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Tuesday, November 24, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor under fire following revelation of criminal past

The congregation at First 6th Street Baptist Church in Port Arthur got a surprise last Sunday, Nov. 15. Near the end of a sermon on forgiveness, their new pastor - the Rev. Donald R.A. Toussaint Sr. - said he had something he needed to tell them.

According to church members who were at the service, Toussaint waved some unspecified documents and disclosed that 28 years ago he was accused of robbery and murder. He added that he had nothing to do with those crimes and said he was forced into this admission because "someone had spent $19.95 to dig up old records" in the case. Toussaint said the matter was closed and did not need to be brought up again.

That expressed hope that the issue was settled was not to be, as shocked members of the church committee that had overseen the search for a new pastor - and selected Toussaint from a field of 20 finalists - wondered how that information had not come up on the background check they did on all the candidates.

By the time a meeting of the church deacons convened two days later, they had even more questions. Toussaint began life as Donald Ray Abram and grew up in Columbia, Miss. In 1982, at the age of 21, Abram - as he was then known - was charged with capital murder, kidnapping and armed robbery for his part in the robbery of a convenience store in which two people were killed with a shotgun. Also charged was Herman Barnes, 22.

The crime shocked the Columbia community. The store clerk at Jack's Quick Stop was high-school student Loretta Carson, 16, who was shot to death after handing over the money. A customer who arrived after she was killed, Percy Quin, 58, worked for the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board. He was killed when the robbers returned to the store.

Abram and Barnes were tried separately. Barnes, the acknowledged triggerman in the dual homicide, was convicted of capital murder. When the jury could not agree on the death penalty, he was automatically sentenced to life. Abram was not so lucky. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on March 29, 1984. Execution of that sentence was postponed because of numerous issues raised at Abram's trial, including the validity of the confession obtained by law enforcement, the exclusion of blacks from the jury through challenges by the prosecution, and the fact the acknowledged triggerman was not sentenced to death.

Ultimately, the conviction was tossed out. Under a plea agreement in 1992, Abram pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of armed robbery and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The last 10 years of that sentence were suspended under the condition that he remain outside the state of Mississippi. With the time he had already served in prison while this matter was adjudicated, Abram was soon a free man.

It was a long way from that courtroom in Marion County to the pulpit at the church in Port Arthur. Members of the pastoral search committee now understood why their background check had failed to discover this case - because Toussaint was not his name when those events occurred. According to one member of the committee who did not wish to be identified for this story, when asked when he changed his name, Toussaint said he didn't remember but noted he had a passport with that name. He also backed away from previous claims that he was cleared in the case, did not take part in the robbery, did not know codefendant Barnes and had not served any time in prison - but refused to discuss the case.

Toussaint had gotten the job in the first place because he wowed the search committee - and the congregation - when he came to preach as a guest minister during the search process.

First 6th Street Baptist Church is a strong church that is more than 100 years old, though the West Port Arthur neighborhood where it stands has seen better days. Earlier urban renewal efforts in the surrounding blocks stalled after many older houses and commercial buildings were razed, leaving blocks of vacant lots where no rebuilding has occurred.

The congregation has dwindled to fewer than 400, with many who have left the neighborhood only returning for church services. But they have maintained a strong internal structure, and Toussaint was hired for his ability to preach the gospel, not to overturn decades of structured leadership, according to some long-time church members.

Even before the revelations about his real name and criminal background, some deacons were aghast at Toussaint's stated desire to change long-standing church by-laws in favor of a more "biblical" approach. Some interpreted that to mean transferring more power and control into the hands of the pastor in keeping with Scripture.

Under current church by-laws, Toussaint's selection as pastor earlier this year must be confirmed by a vote of the congregation. That vote could come as early as next Tuesday, Nov. 24, but these recent revelations could change the timing of the vote.

Toussaint apparently has an impressive manner with Baptist church pastoral selection committees. In 2006, he was selected by the Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton, N.J., as its pastor. Another long-standing church with strong community ties and a solid core of deacons and elders, Friendship felt fortunate to have snagged this charismatic preacher.

