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Tuesday, February 28, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Appeals Move to Revoke His License

SALT LAKE CITY UTAH: A Christian pastor who could lose his license to run a rehabilitiation group for homeless men is appealing.

Following a KSL Eyewitness News investigation, the Department of Human Services issued a notice of revokation to Steve Sandlin. Sandlin is a pastor for the Central Christian Church.

According to the notice, Sandlin forced homeless men to work as telemarketers in the basement of the church. Their wage: about 28 cents an hour. And even that money was withheld-- donated back to the church.

The homeless men told KSL Sandlin forced them to sign contracts or threatened they'd go back to jail.

Sandlin and another pastor, Robert Ferris, appealed the state's notice, and they've reqested a hearing. It's scheduled for the beginning of April. During that hearing, a judge will decide whether to revoke the license.


Prior reports:

Feb 2:
Program Meant to Help Men in Need, Not What it Seemed

An Eyewitness News investigation today prompted state licensing officials to shut down a program operated by a local church, for a large number of wide-ranging violations.

Investigative Reporter Debbie Dujanovic uncovered exploitation of labor, paying men 28-cents an hour, violations the State found as a result of our two-month investigation.

The men in our report, thought they'd found a support program that would help them keep the faith, find a job and give them shelter, while they turned their lives around. Here's what we uncovered about a pastor and his flock.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I don't trust you. I don't have any confidence that you are reporting the truth at all."

Pastor Steve Sandlin runs Central Christian Church in Salt Lake. On one floor he delivers the word of God.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I pray that you would open our eyes to see just how terrible sin is. Who is the truth? Jesus is the truth."

On another, he reaches out to homeless men, men on parole, through a church shelter called House of Refuge. It's a state licensed program promising Christian values and life skills. Judges send men there, state agencies drop them off. What they might not know is what's down in the basement.

Documents show the Pastor runs a private business, Transmetron.

James Johnson, Former Homeless Man: "The pastor ownsthe company, Pastor Steve."

Men told us they're forced to sign contracts.

James Auston, Court Ordered to Program: "He'll stand up and threaten, 'We'll just put you back in jail, contact your probation officer.' He threatens us with jail all the time."

James Johnson: "I wasn't in a place to try and say anything because I had no other place to turn."

James Auston: "I was referred up here, thinking that this program was something else that it's not."

The men say they work in an area of the church basement. It's one room, with two Transmetrons. On one side is Transmetron Staffing Agency. The men say if they find work outside the church, the company collects a fee. On the other side, they say they work as telemarketers.

Former House of Refuge Resident: "What we do is sell drug testing supplies."

James Johnson: "On any given day I probably make 150 calls, most of them cold calls."

Their pay?

John Rupp, Court Ordered to Program: "For the first three and a half weeks I was there, I believe I was making 58-cents an hour."

James Auston: "My pay? I'm making $1.28 an hour." Debbie Dujanovic: "You're working 40 to 50 hours a week?"

House of Refuge Client: "Yeah, I make $60 a week."

And he says the men don't get paychecks, but receipts, because the contract says whatever they do make must be donated back to the program. Do it for six-months and the contract states, they get a "love offering," part of your donation back. Except Leo Duran says he got kicked out with days to go.

Leo Duran, Former House of Refuge Resident: "When he threw me out, I had to go back on the streets, live with my friends, and start over."

We took our investigation to six state agencies, our first stop the Labor Commission.

Brent Asay, Utah Labor Commission: "Based on what you've told me, it would appear this is something for us to look into."

After our visit, the company was put on notice: follow state law, pay minimum wage -- $5.15 an hour, and make up back pay.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I'm paying the residents $5.15 an hour."
Reporter: "Since when? Since the Labor Commission made the ruling?"
Pastor Steve Sandlin: "Yes, that's right."

Next was Consumer Protection. Investigators went to see why there's a phone bank in the church basement.

Francine Giani, Division of Consumer Protection: "They are not registered to do business in the state of Utah as telemarketers."

Based on our investigation, the Department of Human Services launched its own. Tonight they issued a revocation notice. The report cites exploitation: using the men's labor for personal gain.

Ken Stettler, Dept. of Human Services: "If you're going to be in this program, this is who you will fork for and this is what you will be paid, and so they didn't have an option."

The state plans to revoke the license in 10-days, but it can request a hearing.

Because of our investigation, other agencies took action. The Justice system and Corrections department authorized men to get out of the program and the Utah Food Bank cut off its free food deliveries, concerned the men were being charged for food.

Feb 3:
Pastor at Church Program Could Face More Charges

An Eyewitness News Investigation about a church program takes a new twist tonight. The Pastor is already accused of paying men as little as 28-cents an hour, putting them to work at his private company, threatening them with jail. The State announced plans to shut down the program. So what else could possibly surface?

We told you about the House of Refuge program last night. The program promises to teach men Christian values, give them a place to live, while they turn their lives around. The new allegation against Pastor Steve Sandlin: assault.

Pastor Sandlin: "You're a criminal and you have no better sense."

James Auston, Former House of Refuge Client: "Okay."

Pastor Sandlin: "You're ungodly."

That's just part of what's on an audio tape we have from the program. There's more.

The state intends to shut down a program inside the pastor's church, called the House of Refuge, citing 13-violations. One of them, Pastor Sandlin allegedly assaulted one of the men in the program. The police took a report, then Pastor Sandlin is accused of pressuring him to withdraw his story or go back to jail.

We called the Pastor , who says the abuse allegation isn't true. Dave Wimmer says he saw it.

