February 24, 2012

Feds step up enforcement of hate crimes in Central, Eastern Kentucky

To those who might consider attacking people because of their race or sexual orientation, U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey has a message: Don't.

"They need to understand that they're playing with fire, that it won't be tolerated," Kerry said in an interview Friday.

Harvey said he has made enforcement of federal civil-rights laws — including the law regarding hate crimes — a priority since he took office in May 2010 as the top federal prosecutor for Central and Eastern Kentucky.

He designated a unit within the office to focus on civil-rights enforcement, and on Thursday the office hosted a training session for state and local police and prosecutors.

About 100 people attended the training.

It was the first such session during Harvey's time as U.S. attorney, said Kyle Edelen, spokesman for the office.

One focus was changes in federal hate-crimes law.

In 2009, Congress broadened the law to add crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, disability and gender to the list of hate crimes, according to Harvey's office.

Harvey said he could not discuss pending cases, but confirmed the changes "have generated some activity on our part."

Harvey said he wants to educate the public about civil-rights laws, and to deter people from committing hate crimes.

The federal hate-crime law also covers violent acts motivated by the victim's race, color, religion and national origin.

Harvey pointed out that while an assault might be considered a misdemeanor under state law, punishable by no more than a year in prison, the attack could be charged as a felony hate crime under federal law if it was motivated by the victim's race, sexual orientation or other factors covered by the law.

That could bring a sentence of up to 10 years, or life if the crime included aggravating factors such as kidnapping or sexual abuse.

Harvey said he wants police to be aware of the hate-crimes law and the changes so that they will be more likely to spot whether a crime was motivated by bias.

Kentucky State Police statistics show there were 69 hate crimes reported in Kentucky in 2010, according to Harvey's office.

Harvey said it's likely many hate crimes go unreported.

The U.S. Attorney's Office that covers Western Kentucky hosted a training session last year for state and local police that focused on hate crimes and human trafficking, according to Stephanie Collins, spokeswoman for the office.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, which advocates for gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex people, applauded Harvey's focus on civil-rights enforcement.

"He's shown enormous sensitivity, enormous outreach," Palmer said.

The federation asked federal authorities to investigate alleged assaults on a gay man and a lesbian woman in Harlan County last year.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/02/24/2082534/feds-step-up-enforcement-of-hate.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

February 12, 2012

Pastor's support of gays, lesbians leads to church leaving Baptist association

Lexington's Central Baptist Church withdrew from the Elkhorn Baptist Association after its minister's supportive position on gay and lesbian issues was questioned by a pastor in another association church.

The Rev. Mark Johnson, pastor at Central Baptist, said his church unanimously decided to split from the association in December. Johnson said the move stemmed from questions raised over comments he placed on his blog last fall suggesting that Jesus would have been supportive of gay and lesbian people.

Don Reed, executive director of the Elkhorn Baptist Association, said Thursday that Central Baptist chose to leave the organization before Elkhorn ever looked into questions about the blog post.

Now Central Baptist Church's decision is drawing praise from the Kentucky Equality Federation, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians.

Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said in a statement, "We need more churches like this across the commonwealth. Everyone's relationship with God is personal and not for any one person or any association of churches to condemn or frown on."

Central Baptist withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention in fall 2000 in what church officials said at the time was a response to growing conservatism in both organizations.

But Central Baptist had remained in the Elkhorn Baptist Association, which includes more than 80 Baptist churches in Lexington and Central Kentucky. Formed in 1785, Elkhorn Baptist Association is the oldest Baptist organization west of the Allegheny Mountains. Central Baptist Church, which has about 350 members, joined the association almost 60 years ago, Johnson said.

Central Baptist officials released a statement saying the church has "no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from" Elkhorn Baptist Association, but members thought it was "best to officially part ways."

Johnson said events leading to the split began in October, when the Rev. David Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, wrote to the Elkhorn Baptist Association membership committee questioning statements Johnson made Sept. 23 on his blog.

In his post, titled "Who Stole Jesus," Johnson applauded a church in Indianapolis that believes Christ "would be a strong advocate and defender of equal rights for all persons, including those in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community."

Prince said Wednesday that individual Baptist churches are free to believe as they wish, but he considered Johnson's blog comments to be outside the "doctrinal commitments of the Elkhorn Baptist Association."

"A church sadly and tragically disqualifies itself by certain practices, conduct, preaching or doctrine contrary to the doctrinal statement," Prince said. "In my mind, that alone at least clarified that the pastor (at Central Baptist) was outside the bounds of our shared doctrinal commitment."

Prince said he simply suggested that the Elkhorn Baptist Association membership team "look into" the question.

Reed, the Elkhorn Baptist Association director, said Thursday that the organization received Prince's inquiry but that Central Baptist decided to leave before any action was ever taken.

The association never looked into whether Johnson's statements conflicted with doctrine, Reed said.

Johnson said in a statement that Central Baptist was faced with a choice of "should we fight to stay or graciously and quietly just go?"

"When we were informed that one church was perhaps asking the membership committee to look into what was going on, we felt that given the nature of how Baptists go about this, it probably wouldn't be a very nice experience," Johnson said. "We just felt, since we'd left the other two organizations, maybe it was time to leave the third."

Johnson said Central Baptist wanted to be "identified as an open and inviting fellowship for God's people."

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/02/16/2071697/pastors-support-of-gays-lesbians.html#storylink=cpy