Toussaint was hired by Friendship in December 2006 and installed in an elaborate ceremony in March 2007 that the Rev. Al Sharpton was slated to attend before sending his regrets due to difficulties with air connections from California. But according to sources familiar with Toussaint's tenure with that church, the deacons soon became concerned with the actions of their new pastor when he made clear his desire to amend Friendship Baptist Church's by-laws to make them "more biblical."

According to Paul Maselli, an attorney with the Trenton firm that represents the church, the deacons had decided to terminate Toussaint's contract and were trying to determine the amount of his severance package. After an advance on his salary that had been granted for moving expenses was subtracted, the contract indicated Toussaint was owed around $7,000. Church officials were stunned when Toussaint produced a copy of the contract that called for him to receive a buyout worth $194,000. Maselli said no other copies of the contract contained the clause, which appeared on Toussaint's copy on a page initialed only by Toussaint.

Maselli said no members of Friendship Baptist Church or their attorneys were familiar with the background of their former pastor. Toussaint has filed a breach of contract suit against Friendship seeking the $194,000.


Pastor jailed on church theft charges

A former pastor at the Live Oak Community Church in Oakley was jailed Monday on charges he supported a lavish lifestyle by incurring debt in the church's name, including a $111,000 mortgage loan obtained by falsifying documents.

Arcadio "Larry" Pineda, 65, was charged Friday with three felonies — grand theft and two counts of filing false documents. Investigators with the District Attorney's Office arrested him at his Oakley home Monday and booked him into Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez on $110,000 bail.

Pineda filed falsified documents with the secretary of state and the county recorder in 2008 to gain false authority to obtain the mortgage loan that used the church building as collateral, deputy district attorney Ken McCormick said.

Pineda spent all but $10,000 of the $110,000 loan to make payments on numerous credit cards taken out earlier in the church's name and used to pay for a trip to Israel, dinners, donations to political campaigns, his DirecTV bill and more, McCormick said.

Pineda is further accused of using offerings for the church for his personal use. Meanwhile, the church was paying Pineda a $42,000 annual salary.

"He was living off these credit cards to support a lifestyle beyond his means," McCormick said.

McCormick said statute of limitations stopped prosecutors from filing charges related to the credit cards.

The District Attorney's Office began investigating Pineda in the spring after reading in the Times about a lawsuit that church trustees had filed against him, his wife, Lucretia Amendola, and former church secretary Ruby Hattaway. Amendola and Hattaway were also investigated but were not charged.

The civil case has since been dismissed after Pineda and Hattaway filed for bankruptcy.

Church leaders will now focus on a suit filed against a lender, who has a lien on the church building, said attorney Jim Price, who represents the church.

Pineda's arrest could help prove the documents used to obtain the loan were false, and therefore invalid, Price said.

"The church gets their decision without paying any legal fees," he said.

Price said the money left unspent was taken and given back to the lender as payment for a year, with any remaining funds to be spent on the principal balance.

Church officials say they are pleased the arrest was made because they can avoid paying future legal fees to prove their case, but church trustee Robert Reeves wasn't completely happy with what took place. On Monday, he and other trustees were in prayer for Pineda, he said.

"We prayed today for mercy," Reeves said, "and that he would be able to learn from the experience."

Pineda had been pastor of the close-knit Christian church since 1999. The church, known by many as "the little white church on Highway 4," operates in a former 1900s schoolhouse on Live Oak Avenue and Main Street.

Pineda resigned from the church in March and faces possible prison time if convicted.

"I wish there was another way to work it out," Reeves said, "but we had to prove fraud and the embezzlement without spending a lot of money."


Police: Help us find Gaston County pastor charged with raping teen

Police are searching for a Gaston County pastor charged with raping and molesting a teen girl.

Robert Lee Adams, 46, began sexually abusing the girl when she was younger than 13 and got her pregnant about three years later, according to the Gaston County Police Department. Authorities have been searching for Adams for nine months.

The girl gave birth in the summer of 2008, and an investigation led police to Adams, said Gaston County Police Capt. Joe Ramey.

Ramey said Adams was pastor of Mount Calvary Tabernacle at the corner of Linwood Road and Camp Rotary Road in west Gastonia. Adams’ last known address is 1319 Rosewood Drive, Dallas.