Dave Wimmer, Former House of Refuge Client: "Me and a couple of other guys jumped up, and that's when a bunch of shouting went on."

James Auston says he was assaulted by the pastor.

James Auston: "He shoved me in the corner and got back in my face again, and he told me,'I'll make the rules around here and you will call me sir.'"

What happened later? Auston says he caught it on tape when he took a recorder into a meeting with the Pastor.

Pastor Sandlin: "Here's your choice. You call the detective in the presence of everyone here, and say you know, 'I made a mistake, I did not, he did not shove me. If you can do that, or if you refuse and be stubborn and continue to lie, I will call your PO and tell him you falsified a police document.'"

James Auston: "I think that's witness tampering. I thing that's tampering with…"

Pastor Sandlin: "You're not an attorney."

James Auston: "Okay."

Pastor Sandlin: "You're not an attorney. You have a choice. You're going back to jail because of this."

He didn't go back to jail. The court system authorized him to get into a new program. The prosecutor's office confirms it's investigating criminal complaints. We'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 24, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Pleads No Contest in Sex Case

A northern Ohio church pastor arrested in an internet sex sting has faced a judge over his charges.

Roy Burton, a pastor from Milford Center near Marysville, Ohio, has been in Greene County several times over the past few months, mostly for court appearances stemming from his November arrest.

Burton was charged with importuning and attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

Wednesday morning, he waived his right to a trial, pleading no contest. A common decision in Greene County, where more than a hundred similar internet arrests have been made.

"I think the message is they know the work of the detectives builds a solid case and they don't have any wiggle room to hide. Pretty much they are very strong cases and hard to put a defense on," said Assistant Greene County Prosecutor Adolfo Tornichio.

Burton is scheduled to be sentenced on April 4.




Thursday, February 23, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Ex-pastor Norwich faces sex charge

Norwich Bulletin

NORWICH CT -- The former pastor of a Norwich church, who resigned under pressure from the church because of alleged "immoral" activity, was arrested this week on sexual assault charges.

Charles Johnson Jr., the former pastor of the Norwich Assembly of God, was charged Tuesday by Norwich police with first-degree sexual assault and two counts of risk of injury to a minor.

Police released few details of the alleged incident, but said the complaint was received Nov. 9 and involved a minor.

Many members of the clergy in recent years have had allegations leveled against them. Not all ended with criminal convictions.

The sexual abuse allegedly occurred between 2001 and 2002 while Johnson was still pastor at the 340 New London Turnpike church, according to police. The victim has alleged inappropriate contact on two occasions at Johnson's Norwich residence.

Johnson was released Tuesday on a $150,000 bond and is scheduled to appear March 2 in Norwich Superior Court.

News of the arrest was a surprise to Otis Stanley, district superintendent for the Southern New England District Assemblies of God, who said he was contacted by Norwich detectives. The district includes 180 churches in three New England states.

"Right now, it's just hitting us -- it's unbelievable," Stanley said. "He is no longer a pastor. However, since we've gotten (the new) information, we have placed him under investigation."

Stanley said Johnson has denied the charges against him. Stanley said people should "withhold judgment until the whole story has been told."

But, Stanley said, "I don't have any mercy, if it is true."

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Church officials confirmed Johnson was the focus of an internal church investigation in 2002, after receiving complaints about inappropriate behavior between Johnson and a female adult at the church.

An executive board eventually determined Johnson had "gone through a moral failure relating to another adult," said Juleen Turnage, director of public relations for the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Mo.

She declined to discuss details of the 2002 allegations. Of the most recent charges, she said the church had "zero tolerance for any abuse of a child."

A letter to church members dated April 17, 2002, from the Norwich church council indicates Johnson's credentials were suspended for six months and he was to undergo counseling before being returned to the ministry.

But Johnson was asked to resign as pastor, Stanley confirmed. Johnson's resignation was effective Dec. 8, 2002.

James Franklin, 51, of Norwich was a member of the church council at the time and remains a close friend of Johnson's. Franklin declined to discuss details of Johnson's resignation, but said he believes the charges against him are false.

Franklin said his children are close friends with Johnson and said he was always a "compassionate and loving person ... an excellent pastor and good friend."

"I considered (him) an outstanding pastor or I would not have been a member so long," Franklin said.

Stanley said he doesn't know whether Johnson's arrest is related to the previous investigation, since the previous incident was not criminal in nature, he said.

"This is a whole different ballgame," Stanley said.

Stanley said if allegations turn out to be true, they "reflect on one person, and not the church."

Terri Warner of Canterbury, a former member of the church, said she was aware of the 2002 allegations against Johnson, but had not heard about allegations against a child.

She said she wants to know the truth.

"I love Chuck and Cindy and his whole family. His children grew up with mine and always were very dear to us," Warner said "He's already suffered embarrassment ... if it's the same set of circumstances. Why is this coming up again? I feel a public confession and apology is due. It's time he comes forward and states the truth."

Johnson is not the first pastor locally to face allegations of sexual abuse. Isaac Goodwater, former pastor at the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ in Taftville, was arrested in 2003 and charged in connection with the alleged assault of two girls.

Goodwater reached an agreement with state prosecutors and pleaded no contest to two counts of coercion. He received a suspended sentence and two years of conditional release in 2005.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Church founder sentenced to 20 years for raping, abusing girls

KYOTO JAPAN -- A church founder accused of 22 counts of rape and sexual assault against seven girls was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by the Kyoto District Court on Tuesday.

