutors had clashed with the diocese over sex abuse allegations when it was headed by Bishop Thomas O'Brien. O'Brien resigned in 2003 after being arrested in a deadly hit-and-run. Fushek was O'Brien's top aide at the time. The diocese is now headed by Bishop Thomas Olmsted.


Monday, November 21, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Police say youth pastor killed wife, buried her

SAVANNAH, Ga. - Police say a Savannah youth pastor's confession led officers to his wife's body, which he had buried on the outskirts of town after killing her.

A man called police Sunday to say his brother-in-law, Eric Brian Golden, 35, had confessed to killing his wife, DeeDee Marie Golden, and was on his way to jail, Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Mike Wilson said.

Golden, youth pastor at Southside Assembly of God, was taken into custody after he arrived at the jail.

Golden then led police to woods about six miles west of Interstate 95, where they found DeeDee Golden's body buried in a three-to-four-foot grave on the outskirts of Fort Stewart.

The man told detectives he killed his 35-year-old wife Thursday during a fight at their home.

Police are waiting for the results of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy before saying how the woman died.

Golden is being held at the jail.

Savannah Man Confesses to Murdering Wife

Eric Golden told investigators he killed his wife Thursday during a domestic dispute.

A Savannah man is in the Chatham County Detention Center after telling police he murdered his wife and buried her body on Chatham County's westside.

Savannah Chatham Police say the man's brother-in-law called them Sunday afternoon to say the suspect was surrendering himself to the Chatham County Sheriff's Department. Eric Brian Golden, who's 35 years old, told investigators he killed his wife Thursday night during a domestic dispute at their home on Slate Circle in Savannah. He then told them where they could find her body. Detectives say Golden buried her in a wooded area about seven miles west of Interstate 95 off Georgia 204 on Fort Stewart property. Military police and detectives discovered a shallow grave along the woodline. They found 35 year old DeeDee Marie Golden's body around 9:30 Sunday night.

Police sent her body to the GBI Crime Labe for an autopsy. Eric Golden has been charged with one count of murder. He'll be arraigned in Chatham County Recorder's Court on Monday.

Writer maintains there's no 'God' in Constitution

In April, Herb Silverman, a professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston and president of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, challenged readers of the Charleston Post & Courier to find God in the Constitution. Skip Johnson, an author and former Post and Courier religion writer, took on the challenge in a column in the Oct. 2 issue of Faith & Values. This is Silverman's rebuttal.

When I offered $1,000 to anyone who could find the words God or Jesus in the U.S. Constitution, I hoped it would inspire many citizens to carefully read our wonderful founding document. I commend local writer Skip Johnson for doing exactly that, and for making the best case he could for claiming the reward.

Johnson could not find either the words God or Jesus in the Constitution. Therefore, he did not meet the condition of the challenge. But, reluctant to admit it, Johnson tried several inferential or interpretive arguments from the words he did find in the Constitution. He also brought up several other documents. I'll respond to each of his points.

Johnson mentioned that the Constitution was signed "in the year of our Lord." This was the standard way of dating important documents in the 18th century. Its use was conventional, not religious, just as today we may use B.C. (Before Christ) or A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for "the year of our Lord").

Johnson next pointed out the constitutional requirement that elected officials take an oath or affirmation before they can serve. He claimed that oaths were necessarily a call to God even though the word "God" was not mentioned in the Constitution. However, at that time, kings would swear oaths by their crowns and knights would swear oaths by their knighthood, so the concept of swearing an oath to something other than God goes back a long time and was well-known in 1787.

Had our founders wanted officeholders to invoke God, they could have worded the oath to accomplish that objective. Instead, the oath or affirmation to uphold the Constitution contains no reference to God, need not be administered on the Bible and need not even be considered an oath. The option to either swear an oath or to make an affirmation was written into our Constitution for the purpose of including those who did not feel comfortable swearing an oath to anything, not just to God or some other deity.

Johnson then turned to Article 1, Section 7, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which allows the president an extra day to return a bill if the 10th day falls on a Sunday. He then hypothesized that the founders added this exception because they meant for Sunday to be a day of worship. He even contended that a case could thus be made that the Constitution is a Christian document.

In 1787, as now, Sunday was considered a day of rest. People were free to worship, rest or work. True, there were and are a large percentage of Christians in this country. An employer today who is an atheist may schedule Sundays off or excuse employees from working on their religious holidays.

For those who maintain we are a Christian country, I refer them to another document: Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which states, "As the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion ..." This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate. It was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, but only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history.

So dates, oaths and Sundays are the only constitutional citations Johnson had to offer. He then attempted to buttress his argument for God's being in the Constitution with what he believes to be the "intent" of the founders.

First, Johnson mentioned that the Declaration of Independence refers to people being "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." The Declaration of Independence is not part of the Constitution. It is not a governing document. It was a call for rebellion against the British Crown. This emphasis on people having inalienable rights was a way for our founders to distinguish us from an empire that asserted the divine right of kings.