“We hope someone recognizes Mr. Adams and calls us so we can take him into custody,” Ramey said. “Obviously with these kinds of allegations and warrants outstanding, this is not someone we want to be loose in the community.”

Adams may be traveling in a 1970s-model orange pickup truck. People have reported seeing Adams locally in Forest City and out-of-state in Tennessee and Texas.

Investigators want to interview Adams, who does not have a prior criminal record.

“This would be his opportunity as well to come forward and share his side of the story,” Ramey said. “When someone’s on the run, it makes it difficult to do that.”

The alleged sexual assault took place between February 2004 and March 2007, Ramey said. The girl is receiving counseling and other help from social service agencies.

Adams is charged with statutory rape, first-degree sex offense with a child, taking indecent liberties with a child and other sex offenses.

“We’d like to get this individual off the streets,” said Ramey. “It would certainly make the victim and some family members feel relief, and maybe bring some closure to the whole situation.”

Anyone with information on Adams’ whereabouts is asked to call the Gaston County Police Department at 704-866-3320 or Crime Stoppers at 704-861-8000.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Evangelist Tony Alamo Sentenced to 175 Years for Taking Girls Across State Lines for Sex

Tony Alamo, from a tract left on a car windshieldImage via Wikipedia

Evangelist Tony Alamo was sentenced Friday to 175 years in prison for taking little girls as young as 9 across state lines to have sex with them.

The decision punishes him for the rest of his life for molesting children he took as “brides” in his ministry.

Alamo, 75, had denied the charges, claiming they came from a Vatican-led conspiracy against the church he led, called the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

During Friday’s hearing in Texarkana, Ark., some of Alamo’s victims testified about how their families were destroyed while the evangelist took over their lives.

Alamo was convicted in July on a 10-count federal indictment. U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes said Alamo used his status as father figure and pastor and threatened and threatened the girls with “the loss of their salvation.”

“Mr. Alamo, one day you will face a higher a greater judge than me, may he have mercy on your soul,” Barnes said.


Ministers from Community of Christ Church among those charged in sex case

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsThe Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints

LEXINGTON, MO (AP) -- Authorities on Wednesday were searching a rural property in western Missouri for bodies and buried glass jars containing notes written more than 15 years ago by children who may have documented sexual abuse by five members of their own family.

Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh pleaded for the public's help, saying investigators "believe that there are other victims out there, and we believe people in the public can give us more information."

Alumbaugh said authorities believe there may be bodies buried on the property outside Bates City, which is about 30 miles east of Kansas City. He refused to say to whom any of the bodies would have belonged. The property and a nearby home is owned by a man unrelated to the case who is cooperating with authorities.

A small excavator could be seen moving across the property Wednesday. Two ambulances were parked nearby, and crews were searching a creek with metal detectors.

"There has been an indication that there are body or bodies in numerous locations," Alumbaugh said.

The five men were arrested Tuesday and are charged with several felonies, including forcible sodomy, rape with a child younger than 12 and use of a child in a sexual performance. The allegations, which include bestiality and forcing an 11-year-old to have an abortion, date from 1988 to 1995.

All five were being held in the Lafayette County jail on cash bonds ranging from $30,000 to $75,000. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys.

Three of the five men are lay ministers in the Community of Christ church whose licenses have been suspended, church spokeswoman Linda L. Booth said.

Cpl. Bill Lowe of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said one of the alleged victims, now 26, came forward to investigators in mid-August with the abuse allegations. A probable cause statement released by the Lafayette County prosecutor's office says other relatives of the woman have come forward accusing all five men of abuse, but it's unclear whether all the relatives were claiming to be abused.

Lowe said the woman told investigators that she and the other alleged victims buried glass jars around the property, filled with messages "about what was happening to them" when they were younger.

"Those jars have that information," Lowe said.

The woman told authorities she had "suppressed many of the memories of abuse perpetrated on her" and the other alleged victims, according to the probable cause statement.

Sgt. Collin Stosberg, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said adults told the children that if they wrote down bad memories and put them in a jar, "the bad memories would go away."

"That was what they were told. Write these memories down, put them in a jar and bury it and the memories would go away," Stosberg said. "It was a way for them to cope."