Handed the prison sentence was Tamotsu Kin, 62, founder of the Seishin Chuo Kyokai church in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture.

"He abused his position as a pastor, which is looked on with awe and reverence as someone close to God, and habitually committed the crimes," Presiding Judge Takeshi Uegaki said. "His actions were extremely malicious, to a level unparalleled by other sex crimes."

Kin was convicted of sexually violating seven girls aged between 12 and 16 in his pastor's office and other locations between March 2001 and September 2004. He faced charges for 22 attacks, including one attempted sexual assault.

On a regular basis, Kin preached that followers would "suffer in hell" if they resisted him, creating a situation in which his victims couldn't resist him, the court said.

Prosecutors said the charges they had laid against Kin were "the tip of the iceberg."

"He left the victims with scars that are difficult to heal," a representative of the prosecution team said. "In the public hearings, the defendant merely said he would not argue against the charges, and didn't divulge the truth. He has not offered the slightest apology."

During the trial, the victims presented statements, including one that said, "Not only has he failed to apologize, but his statements in the public hearings have been nothing but lies."

A group to support the victims has offered counseling, while the Kyoto Prefectural Government set up a project team using child consultation centers and clinical psychologists to care for the girls. A representative of the group that supports them said they are likely to need long-term care.

The victims have launched a damages suit in the Kyoto District Court against Kin and the church. The church has acknowledged that five of the girls were abused, but is arguing that is bears no legal responsibility and is not required to pay compensation.


Monday, February 20, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Sex Offender Caught in Church

Murphysboro, IL - A registered sexual predator was caught by police in a Murphysboro church, and now 40 year old Russell Bryant faces new criminal charges. But Bryant's troubles with the law began long before his arrest in late November.

Court documents in the Jackson County courthouse show that back in 2001 Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a girl between the ages of 13 and 16. He plead guilty to those charges and was sentenced to 24 months probation and required to register as a sexual predator.

Now Bryant is facing charges of having unlawful contact with children in the Elm Street Baptist Church. A violation of his requirements under the Illinois Sex Offender Act.

Sources within the church tell Heartland News that they've witnessed Bryant acting inappropriately with children in the church and told church leaders about what they saw. These sources say the church leaders told them they knew about Bryant's previous criminal record, but that they didn't feel that he was doing anything wrong within the church.

Heartland News tried to speak with the pastor of Elm Street Baptist Church, but he refused to comment on Bryant's alleged wrong doings, or the current criminal charges filed against him.

The Illinois State Police tell Heartland News they are investigating Bryant's activities at the church.

Bryant is due back in a Jackson County courtroom on December 19th for a preliminary hearing. He's currently out of jail on a $25,000 bond.


Friday, February 17, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Ex-minister walks atheist path

A retiree encourages USF students to look inward, not to the heavens, for answers and says we should all be concerned about the religious right.

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA AREA - His message is clear: Jesus is not coming. Not today. Not ever.

At 59, James Young has spent almost a decade sharing his atheist beliefs with the public, driving every Wednesday morning from his home in Lithia to set up a tent at the University of South Florida Bull Market.

Even on the coldest morning, Young is there, ready to share, and sometimes debate, his views with anyone who will listen that there is, in fact, no such being as God.

"There are a lot of religious groups that set up tents there," said Young, a retired controls analyst. "It's important for these young people to know there is an alternative point of view."

What may surprise some of these students is that in his early adulthood, Young was an evangelical minister, preaching in churches, and even on street corners, all over Tampa.

The transformation from devoting his life to Christ to becoming an atheist was a slow one, but for Young, completely logical.

He was raised a Southern Baptist and at age 16 was introduced to a church that he called "a little more charismatic." He found great comfort in the church, socially and spiritually, and eventually identified with the Pentecostal movement.

"I got on fire for God," he said.

With Bible in hand, Young would often sit with friends comparing approaches to Christianity, he said. It was the first time that he recognized there might be different ways to interpret God's word.

Yet at the same time he was being taught that those who did not follow the Pentecostal approach to Christianity were doomed, and that caused him great conflict.

"My church was teaching that other denominations were going to hell because they didn't practice and follow Jesus' teaching the correct way," he said. "Well, what is the "correct' way?"

Both realizations brought Young to the conclusion that the Bible was not perfect, and that these inconsistencies made it difficult to be a complete believer.

Slowly the fire and brimstone began to wear away, and Young began to form his own dogma.

"The ultimate result was that I decided none of it was believable," he said. "I saw the absurdity, the false promises. It was all baloney."

That was 1978.

Young moved to Plant City with his wife and never went to church again.

Several years passed, and Young quietly explored his newfound atheism. He joined a humanist group in Tampa and espoused their belief that all people must take responsibility for providing solutions to human problems in lieu of reliance on supernatural solutions.

Then, in the late '90s, more fire and brimstone.

"All of a sudden the fundamentalist right Christians were becoming very militant, as they are today," he said. "They're only content when they're forcing their religious beliefs on everyone in this country through legislation."

Now when Young preaches, it is not the words of Peter or James that he recounts but the damage he perceives is happening because of the religious right.

Referring to prayer in public schools or the teaching of intelligent design to explain evolution, Young is adamant about what he sees as the dangers.

"Public schools need to be secular because if they are used for religious brainwashing, we will never have a free society," he said. "If you look at any theocratic state throughout history, it was never a free and open society."

And with the recent Supreme Court nominations that have possibly tilted that judicial body to the right, Young said he is truly worried about what might come next. He predicts an end to abortion rights and the beginning of prayer in school.