Johnson erred in thinking our currency in 1787 carried the motto "In God We Trust." The first such appearance came more than 75 years later during the Civil War, when both the North and South claimed to have God on their side. It didn't appear on all money until the shameful McCarthy era of the 1950s, also a time when "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Johnson then turned to an inaugural address of George Washington in which Washington referred to an "Almighty Being." Imagine that! A politician alluding to a deity (though not explicitly God or Jesus). After giving instances of similar public acts by politicians, Johnson asked: "Does it really seem like the people who wrote the Constitution intended to keep God out of it?"

Well, yes! They were a lot wiser than Johnson gives them credit for being. They were careful and thoughtful writers. Had they wanted to put God into the Constitution, they would have done so, specifically by name. To his credit, Johnson mentioned that several of his examples are "hints" of God being in the Constitution. He used such hints to assert that "atheists, legal extremists and other nitpickers tried to sweep away the Constitution writers' obvious intent." Well, unlike political utterances, the Constitution really is a legal document, the law of our land. I admit to being a legal extremist if, by that term, Johnson means placing more value on the words of the Constitution than on his opinion of the obvious intent of its writers.

Just as interesting as what Johnson said was what he didn't say. He ignored the only two references to religion in the Constitution. Article VI says that "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." And the First Amendment guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Johnson also failed to mention James Madison, affectionately known as the Father of our Constitution, who said, "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the endless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." Our founders understood the devastating nature of holy wars. They wisely established a secular nation whose authority rests with "We the People" (the first three words of the U.S. Constitution) and not with "Thou the Deity."

Sunday, November 20, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Saenz charged with assault, resisting arrest

by Warren Parish

The longtime managing director of Community Ministries of Rockville was arrested last month and charged with three counts of second-degree assault and resisting arrest after a disagreement over a refund at the Best Buy on Rockville Pike turned violent, city police reported.

Police hauled Agnes Giovanna Saenz, 41, of Rockville out of the retail store on Sept. 25 after they fought to arrest her, according to the charging document in Montgomery County District Court.

Saying The Gazette had only one side of the story, Saenz said on Tuesday that she retained an attorney who advised her to decline comment until the matter is resolved.

‘‘It’s unfortunate that this happened,” she said, speaking from the Community Ministries offices.

According to the court charging document, Saenz grew irate, threw two MP3 players and a CD player from the counter, striking an employee, when a refund on an MP3 player she brought to the store was refused.

A crowd gathered as Saenz refused to leave the store, repeating her demand for a refund, the document states. Told she was trespassing, she repeatedly refused police requests to leave, according to the charging document.

When a police officer took her right arm to motion her out, she struck him on the face with an open right hand and pushed through an employee en route to the door, the charging document states. The employee fell into a kiosk and bruised her right hip, according to the document.

Saenz ran toward the door before being stopped by two police officers, who were forced to fight her to the ground before she could be placed in custody, according to the charging document.

She was transported to the Central Processing Unit at the county Detention Center in Rockville without further incident, police reported.

In addition to the three counts of second-degree assault and resisting arrest, she is charged with malicious destruction of property under $500, trespassing and disorderly conduct.

A trial date of Nov. 10 is scheduled.

Saenz, along with Development Director Edward Peery, took over as CMR’s interim co-directors in September after Larry Pignone stepped down as interim director. He had replaced the Rev. Mansfield ‘‘Kasey” Kaseman, the longtime executive director who retired earlier this year.

An interfaith, nonprofit social service organization comprised of 20 member congregations, Community Ministries of Rockville offers shelter and permanent housing to the homeless, educational outreach to Latino families, food and home repairs for the elderly, and emergency services for those in crisis.

A native of Costa Rica, Saenz came to America to learn English in 1989. She started with Community Ministries as a volunteer bookkeeper, rising through the ranks to eventually become the managing director.

Her signature accomplishment was helping to found the Latino Outreach Program in 1993. The Community Ministries program helps Hispanic immigrants learn English and workplace skills.


Community Ministries Leader Banned From Best Buy After Violent Tantrum

Rockville, Md. - The managing director of Community Ministries of Rockville has been banned from Best Buy after allegedly assaulting two store employees and a police officer over a refund dispute.

Agnes Giovanna Saenz's banishment is part of a deal she made with prosecutors who agreed not to try her for the alleged altercation. She also has to take anger management classes, perform 60 hours of community service, and repay the store $318.

Police say officers responded to a call from store employees who said Saenz became "upset and irate" when they wouldn't let her return an MP3 player.

Police say she punched an officer who tried to escort her from the store, pushed an employee into a kiosk, and threw two MP3 players and a CD player from the store's counter. They say two officers had to wrestle her to the ground to place her in custody.

Saenz tells the Washington Post that she "experienced crucifixion and resurrection" in the case.

Saturday, November 19, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Arrested On Sexual Abuse Charges

Linthicum, Md. - Baltimore County police have charged the pastor of the Redemption Christian Fellowship in Woodlawn with sexually abusing children he was counseling.