The probable cause statement identifies the relationship between the alleged victims and the suspects. The Associated Press, however, is not revealing that relationship to avoid identifying the alleged victims of sexual assault.

The woman who came forward claimed some of the men sexually abused her and her siblings, forced her to have sex with a dog, forced the siblings into fake marriages with relatives and forced her to watch as her brother was abused.

"She became pregnant and was made to have an abortion at age 11 1/2. She doesn't remember any sexual abuse after that date," the probable cause statement said.

The Lafayette County Sheriff's Department, the Rural Missouri Major Case Squad and the Highway Patrol were investigating, with the help of the Western Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force.

The suspects were identified as Burrell Edward Mohler Sr., 77, of Independence, and his sons, Burrell Edward Mohler Jr., 53, also of Independence; Jared Leroy Mohler, 48, of Columbia; Roland Neil Mohler, 47, of Bates City; and David A. Mohler, 52, of Lamoni, Iowa.

Police in Columbia seized a computer and discs from Jared Mohler's home on Tuesday, police spokeswoman Jessie Haden said. Jared Mohler is a database administrator at Carfax, a company that provides vehicle history reports to prospective buyers, a coworker said. He was arrested at work.

Another suspect, David Mohler, has worked for Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, for 27 years and was arrested on its Independence campus.

University President John Sellars said David Mohler periodically traveled to Independence to work on Graceland's phone systems there. He described David Mohler as "a very nice person who got along well with his colleagues."

Sellars said David Mohler and his wife, Michelle, has grown children, but he did not know their ages or where they lived.

Deborah Burris, who has lived across the street from Burrell Mohler Sr. for several years, described the suspect as a friendly, helpful neighbor.

"We didn't even know he had sons. We didn't know anyone but Burrell himself," Burris said.

She said she thought Mohler lived with his wife and a daughter, but she had never seen them. He was occasionally seen walking around the neighborhood but had appeared frail lately, Burris said.

She said Mohler's house has an apartment on the north side, and there had been "quite a bit of activity there at different times."

"I had thought maybe someone was moving in or out of there," Burris said.

Booth, the church spokeswoman, said none of the Mohlers served in leadership roles in the congregations they attended "nor did they serve as volunteer youth workers, teach children or youth church school, or work with children or youth."

"The church takes seriously the allegations that have been made and suspended the priesthood licenses of three lay ministers: Burrell Mohler Sr., David Mohler and Jared Mohler," the church said in a statement.

Booth said one of the men, whom she refused to identify, had been registered to work with children but that license has been terminated.

The Community of Christ, headquartered in Independence, split from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1860 and was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until 2001. It has about 250,000 members worldwide.


Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A preliminary report commissioned by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops on the roots of the clergy sex abuse scandal found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday.

The full report by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice won't be completed until the end of next year. But the authors said that their evidence to date found no data indicating that homosexuality was a predictor of abuse.

''What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse,'' said Margaret Smith of John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. ''At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.''

The entire story can be read by clicking here.

Friday, November 13, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Death threats force removal of atheist billboard

"Don't believe in God? You're not alone." was the message on a billboard put up by the Cincinnati Coalition of Reason (Cin CoR) on Reading Road at 12th Street, one block south of Liberty Street in Cincinnati. It went up on Tuesday but by Wednesday afternoon the group was told it would have to come down again. Lamar Advertising, the company that owns the billboard, leases the land on which it stands and the landowner wanted it taken down. He (or she) had been receiving death threats. Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason, said, "We weren't given the landowner's name or precise details, Nor did we pursue them. It was sufficient to learn that this person had received multiple, significant threats and that Lamar would act quickly to alleviate the problem. Nothing like this has ever happened to us before."

The billboard campaign in Cincinnati is only one of ten going on nationwide this year and, while the current situation is unique, threats are not. Additionally, Atheist billboards have been vandalized recently in Colorado and Idaho. Shawn Jeffers, co-coordinator for Cin CoR, said, "Everything that has happened shows just how vital our message is. It proves our point, that bigotry against people who don't believe in a god is still very real in America. Only when we atheists, agnostics and humanists come together and go public about our views will people have a chance to learn that we too are part of the community and deserve respect... Hopefully this turn of events will cause more and more nontheistic people in Cincinnati to realize how necessary it is to get organized."