In fact, from the executive branch all the way to local government, Young said, "we are becoming a theocratic fascist state - hate and bigotry in a society that is touted as being free and equal, when we are really not equal."

He cited recent decisions made by local officials, including the county's refusal to recognize any gay pride event and the School Board's reversal of its decision to take religious holidays off the school calendar.

"I don't know how long it will take for the pendulum to swing back again," he said, "but for now, I think it's a dark day ahead."

In his effort to make a difference, Young said, he will continue to spread the word of atheism and humanism, particularly at USF.

"I want these young people to know that there are a few of us out there who think that Jesus is not the answer, but that these kids are the answer."

For more information about the Atheists of Florida, call 813 835-1500.


Thursday, February 16, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Charged With Incest

QUEENS NY-- The pastor of a Westbury, LI, church has been charged with sexually abusing his three daughters at their Rockaway residence over the last 4½ years.

"What allegedly happened to these children is every child's and every mother's worst nightmare" district attorney Richard A. Brown said. "Even after the physical abuse has stopped, the consequences of such sexual assault for victims are profound and can result in emotion trauma from which they may never recover."

Morales Saintilus, 53, of Rockaway, Queens, pastor of the Eben-Ezer Baptist Church, located at 859 Prospect Avenue in Westbury, is being held pending arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on four counts of incest, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of sexual abuse in the second degree.

If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison. According to court records in Queens Criminal Court, it is alleged that the defendant, between July 2001 and January 2006, had sexual intercourse with his eldest daughter approximately twice a week. The daughter is presently 19 years old. It is further alleged that the defendant, between September 2004 and June 2005, sexually abused his two younger daughters on a total of 17 occasions. At the time of the incidents, both daughters were less than 14 years old.


Pastor blames demons, not mental illness

Defense accuses him, husband of downplaying Plano mom's behavior

MCKINNEY TX - The pastor of a charismatic Christian church attended by the Plano mother on trial, accused of fatally cutting off the arms of her 10-month-old daughter, told jurors Wednesday that mental illness is really demon possession that cannot be cured with psychiatry or medicine.

"I do not believe that any mental illness exists other than demons, and no medication can straighten it out, other than the power of God," said Doyle Davidson, the 73-year-old minister of the Water of Life Church that Dena and John Schlosser attended several times a week.

Dena Schlosser, 37, is on trial for capital murder in the slaying of her daughter Margaret in November 2004.

She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Schlosser was arrested after police, responding to a 911 call, found her in the living room of her apartment, blood smeared on her face and clothes, a Christian hymn playing and a Bible open near the crib where the child was killed.

Defense lawyers have faulted her husband and Davidson for downplaying her strange behavior and cutting short treatment of a psychotic condition that began after the birth of her third child in January 2004.

John Schlosser testified Tuesday that he did not seek medical help when his wife told him she wanted to "give the baby to God" about a week before their daughter's death.

Davidson said he hardly knew the family, although John Schlosser testified earlier that he and his wife talked with Davidson days before the attack and that the pastor was the first person he called after it.

"I talked with him maybe three times, I don't remember what about," Davidson said.

Davidson also testified that he has cast demons out of parishioners and seen evil spirits, including one that was 6 feet tall with a long tail. The former veterinarian, who has no formal religious training, has a cable TV show in the Dallas area and several states.

The Rev. Kathryn Self, another defense witness, called the beliefs of Davidson's church outside mainstream Christianity.

In the week leading up to the slaying, Dena Schlosser had expressed concern that Davidson was being persecuted by police regarding an incident in September 2004 in which he was arrested and accused of public intoxication, her husband testified Tuesday.

A police report states the pastor was in the home of another married member of his congregation, sitting on top of her and trying to choke out evil spirits.

Davidson told jurors that God had pledged the woman to him and that demons were keeping them apart, but he denied he was drunk or was trying to choke her.

Also Wednesday, three Plano police officers testified that Schlosser repeatedly chanted, "Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord" in the hours after her arrest. Plano police officer Sean White said the chant varied from soft to loud, and once Schlosser seemed to turn purple and pass out. Another officer testified he heard her making guttural, growling sounds as she waited to be treated for an apparently self-inflicted knife wound to her shoulder.


Anaheim Pastor Arrested in Alleged Molestations

The pastor of an Anaheim CA church has been arrested on suspicion of molesting three boys and a girl — all congregants whom he met during services, authorities said Wednesday.

Raul Rosas Hernandez, 41, of Anaheim was released from Orange County Jail on $100,000 bail Wednesday. He is facing charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, officials said.

The children, 8 to 13 years old at the time of the alleged molestation, were members of churches that Hernandez attended or where he was a pastor. Investigators said the incidents occurred over a 16-year period.

"He used the tight-knit community of a church to gain the confidence of the victim's parents and ultimately molested the children," said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which made the arrest Tuesday.

Hernandez is suspected of inappropriately touching the children while they were at his former house in Stanton, in his car and at a church, Amormino said.

The allegations surfaced this week when a girl came forward and told a relative, who called police.

Authorities said Hernandez allegedly seduced the girl and a boy, both members of Fe en Accion, or Faith in Action church, in the 600 block of North Anaheim Boulevard in Anaheim, where he has been a pastor for seven years.

Two other boys were allegedly molested while they attended Casa de Oracion, or House of Prayer, in La Habra and Amor de Cristo, or Love of Christ, in Garden Grove.

Hernandez also attended the churches, both of which are now defunct.

In his neighborhood, where his home is decorated with angel figurines, residents described Hernandez as a friendly man who kept to himself.