Police say 39-year-old Gerald Fitroy Griffith, of the 1300-block of Peach Tree Court in Bowie, is charged with several counts of child abuse.

Police say they were contacted by five victims about alleged sexual abuse. Police say an investigation found that Griffith was sexually abusing the victims during counseling sessions in the church office.

Griffith was arrested Tuesday while waiting to board a flight to London at BWI.

He has been charged with sexual abuse to a minor, perverted practice, sodomy, second-, third-, and fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. Bail was set at $600,000.


Atheist Veterans Liken God to an 'Imaginary Friend'

By Monisha Bansal

Among the many thousands of American veterans who served in conflicts from World War II to the Iraq War and marched in the nation's capital on Friday was a group of atheists seeking to debunk the familiar slogan, "there are no atheists in foxholes."

"What better day than Veterans Day to show that we served our country, too," said Rick Wingrove, the Virginia director of American Atheists, who also served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

"People deny our existence, and that's just bigoted, ignorant, puerile and childish," Wingrove told Cybercast News Service.

Many people believe that when confronted with the horrors of war, soldiers -- even those with no previous religious experience -- turn to religion as a coping mechanism. But some of the atheist veterans at the march Friday carried signs reading, "Do adults really need an imaginary friend?"

The atheists said they were motivated to march in Washington after seeing a naval chaplain, who was speaking on CNN on Veterans Day last year, contend that there was "no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole."

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, organized Friday's march and said members of her group would "not bow under threat of hellfire or gunfire."

Bill Russell of Connecticut said he would travel to Washington every year if the march became an annual event. "This nation was founded as a secular state, not one where we go to war in the name of God. God isn't in the Constitution." Russell served in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. More recently, he said he was fired from Matrix Investment Corporation for being an atheist.

Larry Carter Center said he has been an atheist since he was a child and that seeing John Kerry testify before Congress inspired him to enlist in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

"As a veteran, I swore to defend the Constitution, not God," Carter Center told Cybercast News Service. "Is this the United States of Jesus Christ, or the United States of America?"

But William J. Murray, president of the Religious Freedom Coalition, said the atheist veterans were trying to silence the vast majority who showed up in Washington Friday.

"I am sure that a small fraction of those men and women who have served do not have any particular religious beliefs. That does not mean we should not celebrate the faith of the vast majority that does. What they're doing is they want to force everyone to keep their mouths shut about their faith," Murray told Cybercast News Service.

"Veterans Day is the time for us to celebrate the sacrifice of every single veteran who has assisted in defending this nation, whether they are Christian, or Jew, or of any other belief," he added.

Sunday, November 13, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Event to show support for atheists in military

Photo by Matt Edwards
National group plans first parade, rally of its kind in nation's capital


It's an old canard: "There are no atheists in foxholes."

But it's not true for thousands of current and former military personnel such as 80-year-old Donald Peterson, an atheist who flew in 39 combat missions during World War II.

Service members of no faith deserve the same respect as those espousing one, he said.

In America, religious overtones surround patriotism, said Chris Lugo, an organizer for Nashville Atheist Meetup, which meets every other week.

He is nonmilitary but honors his religious father's military service.

"Service, no matter the form — military, the Peace Corps or volunteerism — is about serving the greater good of the people of the United States, not of a particular religion," said the 35-year-old man who has visited the Atheists in Foxholes memorial in Fearn Park, Ala.

"For those who choose to believe, it can help them, and for those who choose to not believe, it is not a barrier for their service."

That is why today, thousands of people are expected to gather in Washington, D.C., for a first-ever parade and rally honoring atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular humanists and others who served in the nation's military or are on active duty.

Organized by American Atheists Inc., a national advocacy for nontheists, the event on the National Mall coincides with Veterans Day to draw attention to the role that nontheistic people play in the nation's armed forces.

The definition of a nontheistic can be fuzzy. They might include atheists, freethinkers, secular humanists, humanists, brights or others who hold a naturalistic, rather than a supernatural, world view.

"We want to show support for the foxhole atheists," Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said Wednesday during a telephone interview from New Jersey. "If someone maligns them, they are really maligning all of us. We want to assemble to say thank you because they have done so much for us, and now it's our turn to do something for them."

Those convening in D.C. today want to pay homage to retired and active duty military and "acknowledge that atheists have served in the military as long as there has been a military," said Larry Darby, general counsel for the Montgomery, Ala.-based Atheist Law Center. "There shouldn't be this automatic assumption that one has to have religion in order to be patriotic or in order to be a good citizen or in order to be an ethical person."

And those who believe in God and country don't necessarily disagree.

"As long as they served their country and helped keep our country free, their choice of religion does not affect me," said Harold "Alex" Alexander, 64, quartermaster of the West Nashville VFW Post 1970.

Alexander, a Baptist, served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

"The main thing to me is that they were there to defend their country. As long as they chose to defend our country, so be it."

After all, Lugo said, the United States was founded on principles that protect freedom of — or freedom from — religion.