Cin CoR announced today that the sign will be moved to a new location near the Sixth Street Viaduct where it won't be subject to landowner restrictions. They also announced that new billboards will be erected in Cleveland and Columbus.


A video report from WKRC Channel 12 in Cincinnati can be viewed here:

Priests Spar Over What It Means to Be Catholic

Sean Cardinal O'MalleyImage by Paul Keleher via Flickr

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally couch even the harshest disagreements in decorous, ecclesiastical language. But it didn't take a decoder ring to figure out what Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke meant in a late-September address when he charged Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley with being under the influence of Satan, "the father of lies."

Burke's broadside at O'Malley was inspired by the Cardinal's decision to permit and preside over a funeral Mass for the late Senator Ted Kennedy. And it has set the Catholic world abuzz. Even more than protests over the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak, disputes over the Kennedy funeral have brought into the open an argument that has been roiling within American Catholicism. The debate nominally centers on the question of how to deal with politicians who support abortion rights.

Read the entire article: Priests Spar Over What It Means to Be Catholic

Why I am not a Muslim

(Amherst, NY) — In response to the recent tragic events at Fort Hood, Texas, the Center for Inquiry, a secularist think tank, has released a statement/editorial from Ibn Warraq, Islamic scholar and leading figure in Quranic criticism.

Warraq is a senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry and author of five books, including Why I Am Not a Muslim and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism (both published by Prometheus Books). The statement follows below.

Denying Reality, or the Heavy Cost of Political Correctness, by Ibn Warraq

In the wake of the murder of 13 and the wounding of 38 soldiers at Fort Hood on November 5, media analysts, politicians, and other sundry experts scrambled to present the accused perpetrator of the acts, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, as a victim. In so doing they served, knowingly or otherwise, as apologists for radical Islam. From CNN to the New York Times, NPR to the Washington Post, the killings were presented as a result of racism. They were attributed to fear of deployment in Afghanistan and harassment from other soldiers. Cited were Major Hasan’s supposed maladjustment to his life and his sense of not belonging, pre-traumatic stress disorder, and various personal and mental problems. All these explanations are variations on what I have called “the Root Cause Fallacy,” which has been committed time and again since the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. The Root Cause Fallacy was designed to deflect attention away from Islam, in effect to exonerate Islam, which, we are told, is never to blame for acts of violence. On this view we must not hold a great world religion of peace responsible when individuals of that faith resort to force. We must dig deeper: the real cause is poverty, U.S. foreign policy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Western colonialism and exploitation, marital problems of individuals, and so on. The present “psychological” interpretations in the case of Major Hasan are just the latest example of the Root Cause Fallacy at work.

The Australian tells us that the mindset of Major Hasan remains a “mystery,” yet his Jihadist intentions are there on the surface for everyone not paralyzed by political correctness to see. According to CNN (Nov. 7), on the morning of the shootings Hasan gave copies of the Koran to his neighbors. According to the Associated Press (Nov. 6), soldiers reported that Hasan shouted out “Allahu Akbar” [God is Great] – the war cry of all Jihadis – before firing off over a hundred rounds with two pistols in a center where some 300 unarmed soldiers had lined up for vaccines and eye tests. NPR informs us that Hasan was put on probation early in his postgraduate work at the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., for proselytizing about his Muslim faith with patients and colleagues. The Associated Press (Nov. 11) adds that classmates who studied with Hasan from in that postgraduate program reported Hasan making a presentation during their studies “that justified suicide bombing” and spewed “anti-American propaganda,” denouncing the war on terror as “a war against Islam.” Classmate Val Finnell and another student complained about Hasan, shocked that someone with “this type of vile ideology” would be allowed to wear an officer’s uniform. But, importantly, no one filed a formal complaint about Hasan’s views and comments for fear of appearing discriminatory — in other words, out of political correctness. According to The Telegraph (Nov. 6), Army colleagues reported that Major Hasan had condemned U.S. foreign policy, that he clearly declared that Muslims had the right to rise up and attack Americans, that he expressed happiness when a U.S. soldier was killed in an attack on a military recruitment center in Arkansas in June, and that he said people should strap bombs on themselves and go to Times Square. It has been widely reported that Major Hasan attended the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia Falls during the time that Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda preacher with extensive terrorist connections, was its main preacher. Awlaki even praised Major Hasan as a hero on November 9, four days after the Fort Hood attacks. The Times of London revealed (Nov. 10) that Major Hasan had been in direct correspondence with Awlaki, in connection with which Hasan had already been under investigation by the F.B.I. Almost every news source has reported that Major Hasan was also under investigation by federal law enforcement officials for his postings to an internet site speaking favorably of suicide bombing.