He could not be reached for comment.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Church counselor pleads guilty to sex crimes with minors

A High Point North Carolina man was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to having sexual relations with a 12-year-old girl.

Charles Douglas Parry, 36, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child, 13 counts of first-degree rape, three counts of first-degree sex offense and one of felonious restraint.

Assistant District Attorney Randy Carroll said Parry began having sex with the girl in January 2005 while he was a counselor for the youth group at the church where she was a member.

Parry was making sexual comments to the girl six months before their liaison began during a youth group trip to Tennessee, Carroll said.

Parry's relationship with the girl was exposed in mid-July when he took her, without her parents permission, to Virginia. After a three-day search he was arrested and the girl returned to her family.

At first the girl denied having a sexual relationship with Parry because she felt close to him and was trying to protect him, Carroll said. But in August she admitted to having 74 sexual encounters with Parry.

Also, Carroll said police had tested DNA evidence that proves Parry had sex with the girl.

Carroll said he proposed a plea bargain because the girl's family wanted to spare her the emotional trauma of testifying.

Frances Browne, a friend whom the family had asked to be their spokeswoman, read a statement from the family explaining that they did not want her to testify because they felt she had been traumatized enough.

"She has been in counseling and will continue to need counseling for years," Browne said.

Parry's lawyer, J. Scott Coalter, argued that the girl was pressured into admitting to having a sexual relationship with his client.

Parry's wife, Melody, testified that the girl baby-sat for the couple's three children. She said she became the girl's confidant because the 12-year-old was having trouble with her parents.

Melody Parry said the girl called her and swore that nothing sexual had happened when another counselor from the church youth group accused the girl of having sex with her husband while in Tennessee.

Melody Parry said her husband took the girl to Virginia in July because the 12-year-old told them that the church's youth coordinator had called the Department of Social Services and was planning to take the couple's children.

Charles Parry's "trek to Virginia was just blind panic," Coalter said.

Melody Parry also used her knowledge as a nursing assistant to dispute the prosecution's DNA evidence.

Before Superior Court Judge Jim Webb sentenced her husband, Parry pleaded for leniency.

"He's the love of my life," she said. "He's the father of my children. He means the world to me."

The judge sentenced Charles Parry to a minimum of 18 years and a maximum of 22 years and four months in prison. Parry was also ordered to register with the state sexual offenders program and pay lawyer fees and court costs.


Their Own Version of a Big Bang

Those who believe in creationism -- children and adults -- are being taught to challenge evolution's tenets in an in-your-face way.

WAYNE, N.J. — Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.

"Boys and girls," Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, "you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"

The children roared their assent.

"Sometimes people will answer, 'No, but you weren't there either,' " Ham told them. "Then you say, 'No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.' " He waved his Bible in the air.

"Who's the only one who's always been there?" Ham asked.

"God!" the boys and girls shouted.

"Who's the only one who knows everything?"


"So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?"

The children answered with a thundering: "God!"

A former high-school biology teacher, Ham travels the nation training children as young as 5 to challenge science orthodoxy. He doesn't engage in the political and legal fights that have erupted over the teaching of evolution. His strategy is more subtle: He aims to give people who trust the biblical account of creation the confidence to defend their views — aggressively.

He urges students to offer creationist critiques of their textbooks, parents to take on science museum docents, professionals to raise the subject with colleagues. If Ham has done his job well, his acolytes will ask enough pointed questions — and set forth enough persuasive arguments — to shake the doctrine of Darwin.

"We're going to arm you with Christian Patriot missiles," Ham, 54, recently told the 1,200 adults gathered at Calvary Temple here in northern New Jersey. It was a Friday night, the kickoff of a heavily advertised weekend conference sponsored by Ham's ministry, Answers in Genesis.

To a burst of applause, Ham exhorted: "Get out and change the world!"

Over the last two decades, this type of "creation evangelism" has become a booming industry. Several hundred independent speakers promote biblical creation at churches, colleges, private schools, Rotary clubs. They lead tours to the Grand Canyon or the local museum to study the world through a creationist lens.

They churn out stacks of home-schooling material. A geology text devotes a chapter to Noah's flood; an astronomy book quotes Genesis on the origins of the universe; a science unit for second-graders features daily "evolution stumpers" that teach children to argue against the theory that is a cornerstone of modern science.

Answers in Genesis is the biggest of these ministries. Ham co-founded the nonprofit in his native Australia in 1979. The U.S. branch, funded mostly by donations, has an annual budget of $15 million and 160 employees who produce books and DVDs, maintain a comprehensive website, and arrange more than 500 speeches a year for Ham and four other full-time evangelists.

With pulpit-thumping passion, Ham insists the Bible be taken literally: God created the universe and all its creatures in six 24-hour days, roughly 6,000 years ago.

Hundreds of pastors will preach a different message Sunday, in honor of Charles Darwin's 197th birthday. In a national campaign, they will tell congregations that it's possible to be a Christian and accept evolution.

Ham considers that treason. When pastors dismiss the creation account as a fable, he says, they give their flock license to disregard the Bible's moral teachings as well. He shows his audiences a graphic that places the theory of evolution at the root of all social ills: abortion, divorce, racism, gay marriage, store clerks who say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

The science Ham finds so dangerous holds that the first primitive scraps of genetic material appeared on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago. From these humble beginnings, a huge diversity of species evolved over the eons, through lucky mutations and natural selection.