"When immigrants come to this country and become citizens, their religious beliefs are not a question," Lugo said. "We live in a country that values the separation of church and state, and the same is true for people who serve their country."

Shaiya Baer, president of newly formed Nashville Humanistic Community, said his organization supports the intent behind the parade and rally.

"We certainly support the right of the atheists to take a stand just as we would support any religious organization to do it as well," said Baer, who calls himself a freethinker. "I strongly believe that everybody has that right to express themselves whether they are humanist or deeply religious."

Johnson said the event is not to diminish the contributions of religious military but to salute nonbelievers who "stepped up" in the midst of war or other crises.

"We are here to support them and to say we are going to speak out for them," she said.


Saturday, November 12, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Robertson warns Pennsylvania voters of God's wrath

Eight 'intelligent design' school board members lost election

Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has made similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements before.

Last summer, he hit the headlines by calling for the assassination of leftist Venezuelan Present Hugo Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's most vocal international critics.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.

The 700 Club claims a daily audience of around one million. It is also broadcast around the world translated into more than 70 languages.

In voting on Tuesday, eight Dover, Pennsylvania, school board members up for re-election lost their seats after trying to introduce a statement on "intelligent design" to high school biology students.

Adherents of intelligent design argue that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a "designer." Opponents say it is the latest attempt by conservatives to introduce religion into the school science curriculum.

The Dover case sparked a trial in federal court that gained nationwide attention after the school board was sued by parents backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The board ordered schools to read students a short statement in biology classes informing them that the theory of evolution is not established fact and that gaps exist in it.

The statement mentioned intelligent design as an alternate theory and recommended students read a book that explained the theory further. A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.

In 1998, Robertson warned the city of Orlando, Florida that it risked hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist bombs after it allowed homosexual organizations to put up rainbow flags in support of sexual diversity.


Friday, November 11, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

The Brontosaurus

Monty Python's flying creationism.
By William Saletan

"There is an elephant in the roomful of scientists who are trying to explain the development of life," wrote Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry, in his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box. The elephant was ubiquitous evidence of "intelligent design" in nature. Darwinian evolutionists, Behe argued, were unable to explain life's origins and its emerging complexity because they couldn't see the elephant.

Behe has the same problem, but worse. Last week in a Pennsylvania courtroom, he testified in defense of a school board's requirement that biology teachers mention ID. (For Hanna Rosin's reports from the trial, click here.) Behe offered a number of interesting criticisms of Darwinism. But it's impossible to focus on any of these criticisms, because they were so completely overshadowed by the brontosaurus in the room: ID's sophomoric emptiness.

What makes Behe's non-explanation a brontosaurus rather than an elephant is its resemblance to a famous Monty Python sketch in which a television newsman interviews a theorist.

Q: You say you have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
A: Can I just say here, Chris, for one moment, that I have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
Q: Exactly. Well, what is it? …
A: Oh, what is my theory?
Q: Yes.
A: Oh, what is my theory, that it is. Well, Chris, you may well ask me what is my theory.
Q: I am asking.
A: Good for you. My word, yes. Well, Chris, what is it that it is—this theory of mine. Well, this is what it is—my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine.
Q: Yes, I know it's yours. What is it?
A: Where? Oh, what is my theory? This is it. My theory that belongs to me is as follows. This is how it goes. The next thing I'm going to say is my theory. Ready?
Q: Yes.
A: … This theory goes as follows and begins now. All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the middle; and then thin again at the far end.

As though that explained anything. Which brings us to last week's cross-examination of Behe by Eric Rothschild, the lawyer opposing the school board in the Pennsylvania case.

Q: Please describe the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose.
A: Well, the word "mechanism" can be used in many ways. … When I was referring to intelligent design, I meant that we can perceive that in the process by which a complex biological structure arose, we can infer that intelligence was involved. …
Q: What is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes?
A: And I wonder, could—am I permitted to know what I replied to your question the first time?
Q: I don't think I got a reply, so I'm asking you. You've made this claim here (reading): "Intelligent design theory focuses exclusively on the proposed mechanism of how complex biological structures arose." And I want to know, what is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose?
A: Again, it does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how those structures arose. But it can infer that in the mechanism, in the process by which these structures arose, an intelligent cause was involved.

The interrogation goes on like this for pages and pages. Like the theorist in the Monty Python sketch, Behe throws up a blizzard of babble: process, intelligent activity, important facts. What process? What activity? What facts? He never explains. He says the designer "took steps" to create complex biological systems, but ID can't specify the steps. Does ID tell us who designed life? No, he answers. Does it tell us how? No. Does it tell us when? No. How would the designer create a bacterial flagellum? It would "somehow cause the plan to, you know, go into effect," he proposes.

Can ID make testable predictions? Not really. If we posit that a given biological system was designed, Rothschild asks, what can we infer about the designer's abilities? Just "that the designer had the ability to make the design that is under consideration," says Behe. "Beyond that, we would be extrapolating beyond the evidence." Does Behe not understand that extrapolating beyond initial evidence is exactly the job of a hypothesis? Does he not grasp the meaninglessness of saying a designer designed things that were designed?