Fortunately, not all in the media were hamstrung by political correctness. Here is Ralph Peters in the New York Post (Nov. 6): “On Thursday afternoon, a radicalized Muslim U.S. Army officer shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ committed the worst act of terror on American soil since 9/11. And no one wants to call it an act of terror or associate it with Islam. What cowards we are. Political correctness killed those patriotic Americans at Ft. Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did. And the media treat it like a case of non-denominational shoplifting. This was a terrorist act. When an extremist plans and executes a murderous plot against our unarmed soldiers to protest our efforts to counter Islamist fanatics, it’s an act of terror. Period.”

There was a laudable concern among Americans about a possible “backlash” against all American Muslims. What backlash? Even following the September 11 attacks with their 2,976 victims, Americans behaved with exemplary restraint. They behaved in a civilized manner in the face of barbarism.

It is time to abandon apologetics, and political correctness. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims are implicated in the horrendous events of September 11, 2001 — or of November 5, 2009. However, to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with 9/11 or the Fort Hood massacre is willfully to ignore the obvious. To leave Islam out of the equation means to forever misinterpret events. Without Islam, the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence by Osama bin Laden and his followers make little sense. Without Islam, the West will go on being incapable of understanding our terrorist enemies, and hence will be incapable to deal with them. Without Islam, neither is it possible to comprehend the barbarism of the Taliban, the position of women and non-Muslims in Islamic countries, or — now– the murders attributed to Major Hasan.

We are confronted, after all, with Islamic terrorists; and we must take the Islamic component seriously. Westerners in general and Americans in particular no longer seem able to grasp the passionate religious convictions of Islamic terrorists. It is this passionate conviction, directed against the West and against non-Muslims in general, that drives them. They are truly, and literally, God-intoxicated fanatics. If we refuse to understand that, we cannot understand them.

Jihad is “a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad. It is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Koran and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam and repelling evil from Muslims.” That is how it is described in no lesser source than the Dictionary of Islam, so we should not pretend surprise if Islamic terrorists see their mission in such terms.

In the wake of the Fort Hood Massacre, America’s armed forces, the F.B.I., C.I.A., Department of Homeland Security and other counter-terrorist bodies face some difficult decisions about Muslims employed in their services. After all, the view Major Hasan expressed – that Muslims in the U.S. Armed Forces should not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anyplace where they might have to kill fellow Muslims – is precisely in keeping with fatwas issued by such Muslim leaders as Ali Gum’a, the mufti of Egypt, which forbade Muslim soldiers to take part in the so-called War on Terror.

When Muslim soldiers or agents or operatives feel that their primary allegiance is to Islam and not the United States, can we safely allow their service to continue? It is an agonizing question, but one we must confront; however, we cannot properly confront this question while we struggle to pretend that Islam itself is not part of the dispute.

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is


Thursday, November 12, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor pleas guilty to sexual assault charge

A pastor charged in connection with the sexual assault of a teenage girl has entered a guilty plea in the case.

Timothy Allen Ortiz, 44, Midland, appeared before Midland County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan E. Lauderbach late this morning to enter the plea.

According to court papers, Ortiz entered the plea to a count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct-incest, a charge that was added after he was arraigned. In return for the plea, the original charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving force or coercion will be dismissed. Each of the felony charges is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Ortiz was arrested Sept. 21 at his home by Midland County Sheriff's deputies, and was arraigned the next day by Midland County District Court Judge John H. Hart, who set bond at $200,000 cash. Ortiz last month waived a preliminary exam in the case, which is a hearing for a judge to decide if a crime was committed and if there is probable cause to believe it was committed by the defendant.