The vast majority of scientists find no credible evidence to dispute this account and a tremendous amount to support it. They've identified thousands of transitional fossils, such as a whale that lumbered on land; a bird with reptilian features; and "Lucy," a remote cousin of modern man who walked on two legs but swung from trees like a chimp.

Still, millions of Americans find evolution preposterous. Polls consistently show that roughly half of Americans believe the biblical account instead.

In the 1970s, Ham taught evolution and creationism side by side in Australian public schools. Raised in a Christian family, Ham trusted God's account over Darwin's; the more he studied Genesis, the more he felt moved to defend it. He quit teaching after five years to take up evangelism full time.

A father of five who bears an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, Ham moved his family to the U.S. in 1987. He worked for the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego and in 1994 founded the U.S. branch of Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky. America sorely needed someone to stand up for the Bible, he reasoned. With a network of Christian radio and TV, the U.S. also offered Ham a launch pad to take his movement global.

The gamble paid off. Ham's daily 90-second broadcasts — on themes such as life in the Garden of Eden — are heard on more than 1,000 radio stations worldwide. He's building a $25 million Creation Museum near the Cincinnati international airport. He has produced dozens of books and videos for all ages, including a top-selling alphabet rhyme that begins: "A is for Adam, God made him from dust / He wasn't a monkey, he looked just like us."

At the heart of this vast ministry are the speaking tours — so popular that many are booked three years in advance. Ham, who earns about $120,000 a year, might address a few dozen men at a small-town service club or a packed family service at a suburban mega-church. His multimedia presentations swing in tone from revival meeting to college lecture.

About 6,000 adults and children attended at least some of the recent conference in this suburb north of Newark. (Tickets for the weekend cost $25 per family, though several events were free.)

In six hourlong lectures, Ham and his colleague David Menton, an anatomy professor retired from Washington University in St. Louis, laid out their best arguments for creationism. Ham described the fossil record as "billions of dead things … laid down by water" — proof, he said, of Noah's flood. Menton marveled at the mechanics of the human eye, far too intricate, he said, to have evolved by random mutation.

"We often come across to the world as if we have blind faith: 'The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it,' " Ham said. In his view, creationists need more than faith to win over the world. They need answers to the questions skeptics toss their way.

"We're giving you answers," Ham said. "We're like bulldozers, coming in to reclaim the ground."

In two 90-minute workshops for children, Ham adopted a much lighter tone, mocking scientists who think birds evolved from dinosaurs ("if that were true, I'd be worried about my Thanksgiving turkey!").

He showed the children a photo of a fossilized hat found in a mine to prove it doesn't take millions of years to create ancient-looking artifacts. He pointed out cave drawings of a creature resembling a brachiosaur to make the case that man lived alongside dinosaurs after God created all the land animals on Day 6.

In a bit that brought the house down, Ham flashed a picture of a chimpanzee. "Did your grandfather look like this?" he demanded.

"Noooooo!" the children called.

"And did your grandmother look like that?" Ham displayed a photo of the same chimp wearing lipstick. The children erupted in giggles. "Noooooo!"

"We are not just an animal," Ham said. He had the children repeat that, their small voices rising in unison: "We are not just an animal. We are made in the image of God."

As the session ended, Nicole Ableson, 34, rounded up her four young children. "This shows your kids that there are other people who are out there who believe what you believe, and who have done the research," she said. "So they don't think 'This is just my parents believing in fairy tales.' "

Emily Maynard, 12, was also delighted with Ham's presentation. Home-schooled and voraciously curious, she had recently read an encyclopedia for fun — and caught herself almost believing the entry on evolution. "They were explaining about apes standing up, evolving to man, and I could kind of see that's how it could happen," she said.

Ham convinced her otherwise. As her mother beamed, Emily repeated Ham's mantra: "The Bible is the history book of the universe."

Ben Watson wasn't quite as confident. His father, a pastor in Staten Island, N.Y., had let him skip a day of second grade to attend. Ben went to public school, the Rev. Dave Watson explained, "and I thought it would be good for him to get a different perspective" for an upcoming project on Tyrannosaurus rex.

"You going to put in your report that dinosaurs are millions of years old?" Watson, 46, asked his son.

"No…. " Ben said. He hesitated. "But that's what my book says…. "

"It's a lot to think about," his dad reassured him. "We'll do more research."

Ham encourages people to further their research with the dozens of books and DVDs sold by his ministry. They give answers to every question a critic might ask: How did Noah fit dinosaurs on the ark? He took babies. Why didn't a tyrannosaur eat Eve? All creatures were vegetarians until Adam's sin brought death into the world. How can we have modern breeds of dog like the poodle if God finished his work 6,000 years ago? He created a dog "kind" — a master blueprint — and let evolution take over from there.

Accountant Paul Ingis, 43, has been studying such material for years, and looks for opportunities to share the answers he's mastered. When clients ask what he's been up to, Ingis responds that he's been studying creation science. If they express interest, he launches into his routine.

"It's fishing. You never know when you might meet the one in 1,000 who will listen," Ingis said.

It's impossible to measure the success of the one-on-one evangelizing inspired by Answers in Genesis. But Glenn Branch, who defends evolution for a living, does not doubt it's having an effect.

Ham and his fellow evangelists "do a lot to promote a climate of ignorance, skepticism and hostility with respect to evolution," said Branch, deputy director of the nonprofit National Center for Science Education.

Evolution has scored a few high-profile victories. A federal judge ruled in December that the school board in Dover, Pa., could not require teachers to discuss intelligent design (the concept that some life is so complex, it could not have evolved by random chance). And in Cobb County, Ga., a federal judge ruled that disclaimers pasted onto science textbooks were illegal. (The stickers, removed last year, called evolution "a theory, not a fact.")