Evidently not. "That is exactly the basis for how we detect design—when we perceive the purposeful arrangement of parts," Behe declares. The essence of science—that detection means going beyond perception—escapes his comprehension. It also escapes his interest. He says his belief that the bacterial flagellum was intelligently designed could be tested, but he's never run the test. Why not? "I'm persuaded by the evidence that I cite in my book that this is a good explanation and that spending a lot of effort in trying to show how random mutation and natural selection could produce complex systems … is not real likely to be fruitful," he says. Who needs science when you've got faith?

So, this is my theory, which belongs to me, and goes as follows. All intelligently designed things are brought about by an intelligent designer through a process of intelligently conducted design. If it's good enough for Monty Python, it's good enough for biology class.

William Saletan is Slate's national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

Article URL:

Thursday, November 10, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Army Chaplain Sentenced For Sodomizing Troops

Original Article

A U.S. Army chaplain has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of forcible sodomy against enlisted men.

Capt. Gregory Arflack, a 44-year-old Roman Catholic priest, apologized at his court-martial in Germany. He sobbed and said, "I've had a lot of time to pray and consider what I've done as a priest and an officer and I'm ashamed."

One of the victims, whom Arflack had been counseling about homesickness and family troubles, told the court, "I don't understand how a person of the cloth could do something like that."

He added, "I didn't believe God would allow something like that to happen."

Arflack confessed to plying three soldiers -- ages 18, 19 and 20 -- with alcohol and making unwanted advances. He forced oral sex on one soldier in the bathroom of a bar and on the other two at his home, where they had passed out on his sofa.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Police accuse pastor of selling house, too

Ripon congregation again shocked on heels of church-sale allegation - (click here for the previous story)


RIPON — A minister accused of selling his congregation's church was arrested Friday and accused of another shady real estate deal — selling the church-owned house where he lived.
Police arrested the Rev. Randy Radic shortly before 8 a.m. after he left his fiancée's house on Van Dyken Way, Sgt. Ed Ormonde said.

Police said they learned this week that, in 2002, Radic allegedly forged documents to obtain the deed to the modest home where he has been living. County property records show the house was valued at $150,763 in 2004.

First Congregational Church members said they had assumed the house at 137 N. Elm Ave. belonged to the church.

It was the second shock this week. Earlier, Radic was charged with felony embezzlement on suspicion of selling the church for $525,000 without the congregation knowing.

First Congregational is the city's oldest church, built in 1917. Radic has been the pastor for 10 years.

He was booked Friday at San Joaquin County Jail. Bail was set at $1.5 million, an amount that reflects Radic's flight risk and the multiple charges, according to Ormonde.

Members of the church council could not be reached for comment Friday. The church has an average attendance of 30 people on Sunday.

People around town Friday had not yet heard of Radic's arrest. Some, however, still were stunned by the original news that the church itself had been sold.

"We were all shocked," said Dorothy Patterson, a crossing guard in Ripon for 43 years.

Patricia Chavez, who identified herself as a Christian, said she understands how it could happen.

"We're humans," she said. "Temptation is always there. … It's very hard not to fall into sin."

Chavez said she is praying for Radic and his family. Radic is divorced and has a daughter.

Ormonde said it's not surprising that the alleged theft of the house went undetected for years. The church council had no reason to check into it, he said. Radic was living there, rent free, he said.

Almost immediately after using forged documents to get the deed to the house, Radic started taking out home equity loans, Ormonde said.

"At first it was a small loan," he said. "Then a little bigger. Then a little bigger."

Radic took out loans of these approximate amounts: $15,000, $35,000, $60,000, $100,000 and $160,000, Ormonde said. By 2003, Radic filed for bankruptcy.

"Eventually, he couldn't keep up with the payments on the bigger loans, and the house went into foreclosure," Ormonde said.

When that happened, Radic sold the house on Dec. 1, 2004, to Lonni Ashlock Investments, Ormonde said.

Investment firm investigated

The Modesto-area company has had its own run-ins with the law. In July, prosecutors confirmed a criminal investigation into Ashlock's dealings.

According to 10 lawsuits filed in Stanislaus County, Ashlock and partner Ronald Buhler took advantage of families and ended up with their homes. Some suing Ashlock and Buhler claimed the men exploited faith, praying with people as they preyed on them.

In the Ripon case, Ashlock Investments is one of the victims, according to authorities.

"They told our detectives they've put about $30,000 into this investment already," Ormonde said. "They're going to be out that money."

Ashlock could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ashlock Investments took over the Elm Avenue property as part of a foreclosure avoidance procedure. Under an agreement between Ashlock Investments and Radic, the corporation assumed Radic's monthly debts and Radic was to move out by Dec. 1, Ormonde said.

After that, the company would fix up the house and put it up for sale to recoup the debt, he said.

