Posts Tagged “criminal justice”

Five members of the church Word of Faith Fellowship in North Carolina face kidnapping and assault charges. (WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily NewsFor several months now, the Associated Press has been digging into the abuse inflicted on congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC, including continuing criminal trials (one of which recently imploded in spectacular fashion). The crux of it all is this fiercely fundagelical church’s practice of assigning every problem a congregant has to diabolical or demonic infestation, which they “treat” by — literally! — beating the devils/demons out of people. (Because naturally, it makes total sense that incorporeal beings will flee from people who’ve been beaten to within an inch of their lives, and never come back. Right?)

The abuse at Word of Faith has been going on for decades, and had been sporadically reported on through that time. For instance, it was covered by Inside Edition in 1995. Despite this, Word of Faith had avoided prosecution, and the AP uncovered the reason why: Word of Faith insiders in the NC justice system had shielded them from being investigated at all, in many cases, and whenever Johnny Law did come poking around, coached witnesses in how to answer questions.

The AP recently published another article explaining how and why it took so long for charges to be filed in the case of one abused congregant who’d reported what happened (WebCite cached article):

For two years, Matthew Fenner said he pleaded with authorities to investigate his allegations that a group of fellow congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship church had punched, slapped and choked him to expel his “homosexual demons.”

An Associated Press investigation found that Rutherford County investigators and then-District Attorney Brad Greenway delayed investigating and told Fenner his only option was to pursue misdemeanor charges against the church members he said assaulted him for nearly two hours in the evangelical church’s sanctuary.

The AP’s conclusions are based on more than a dozen interviews and court documents, along with a series of secretly made recordings that were provided of Fenner’s meetings with law enforcement authorities, including Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.…

Fenner tried to get action, but there was resistance:

When Fenner fled to his grandparents two days later [after he was attacked by church personnel], they called authorities. But Fenner told the jury that law enforcement — ranging from the Rutherford County sheriff’s office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — didn’t take his allegations seriously.

The AP found that Fenner not only told law enforcement agencies about what happened to him, but also warned of ongoing abuse in the church.

“Over the last two decades, it appears that different politicians or leaders in the community have had a certain fear of the Word of Faith and for whatever reason that sort of encapsulated them and made them untouchable,” said Jerry Wease, chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party and a licensed counselor who has worked with people who left the church.

In Fenner’s case, it wasn’t even just the North Cackolackian justice system refused to budge; even the FBI wouldn’t pick up the case:

On Jan. 31, 2013, he met with FBI agent Fred Molina, who was investigating a complaint from another congregant who said he was beaten because he was gay. Fenner detailed what happened to him, along with the abuse of other congregants, six people told the AP.

A month later, Fenner called the FBI to check on the progress of the agency’s inquiry and was told a new agent was on the case because Molina was about to retire. That agent never called him back, Fenner said. When he received a letter months after that saying the FBI wasn’t going to investigate, he inquired why and said he was told it was because the other church member who reported being attacked had recanted.

Molina declined to talk to the AP, saying he was told by his former bosses not to discuss the case. But Nancy Burnette, who became familiar with the church through her court work with foster children and who helped some congregants flee, said Molina told her that he was pulled from the investigation. He urged her to “keep fighting” to get the “truth out,” she said.

So it seems even FBI management within NC was protecting Word of Faith. Nice, huh?

Fenner simultaneously pressed both state and federal law enforcement. Assistant US attorney Jill Rose declined to prosecuted because she said Fenner’s case didn’t meet federal hate-crime standards and didn’t cross state lines. At the state level he met with the DA (Brad Greenway) and sheriff (Chris Francis). Like Rose, Greenway refused to prosecute, and the sheriff told Fenner to file misdemeanor charges on his own.

It took Greenway being voted out, for the charges to be pressed. Indictments were handed down shortly after that. Hmm.

As I’ve noted previously, colossal deference to churches is certainly not unique to North Carolina, nor to fundagelical churches. The very same phenomenon helped the Roman Catholic Church avert charges against its own abusive clergy — and it happened all over the world for decades, if not centuries. It’s a tendency that must fucking stop. The idea that churches, and religious institutions generally, are not to be held accountable for their actions, is simply unacceptable. Folks within the criminal justice system are going to have to grow up, pull up their big-boy (or big-girl) pants, and just fucking deal with allegations against churches and religious personnel. They can no longer be allowed to skate just because they’re religious folks.

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily News.

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Lake of Fire by BenRR / via DeviantArtHere’s something that’s not surprising, way down south in the Bible Belt Bobble Bayelt state of Mississippi. As the Biloxi Sun Herald explains, a judge there assigns Bible essays to youthful offenders (WebCite cached article):

Judge Albert Fountain offers youths found with alcohol an offer most don’t refuse.

In part, they must write him a 1,000-word essay in order to to keep the conviction off their records and avoid hefty costs.

They can write the entire essay about the effects of alcohol, but Fountain recommends they give him 500 words each on that and on the Book of Revelation, one of the most feared books in the Bible.

This is such an obvious violation of separation of church and state, that I can’t see why a sitting judge could even be allowed to get away with it. Then again, this is Christocratic Mississippi … where little things like the First Amendment just aren’t all that important.

The good judge claims there’s no force involved:

“I don’t force them to do it. It’s their choice.”