Still, those who teach and promote evolution say the challenges are multiplying.

Several Imax theaters in the South — including a few in science museums — have refused to show movies that mention evolution or the Earth's age.

Bills that would allow or require science teachers to mention alternatives to evolution have been introduced in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. State boards of education in Kansas and Ohio adopted guidelines that single out evolution for critique. The governor of Kentucky used his State of the Commonwealth address to encourage public schools to teach alternative theories of man's origins.

A national conference for science teachers in the spring will focus on helping them respond to creationists' challenges. In an informal survey, the National Science Teachers Assn. found that nearly a third of its members felt pressured to play down evolution.

Ham's dream is to increase that pressure.

He will evangelize in Rocky Mount, N.C., next weekend and in Bossier City, La., after that. The month of March will take him to Modesto; Avon, Ind.; and a college retreat outside Cincinnati. His colleagues from Answers in Genesis will match his pace, preaching over the next few weeks in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.

At every stop, they will recruit men, women and children to stand up for God as the creator.


Saturday, February 11, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Madison Twp. church leader accused of using parishioner's ID

The pastor of a Madison Township church faces charges in Painesville Municipal Court that he used the identity of a member of his congregation to procure prescription pain medication.

According to Lt. Ed Ebert of the Lake County Narcotics Agency, the Rev. David S. Reed, 38, of 6124 Maxwell Drive, Madison Township, is charged with three fifth-degree felony counts of deception to obtain a dangerous drug and three first-degree misdemeanor counts of identity fraud.

Reed is pastor of Chapel United Methodist Church, 2019 Hubbard Road.

Ebert said the narcotics agency made quick work of the case, largely through the help of an astute pharmacist.

"What happened was, (Reed) used the name of one of his parishioners who is a doctor," Ebert said. "And he managed to pick up three prescriptions for Darvocet. He claimed he was Dr. so-and-so, and even knew the guy's DEA number and all the right information."

Ebert said it was Reed's fourth attempt to fill the bogus prescription that aroused the pharmacy's suspicions.

"The fourth time he called, the girl that answered knew the doctor he was claiming to be and she recognized that the voice over the phone wasn't his," the lieutenant said.

Ebert said the pharmacy employee then called the actual doctor's office and asked whether he was phoning in these prescriptions.

"She was sharp enough to catch that," Ebert said. "That actually happens a lot around here. We have a lot of really sharp pharmacists who know when things just don't seem right and they'll often call us."

Ebert said Reed cooperated fully with the agency's investigation and admitted to the charges from the start.

"He's been very cooperative with us and with our investigation," Ebert said.
According to an affidavit filed in Painesville Municipal Court, the activities of which Reed is accused happened at Rite Aid Pharmacy, 6655 N. Ridge Road in Madison Township on Dec. 31, Jan. 8 and Jan. 10.

Reed, reached by phone Friday afternoon at his residence, said he suffers chronic pain, largely due to several surgeries he's undergone in the past.
"I've got a grocery list of health problems," Reed said. "The main thing I'm dealing with is chronic abdominal pain ..."

He said he is between health care providers and, due to a lag in paperwork transmission between doctor's offices, he was unable to get the medication he needed.
"I couldn't get anything from my doctor," he said. "I'm between pain management doctors right now and it's just taking time for the proper paperwork to go through."
Reed was arraigned Friday by Acting Painesville Municipal Court Judge David Koerner. He is free on a $3,500 personal recognizance bond.

He is due back in court at 9:30 a.m. March 13 for a pretrial and preliminary hearing, court records show.

Each fifth-degree felony count carries from six to 12 months' confinement and up to a $2,500 fine. Each first-degree misdemeanor count carries up to 180 days' confinement and up to a $1,000 fine.

Reed said Friday that he plans to continue his work at the church.


Bail set for pastor in abuse case

A Long Island pastor accused of repeatedly sexually abusing his three teenage daughters at their Queens home was held on $10,000 bail set Friday in Queens Criminal Court, authorities said.

Before Judge Alex J. Zigman, the pastor pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree sexual abuse, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and four counts of incest.

The pastor, 53, whose name has been withheld by Newsday to protect his daughters' identities, faces up to 4 years in prison if convicted.

His attorney, Sean McNichols, of Kew Gardens, said his client's family described the pastor as a "loving, caring father" and said they "entirely support him 100 percent." McNichols said the family was gathering bail money.

According to the Queens district attorney's office, the pastor had sex with his eldest daughter, now 19, about twice a week between July 2001 and last month. He sexually abused his two other daughters, at the time both were younger than 14, at least 17 times between September 2004 and last June, the office said.

The pastor was arrested and charged Thursday after his eldest daughter confided in a cousin and word finally reached the girl's mother. No one at the Nassau County church, which is affiliated with the American Baptist Church USA, could be reached Friday. The accused has been a pastor there since 1988. "This whole thing is devastating," said the Rev. James Stalling of the New York chapter of the American Baptist Church USA. "Everyone ... is in our prayers."


Thursday, February 09, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor accused of illegally harvesting sharks

The pastor of a Bay Area church, four men in the aquarium industry and a commercial fisherman were indicted on federal charges of illegally catching and selling hundreds of juvenile leopard sharks, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The indictment charged Kevin Thompson, 48, pastor of the Bay Area Family Church in San Leandro, and the five others with selling 465 leopard sharks that were too small to harvest to pet distributors throughout the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

California leopard sharks, which can take 13 years to reach maturity, live as long as 30 years and are protected under a state law that prohibits the commercial catching of specimens under 36 inches long. The indictment, which alleges that federal wildlife agents seized sharks ranging from 8 1/2-inches to 17 1/2-inches in length, was based on a federal statute that incorporates the state law.