"We think they're victims, just like everybody else that got mixed up with this guy," Ormonde said of Ashlock and Buhler. "We have no reason to believe that there's any wrongdoing on their part."

Radic is charged with two counts of four felonies: embezzlement, embezzlement under false pretenses, forgery and forgery of corporate documents, plus a white-collar crime enhancement.

He is due in court for a pretrial hearing at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15.

"We're anticipating that there may be additional crimes, but we don't know what they are and we haven't been able to prove anything," Ormonde said.

He added that for a small, conservative town such as Ripon, where most people go to church, it's "an eye-opener."


Medina pastor charged with rape

LAFAYETTE TOWNSHIP -- A Medina pastor and father of 17 children is in jail Monday night charged with rape.

Leonard Robertson was arrested for rape and gross sexual imposition for allegations involving two of his adopted children.

Both were teenaged girls at the time of the alleged attacks.

They are both now adults and out of the home.

Investigators say the couple served as a foster family and adoptive family for many years and still have six kids living at home.

The sheriff fears there are more victims out there.

Robertson is also a pastor with the Prepare the Way Community Church in Medina and he served as a volunteer chaplain for the Medina PD.

He was terminated from the police department following his arrest.


Father tells court he trusted God to heal sick son

The High Court at Whangarei has heard that a Northland father on trial for the manslaughter of his baby son, had little faith in doctors but trusted God to heal the child.

David Tribble is accused with his wife Catherine of failing to provide the medical help needed by their baby, who died at four months.

The court has heard the baby was ill with a stomach bug for about three weeks, but died of septicaemia from a kidney infection discovered at the post mortem.

In a police video interview, David Tribble says he saw the demonic spirit of death on Caleb's face four days before he died, and he and his father prayed for the baby - who then improved.

He said he was prepared to take Caleb to hospital two days later on the advice of the public health nurse, but after hearing the baby had improved she said to wait and see.

Mr Tribble said if anyone had told him he must take the baby to hospital now, he would have.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Religion Now Taught As Science In Kansas

Original Article

By JOHN HANNA, Associated Press Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. - Revisiting a topic that exposed Kansas to nationwide ridicule six years ago, the state Board of Education approved science standards for public schools Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

The 6-4 vote was a victory for intelligent design advocates who helped draft the standards. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

Critics of the new language charged that it was an attempt to inject God and creationism into public schools in violation of the separation of church and state.

"This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that," said board member Janet Waugh, a Democrat.

Supporters of the new standards said they will promote academic freedom. "It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today," said board member John Bacon.

The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

The new standards will be used to develop student tests measuring how well schools teach science. Decisions about what is taught in classrooms will remain with 300 local school boards, but some educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design.

"What this does is open the door for teachers to bring creationist arguments into the classroom and point to the standards and say it's OK," said Jack Krebs, an Oskaloosa High School math teacher and vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, which opposes the changes.

But John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network, said changes probably will come to classrooms gradually, with some teachers feeling freer to discuss criticisms of evolution.

"These changes are not targeted at changing the hearts and minds of the Darwin fundamentalists," Calvert said.

The vote marked the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue.

In 1999, the board eliminated most references to evolution. Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said that was akin to teaching "American history without Lincoln." Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" of children's television, called it "harebrained" and "nutty." And a Washington Post columnist imagined God saying to the Kansas board members: "Man, I gave you a brain. Use it, OK?"

Two years later, after voters replaced three members, the board reverted to evolution-friendly standards. Elections in 2002 and 2004 changed the board's composition again, making it more conservative.

The latest vote is likely to bring fresh national criticism to Kansas and cause many scientists to see the state as backward.

Many scientists and other critics contend creationists repackaged old ideas in new, scientific-sounding language to get around a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 against teaching the biblical story of creation in public schools.

The Kansas board's action is part of a national debate. In Pennsylvania, a judge is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit against the Dover school board's policy of requiring high school students to learn about intelligent design in biology class.

In August, President Bush endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.

Sunday, November 06, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Former N.C. preacher ordered to pay Florida widow

A federal judge has ordered a former Greenville minister to start making payments to the estate of a Florida woman years after he was convicted of stealing from her.

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard last month ordered the Rev. Jim Whittington, 64, to pay $5,500 a month. Whittington _ who had expensive high-speed boats and a Rolls-Royce _ owed wheelchair-bound Valeria Lust $848,532.

The minister, formerly of Greenville and now living in Atlanta, and four other people were convicted in 1992 of stealing nearly $900,000 from the woman while he was the on-air presence for Fountain of Life ministries.

Lust has died and the Oct. 13 said the payments would be made to her estate.

Prosecutors said the minister kept his luxury lifestyle after leaving prison in 1995 and in 10 years had repaid less than 2 percent of the money he owed. They said his ministry paid for a country club membership, cars and jewelry.

"It is extremely disappointing that he has chosen not to pay this restitution when he's spent so much money on himself," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Acker.

In a telephone interview, Whittington denied the theft and said he was a target of prosecutors. He said he doesn't get a salary from his current ministry, World Deliverance Crusade.