The Midland County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the victim is a 17-year-old girl.

Ortiz is being represented by Midland attorney Scott Isles.

Since 2000, Ortiz had served as the pastor of the Father’s Heart Ministries, 4606 James Savage Road.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 14.


Catholic Church gives Washington an ultimatum on same-sex marriage

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

"If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city's long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination.

The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council this week.

The church's influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands.

"They don't represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure," said Catania, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill and the chairman of the Health Committee.

The standoff appears to be among the harshest between a government and a faith-based group over the rights of same-sex couples. Advocates for same-sex couples said they could not immediately think of other places where a same-sex marriage law had set off a break with a major faith-based provider of social services.

The council is expected to pass the same-sex marriage bill next month, but the measure continues to face strong opposition from a number of groups that are pushing for a referendum on the issue.

The archdiocese's statement follows a vote Tuesday by the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to reject an amendment that would have allowed individuals, based on their religious beliefs, to decline to provide services for same-sex weddings.

"Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top," said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. "Why can't they say, based on their religious beliefs, 'I can't do something like that'?"

After the vote, the archdiocese sent out a statement accusing the council of ignoring the right of religious freedom. Gibbs said Wednesday that without Alexander's amendment and other proposed changes, the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.

Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All D.C. Families accused the church of trying to "blackmail the city."

"The issue here is they are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable," Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein and other gay rights activists have strong support on the council. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council "will not legislate based on threats."

"The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle," Mendelson said. "There were many people back in the 1950s and '60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God."

Catania, who said he has been the biggest supporter of Catholic Charities on the council, said he is baffled by the church's stance. From 2006 through 2008, Catania said, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts, as well as several hundred thousand dollars' worth this year through his committee.

"If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes," Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.

Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he did not know of any other group in the city that was making such a threat.

"I've not seen any spillover into programming. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen if [the bill] passes," he said.

Cheh said she hopes the Catholic Church will reconsider its stance.

"Are they really going to harm people because they have a philosophical disagreement with us on one issue?" Cheh asked. "I hope, in the silver light of day, when this passes, because it will pass, they will not really act on this threat."


Wednesday, November 11, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Aurora pastor suspect in child sex assault

AURORA, Colo. - The pastor of an Aurora church was behind bars Tuesday evening, charged with sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.

The Rev. Isaac Aryee was arrested on Oct. 26th at his church, Praise Chapel International Ministries, on E. Mississippi Ave.

The case has been referred to the Denver District Attorney's Office which says the case file is currently under seal. However, a D.A.'s office spokesperson confirms that the victim in the case in a 15-year-old girl whom Aryee met through the church.

Prosecutors believe it was an ongoing sexual affair.

Rev. Aryee and his wife moved to Colorado from Ghana in West Africa in 2002, according to the church's official Web site.

A background check shows Aryee was also arrested by Denver Police in 2002 for soliciting a prostitute.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with stealing $50,000 from Habitat for Humanity

State police have accused Pastor David L. Heckman Jr. of embezzling more than $50,000 from a Christian organization that helps build homes for the poor.

Heckman took more than $50,000 in cash mortgage payments from homeowners who reside in homes built by Tioga County Habitat for Humanity, police said. He was a member of the board of directors and treasurer of the Tioga County chapter of the nonprofit.

Pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Newark Valley until his arrest Sunday, Heckman is also charged with making unauthorized purchases in excess of $1,500 that were charged to the church.

Charges include one count of second-degree grand larceny and one count of fourth-degree grand larceny, both felonies.

"Heckman is currently on leave of absence from the church and has been replaced as treasurer for Habitat for Humanity," police said.

New York State Police at Owego arrested Heckman, 27, who lives on Court Street in Binghamton. The Tioga County District Attorney's Office, Tioga County Habitat for Humanity and Heckman's church assisted in the investigation.

Following his arrest, Heckman was arraigned in Town of Owego Court and sent to the Tioga County Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash or $100,000 property bond. Late Thursday, he had yet to post bail.

The investigation into Heckman's activities is ongoing, police said. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact state police at (607) 687-3961.


Related stories: Habitat for Humanity chapter struggles after pastor's alleged theft