The charges resulted from an investigation that followed the 2003 conviction of a pet distributor who was caught with more than a dozen leopard sharks from California, said Luke Macaulay, a spokesman in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco.

The leopard shark’s gray body and black bars make it a “particularly attractive” species, said Christina Slager, a curator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which helped care for some of the confiscated fish. They are common along the California, Oregon and Baja California coasts and travel in schools, she said.

“In general sharks are struggling in the wild, and leopard sharks are no different,” Slager said. “If these animals aren’t allowed to reach an age or size where they can reproduce before they are removed from the environment, that has drastic implications for future generations.”

The other five defendants named in the indictment are: John Newberry, 34, of Hayward; Ira Gass, 53, of Azusa; Hiroshi Ishikawa, 36, of San Leandro, Vincent Ng, 43, of Oakland; and Sion Lim, 39, of San Francisco.

The six defendants were arrested on Tuesday, when the indictment was unsealed. Two pleaded not guilty. The Associated Press was unable to reach the other four. They face maximum penalties of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and possible requirement to pay restitution for each count, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“I can not believe that the federal government is charging these gentlemen with criminal activity,” said Jerome Matthews, a federal public defender representing Thompson.

Seven of the 19 baby leopard sharks confiscated during the two-year investigation died, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. Three are on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and nine were returned to the wild in the summer of 2004.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Church arson follows pastor's arrest

SALISBURY -- State investigators have ruled arson as the cause of a fire at a Mount Hermon Road church, only days after one of its pastors was accused of having an improper relationship with a minor in the congregation.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office said the 10:47 p.m. Friday fire at New Life the Apostolic Church was started when somebody went into the church and ignited flammable material.

Investigators said Saturday it took 40 firefighters from Salisbury about five minutes to control the blaze, which caused about $85,000 in damage. The fire was contained to the church's foyer and it is not expected to force the 400 members to another church.

"It is just a shock that somebody could do this," said one church member, who declined to be identified.

The arson comes two days after one of the church's pastors was charged by police with having an improper relationship with a minor.

Joshua Wayne Lawson, 29, of Salisbury is charged with sex abuse, second-degree assault, perverted practice, a fourth-degree sex offense and contributing to the condition of a child rendering that child in need of assistance, said detectives from the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center late Friday.

Police said between August and November 2005, Lawson allegedly was involved in an extended sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl who attends the church where Lawson serves as a youth minister.

After an investigation by WCAC officials, an arrest warrant was issued for Lawson. He was taken into custody Wednesday at the church and charged.

Authorities did not comment Saturday if there was a connection between the two incidents.

Lawson was transported to Wicomico County Detention Center where he was held on bond, police said Friday. His criminal disposition was not available Saturday.

Officials from the church were not available for comment.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Accused Of Throwing Puppies From Pickup Truck

A Springfield Fla. pastor was arrested and charged with animal cruelty after a witness told police he saw the pastor throwing puppies from a pickup truck

Robert Tiencken said he saw Vincent Kohn, pastor of The Anointed Church of God, throwing several puppies into the woods and leaving them to die.

"He was actually throwing them, not setting them down, but throwing them as far as the trees. Just chucking them," Tiencken said. "He said, 'I told my wife. You don't have to call the police. You don't have to call them.'"

Tiencken called the police anyway.

The detectives who tracked down Kohn said they found the malnourished mother of the puppies chained-up at Kohn's home along with four or five more puppies that had no food or water.

The dogs are now being cared for at animal control.

Many of the abused puppies had lost patches of fur and some were covered with sores hidden beneath their fur. Puppies Thrown From Pickup Truck

Channel 4 wanted to give the pastor a chance to speak for himself, but when reporter Jennifer Waugh arrived at Kohn's home a livid man pulled into the driveway and started yelling, cursing, and threatening to sue Channel 4.

"Any footage that y'all put on the news that shows you was past the property line, just know y'all going to get it," said the irate man.

He then sped away in reverse, nearly hitting an on coming vehicle. It was unclear if the man knew Kohn.

Kohn has been charged with abandonment and cruelty to animals with unnecessary suffering.

"I just wonder what his parishioners are going to think. It's just unbelievable," Tiencken said. "Just to haul buggy and leave them on the coldest night. It's just terrible."


Ripon man jailed for church sale

This is a follow-up to the article posted here.

A Ripon pastor accused of selling the town’s oldest church pleaded guilty to embezzlement on Monday and agreed to 16 months in prison, court officials said.

Randall Radic, 53, entered his plea in San Joaquin County Superior Court as part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop nine other charges.

Radic had preached at First Congregational Church for nearly a decade before he sold the church last October for $525,000, allegedly using the money to buy a BMW. He also faked documents that gave him possession of his house, which was owned by the church, then used the property to take out loans, authorities said.

Before the plea deal, Radic had faced up to nine years in prison for 10 counts, including two counts of theft by embezzlement, two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, four counts of forgery of signature and two counts of presenting a fraudulent document.

Radic’s attorney Michael Babitzke declined to comment on the case Monday.

Radic remains in San Joaquin County Jail on $750,000 bail. He was scheduled to appear for a formal sentencing and restitution hearing on March 16.