"I didn't take that woman's money," Whittington said. "She gave it to the ministry."


Saturday, November 05, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

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Thursday, November 03, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Ripon Pastor Secretly Sells Church

A congregation has lost faith in their pastor, after he sold their church without telling them, and scammed them out of more than half of a million dollars.

A for sale sign never went up in front of the First Congregational Church in Ripon. Local police say the pastor peddled it on the sly and was spending the proceeds on big ticket items. It's no doubt an understatement to say church members are shocked.

"It came out of nowhere, we didn't have a clue", says Church Leader David Prater.

Church members didn't have a clue that their church, which has stood on the corner of Main and Acacia streets in Ripon for over 50 years had been sold. Police say the church pastor sold the church and a small cottage next to it for $525,000 dollars and pocketed the money. Church Council president David Prater said the news left them stunned.

"We were devastated, we didn't know how to explain it to anyone. People were hurt. People were crying", says Prater.

Sergeant Ed Ormonde said pastor Randy Radic put the money in a special account and started spending.

"There was approximately $460,000 that was deposited in the account. Then over a period of about two weeks almost half of the money was deposited into other accounts or withdrawn in cash.", says Ormonde.

$102,000 dollars went for a 2006 BMW, which police have seized, along with about $350,000 in cash. Ormonde says the bank account and transactions made bankers suspicious and they contacted church leaders. The 52-year-old Radic faces felony counts of embezzlement and forgery. And the church's small congregation still can't believe it.

"He was a very good teacher and a good preacher", says Prater.

Prater says visiting pastors are helping them with Sunday services now. Soon they'll be looking for a new permanent pastor. They do have to sort out their finances first But they've hired an attorney to help.



Ripon pastor faces forgery, embezzlement over $400K

RIPON — The leader of a Ripon church is currently facing four felony counts including embezzlement and forgery for underhandedly selling property owned by the church and pocketing the money.

Pastor Randy Radic, 52, turned himself in to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office on Oct. 24 — four days after Ripon police investigators began looking into a tip from a church council member who had been contacted by a Modesto bank and informed that Radic had opened a church account there and deposited over $400,000.

According to Ripon Police Information Sergeant Ed Ormonde, Radic allegedly sold First Congregational Church — located at the intersection of Main and Acacia — for a price of $525,000.

In order to produce the necessary paperwork, investigators suspect that Radic forged sensitive documents that required the approval of the church council — a group that assumes a position similar to the Board of Directors of a corporation when it comes to business dealings.

After Radic had opened the account and deposited over $400,000, police believe he began to wire deposits to numerous other accounts that were eventually tracked and recovered.

Once taken into custody, police were able to recover more than $350,000 in cash as well as a 2006 BMW valued at more than $100,000.

“I’ve been with the department for almost 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ormonde said of the allegations made against the Pastor. “We deal with embezzlement quite often, but never on this scale”

Fortunately for those who have been longtime supporters of the church, the Manteca group who moved forward with the purchase will not be able to take possession because the necessary paperwork was fraudulent.

Ormonde said that the buyers have committed no crime in the dealings and have been cooperative with police throughout the investigation — and that he believes this is the largest land and monetary seizure ever made by the Ripon police.

Radic is currently not being held in custody based on an agreement that he made to turn himself over to the court upon request. He is being charged with embezzlement, embezzlement under false pretenses, forgery, and forgery of corporate documents.

Ormonde wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he couldn’t be arrested in the future.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Parishioner Sues Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saying Pastor Seduced Wife


A jilted Long Island husband is suing his pastor, the Presbytery of New York City and one of its largest churches, saying that the pastor seduced his wife and destroyed his "faith and trust" in the church and in the institution of marriage.

The husband, Joseph Vione, 43, who had been living in Garden City, says in papers filed last week in State Supreme Court in Manhattan that the Rev. Thomas K. Tewell, 56, the senior pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Midtown Manhattan, used confidential information obtained during marriage counseling to seduce Mr. Vione's wife, Rachel, 42. Mr. Vione has filed for divorce.

To cover his tracks and to further his relationship with Ms. Vione, court papers say, Dr. Tewell encouraged the couple to join couples clubs and family ministries and attend marriage retreats that he presided over.

The suit also says that officials of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, which has nearly 4,000 members, knew of allegations from anonymous parishioners that Dr. Tewell had exploited his position at the church "to prey on" other women by engaging in illicit relationships with them, but did not investigate.

Bob Brennan, director of communications for the church, at 7 West 55th Street, said yesterday that the allegations in the lawsuit were "very sad" and that Dr. Tewell was on an administrative leave of absence while the church conducted its own investigation. He said the Viones remained on the church rolls as members, though he did not know whether they were active.

Barry Fisher, a lawyer for Rachel Vione, declined to comment yesterday.

Mr. Vione is seeking $1 million in damages for what he says was Dr. Tewell's failure to adhere to the "standard of care for a clergyman" of his stature; $3 million for loss of faith and trust in the church, in his religion and in the institution of marriage; and $1 million for emotional trauma.