However, as explained in the article, there actually is force involved:

Those who accept the plea offer must hand over their driver’s license for 10 days and maintain good behavior, and are placed on 90 days of non-reporting probation. The case is then non-adjudicated and it stays off their record.

Those who don’t accept the offer are fined $500, ordered to pay a state assessment of $155.75 and lose their license for 90 days. And the conviction stands as a misdemeanor record.

So these kids have a choice: Write the essay, and skate on the charges; or not write the essay, and be punished (in not just one, but three different ways). To say there’s no coercion here is a clear lie on the judge’s part. That places him in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

Why Revelation, one might ask? Because, as the judge himself admits, it’s the most terrifying book of the Bible:

“When they read Revelation, they can’t help but think about what we’re heading for in the future if we don’t do the right thing,” Fountain said.

“I’ve had them come back with tears in their eyes,” he said.

“They tell me it’s a scary book to read. I can’t force them to do it, but all I can do is plant a seed.”

Yep, that’s good old-fashioned Christian psychological terror: “Say, do, and believe what we order you to … or you’ll BURN IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY!!! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!” Of course, neither Judge Fountain, nor the rest of his fellow Christofascists, see this as a problem. They’re willing to say and do anything in order to make “believers” out of others. They truly think the end justifies the means. As long as they’re saving souls for their precious Jesus, nothing else is important … even brazenly violating the Constitution, then lying about it, are acceptable for this sort of militant Christianist.

Photo credit: BenRR, via DeviantArt.

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GuercinoAdultress1621DulwichI’ve already blogged about politicians — either convicted of crimes or being tried for crimes — using religious appeals in order to make themselves seem like great guys who didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s not to its credit that a religion can be used this way … but as I’ve noted, it does work, because religious people really do fall for it, all the time.

The latest example of this, though, is one that I assume religious people will have a harder time swallowing. Actually, it would be pretty laughable, if not for the nature of the case in question, which is the worst crime in recent Connecticut history, the Cheshire home invasion massacre. The second of two suspects will soon go on trial, so his attorneys have dutifully gone on the offensive, as reported by the venerable Hartford Courant (WebCite cached article):

Joshua Komisarjevsky, accused of the 2007 Cheshire home invasion killings, wants to respond to comments made by the lone survivor of the attack, Dr. William Petit Jr., and members of his family.

In a motion filed Friday and unsealed Monday morning, Komisarjevsky says that comments made by Petit and other family members calling him “evil” and an “animal” are part of “an ongoing public relations campaign” that could affect whether Komisarjevsky receives a fair trial. …

In the latest motion, the defense states that the “families’ characterization” of Komisarjevsky as an animal and evil murderer was inaccurate. And Komisarjevsky — in his own statement — wants the chance to respond. …

Komisarjevsky “is, among many things, a damaged human being, who, like any of us, deserves not be judged solely by the worst of his acts — no matter how difficult or abhorrent those acts may be reported or perceived.”

The motion continues: “It speaks to the value of Josh’s life and to his fundamental humanity that he continues to enjoy the love and support of his family and many in the community. These people know Josh not only for what occurred and is alleged to have occurred on July 23, 2007 but also for his positive, redeeming attributes, which exist despite mental disorder and the harm done by years of trauma and abuse.”

So you see, if Komisarjevsky’s attorneys are to be believed, their client is a righteous, upstanding choir-boy who merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So far, no religion … but having attempted to make their butcher/rapist client appear saintly, the defense attorneys continue:

Komisarjevsky’s attorneys quote Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi in the motion, noting that Petit and his family members also have quoted these “apostles of peace, non-violence and love, as well as vocal death penalty opponents.” Petit supports the death penalty.

And then — if you can believe it — the crowning touch:

At one point, the motion also quotes the Bible, citing the well-known passage, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.”

That’s right folks. According to these defense attorneys and the Bible (i.e. in the story of the woman taken in adultery) we are not allowed to judge Komisarjevsky!

I understand that this is a case of defense attorneys — who live in a strange alternate universe of their own in which crimes never occur and no one should ever be convicted of anything — just trying to defend the indefensible. But as I said before, it’s not to the credit of Christianity that it can be used to rationalize away letting criminals off the hook.

Note too the inconsistency of the attorneys’ argument here. Up to this point, they’d been saying only that they don’t want the death penalty imposed on their client. But that isn’t the message of the Pericope Adulterae; it is, rather, that no sentence can ever be imposed on anyone, for any reason, because there is no “perfect,” sinless human being to convict him/her. In their grandiose effort to rationalize saving their client’s life, these attorneys actually argued that Komisarjevsky and every other person now in prison, must be set free! They are, in short, arguing a completely different point from what they originally set out to support.

Frankly I’m amazed these attorneys didn’t trot out Matthew 7:1 and demand, on that basis, that the judge should resign from his job immediately. They really don’t appear to have much shame, do they?

I will end this post by appealing to you to do make a donation to the Petit Family Foundation in memory of those killed in this crime and as a way of saying to Komisarjevsky and his attorneys that you do not support their claims that “Josh” has any virtue and that no one is permitted to judge anyone at all, ever.

One last question for you Christians out there: If you refuse to accept this crap from Komisarjevsky and his attorneys — and I assume you don’t — why on earth would you be stupid enough to accept it from people like John Rowland, or Ted Haggard, or George Rekers, or any of the rest of the hypocritical, reprehensible creatures that you welcome back with open arms? How are you not being hypocritical, yourselves, for having this double standard?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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