During the 10 years in which the Viones were members of the church, the pastor was such a trusted figure, the papers say, that he presided over the baptism of the couple's daughter and the communions and confirmations of their children. Through his role as a spiritual and marital adviser, Dr. Tewell obtained Mr. Vione's confidence and "exercised influence and control over him," according to court papers.

Dr. Tewell and his wife, Suzanne, have been married for 30 years.

The lawsuit says that in May 2001, Dr. Tewell invited the Viones to his home, where he told them that Mike Peters, a clerk at the church, had informed him that parishioners had been gossiping about an affair between the pastor and Ms. Vione. At that meeting, Ms. Vione and Dr. Tewell denied having an affair, according to the suit.

When Mr. Vione later asked the church to conduct an investigation to clear his wife's name, the lawsuit says, the clerk dissuaded him, saying that it was not necessary because the accusations were false and that it would mean bad publicity for the church.

UPDATE: May 27, 2006


A randy reverend who was having an affair with a parishioner to whom he was giving "marriage counseling" tried to tempt other female members of his flock as well, court papers charge.

The Rev. Thomas Tewell - who's being sued by former Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church parishioner Joseph Vione for carrying on trysts with his wife while he was supposedly counseling them - allegedly tried the same maneuver on others.

In court filings made public yesterday, Vione said that in 2002, three anonymous church members complained to a church official that Tewell "had exploited his position" at the East Side church "to prey on women to whom he was providing spiritual and marital counseling for the covert and clandestine purposes of surreptitiously engaging in illicit relationships."

The church "failed and/or refused to investigate" the allegations - allowing Tewell, 56, and Rachel Vione, 42, to carry on their affair for years, the suit says.

Tewell's lawyer, Herb Teitelbaum, scoffed at the new allegation. "This is a trumped-up case, from beginning to end," he said.

But in a landmark decision released yesterday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich allowed Vione's $6 million suit against the priest and the church to move forward. The judge found that the suit "alleges acts of disloyalty and injurious conduct" and that church officials could be culpable for looking the other way.

Kornreich wrote that the legal claims could prove Tewell was "deceiving plaintiff and undermining his marriage, while continuing to act as his marriage counselor."

The unholy communing apparently started in January 2002, which is when Vione's suit says his leggy blond wife started attending more and more of Tewell's church "meetings."

That May, Tewell asked the couple to come over to his house to tell them three anonymous church members had alleged to church officials that Tewell and Rachel were having an affair, the suit says. Both denied the charge to their spouses.

Vione said he wanted an investigation done to clear their names, but a church clerk talked him out of it, the suit says. Tewell "urged [Vione] to continue to attend marital counseling" and urged he and Rachel "to attend more of the weekend long 'marriage retreats' in upstate New York," the suit says.

Rachel came clean about her relationship with the reverend in January 2005, and Vione is now suing her for divorce.

Vione's lawyer, Francis Fineo, said his client was pleased with Kornreich's ruling.

Teitelbaum said he planned to appeal. He noted that Kornreich had dismissed some of the claims against Tewell and the church, and predicted that the whole case would eventually be tossed because Tewell "never counseled" Vione.


UPDATE December 21, 2006:


December 18, 2006 -- The randy reverend who fell from grace - and from his job leading a ritzy Fifth Avenue church - because of an adulterous affair with a married blond congregant has been suspended as a minister until July after pleading guilty in a clerical inquiry.

The Rev. Thomas Tewell also has been barred from formally or informally working in any Presbyterian parish until 2009 as part of a written censure issued by the New York City Presbytery on Thursday.

And the married minister must give Presbytery officials semiannual reports from the therapist who is counseling him as part of a mandated "rehabilitation program."

Tewell, 57, confessed to "engaging in verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature with a married member of your congregation who was not your spouse," the censure stated.

The censure came two months after an apparent settlement of a lawsuit against Tewell and the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church by the man cuckolded by the charismatic cleric.

Tewell had been the senior pastor at the church, where he was credited with significantly boosting membership with his stirring sermons.

But in mid-2005, he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with Rachel Vione, a 43-year-old Long Island woman who at the time was attending divinity school with the intention of becoming a minister.

Vione also was an active church volunteer with her husband, Joe Vione.

The sex scandal prompted Tewell to take a leave as pastor of the church in August 2005 and resign as a trustee of the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary.

Barely two months later, Tewell resigned as pastor.

In the meantime, Joe Vione sued his wife for divorce, then later filed a $5 million suit against Tewell and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian that called the minister a sexual "predator" who seduced Rachel while giving the couple marriage counseling.

The suit revealed that Tewell and Rachel were first accused of having an affair in 2001 but that at the time they denied it.

Court records indicate that Joe Vione's suit was disposed of in mid-October.

A former church congregant said church officials have indicated Vione was paid an undisclosed amount of money in exchange for his dropping the suit.

Neither of the Viones nor Tewell could be reached for comment.