Kentucky: Letter from Pastor’s Wife Sparks Furor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A newspaper column lampooning Southern Baptists, calling the group “the crazy old paranoid uncle of evangelical Christians,” is causing quite a stir in a Kentucky city and put a pastor’s job in jeopardy.

The column was written by Angela Thomas, the wife of Bill Thomas, an assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church in Madisonville. Her column was done in response to the Southern Baptist Convention’s opposition to a new Boy Scouts of America policy that welcomes gay members.

“Sexuality doesn’t come up and isn’t relative to typical scouting activities but now, thanks to Southern Baptists, the parents of little innocent scouts everywhere are having to have The Talk,” she wrote June 19 in The Madisonville Messenger. It wasn’t entirely surprising that she wrote the article in the first place, as she pens a weekly humor column for the community paper, which publishes daily.

But some people weren’t laughing over this article

In the weeks since, the status of Bill Thomas’ job with the church has become unclear. The First Baptist pastor said he had accepted Thomas’ resignation, but Thomas’ wrote in a letter obtained by the newspaper he had not quit.

Thomas has worked at the church for 10 years and was also its musical director.

Bill and Angela Thomas declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday. But he previously told the newspaper he agreed with what his wife wrote. Clearly, this creates a conundrum, as, if true, he is taking a stand that openly lambastes church views on contentious matters.

The column said Southern Baptists have become “raging Shiite Baptists” after drifting “to the right” for the past four decades.

“Santa and the Easter bunny are simply the devil in disguise and cable television and the Internet are his playground. The Boy Scouts are his evil minions,” she wrote.

Madisonville is a city of about 19,000 in the western part of the state, about 115 miles southwest of Louisville.

First Baptist Church Pastor Joe Leonard said the opinion piece was not the cause of Bill Thomas’ departure.

“That’s what people have made it out to be,” Leonard said. “That column precipitated some conversation with (Thomas), but that is not the reason he resigned. And because of confidentiality I can’t divulge the conversation and what went on.”

Leonard said he had accepted Thomas’ resignation and Thomas was not fired. Thomas wrote in a letter he had not resigned and had no intention of stepping down.

The Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he was surprised the “shockingly sarcastic tone” of the column came from the spouse of a church employee. It’s not clear whether Angela Thomas also attended First Baptist.

“I didn’t find the column to be the sort of lighthearted poking that one would typically find in satire,” Moore said. “I found it instead to be more of a screed from someone who’s very hostile to where most Baptists stand.”

Moore said the column also mischaracterized the convention’s stance on the Boy Scout policy.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s action last month “was a very balanced resolution that didn’t denounce the Boy Scouts,” Moore said. “We expressed disappointment, but didn’t speak in harsh terms and also did not direct churches as to how they should respond.”

The Southern Baptist Convention believes in marriage between a man and a woman and condemns homosexuality as a sin.

Many churches around the country, including some Baptist, have protested the Boy Scouts’ policy by cutting ties with their local chapters.

First Baptist member Larry Wilson said Bill Thomas was accused of “intolerable insubordination” by a staff committee and was told to submit a letter of resignation.

“To me, it sounds more like a termination or a forced resignation than a resignation,” said Wilson, who is also a Hopkins County magistrate.

Wilson said he believed Bill Thomas ran afoul of some church leadership before the column was published by supporting an openly gay church member. Wilson said Thomas was told to prevent the member from joining the choir, but Thomas declined to do so.

The church offered Thomas a severance package — contingent on him not making public statements about the details of his departure, Wilson said. According to church policy, staff terminations must be approved by the congregation, and church leaders wanted to avoid that step, Wilson said.

Wilson said he enjoyed reading Angela Thomas’ column.

“There were points in it that I thought were hilarious, it was funny, thought provoking,” he said. “Maybe we are Shiite Baptists.”

–The Blaze/The Associated Press


Louisiana: Rainbow Flag Debate Goes National

Questions are swirling around a proposed ordinance in Lafayette to limit the types of flags that could be flown on public property. But while academics said the proposal skirts the line of constitutionality, the final determination cannot be made until legal language is presented.

Last week, City-Parish Councilman Andy Naquin made national headlines when he floated the idea of an ordinance to limit the kinds of symbols that may be flown on public property to government flags. The issue was raised after a Korean War veteran complained that a rainbow flag, symbolizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender pride, had been hoisted on a pole in a public park on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases.

Vin Testa of Washington waves a rainbow flag in support of gay rights outside the Supreme Court as key decisions just before it ruled in two landmark cases on June 26. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Vin Testa of Washington waves a rainbow flag in support of gay rights outside the Supreme Court as key decisions just before it ruled in two landmark cases on June 26. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I had to agree with him,” Naquin told The Daily Advertiser, which broke the story. “Government flag poles really should be meant to fly only government flags.”

While specific language has not yet been released, Naquin told the paper he envisioned the ordinance as allowing only the United States, Louisiana and Acadian/Lafayette Consolidated Government flags. He added Carnival flags might also be included.

Keith Werhan, constitutional law professor at Tulane University, said Naquin’s proposal is likely unconstitutional because it encroaches not only on free speech but also on regularly accepted definitions of public space.

“There’s just simply no way that you can say you can’t fly a flag in a park unless (the government) approves of it,” said Werhan, who has written numerous articles on free speech. “It raises First Amendment issue because flying a flag … is expressive conduct.”

But he said the constitutionality of the issue will be based on two factors: whether the flagpole was and is considered part of the city’s public forum and the final language of the ordinance.

Werhan said there are two defined types of public space: property that acts as a public forum and property that doesn’t. A government office building, prison or military base would not be considered a public forum; but a sidewalk, street or park would be.

Determining whether the flagpole at Girard Park, where the rainbow flag was raised, is a public forum would depend on how it has been used in the past, he said. If other groups such as Boy Scouts, religious organizations or Carnival krewes have been open to use the pole in the past, this would put it in that category.

Therefore, if Naquin wanted to restrict the use of the flagpole, he must do so across the board. Even allowing Carnival krewes, but not other groups, to use the pole others would amount to “viewpoint discrimination,” Werhan said, and could prompt a constitutionality challenge.

The real clincher will be the final language of the ordinance. Naquin and City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert, who is helping to draft the language, would not comment on the details this week.

Werhan said if the flag ordinance is restrictive across the board, by not allowing any non-governmental entities to use public flagpoles, then it would not be breaking any laws. The ordinance could even regulate size and mandate time limits and small fees while staying inside the law.

But telling even one outside group, like the krewes, it can use the pole while excluding others would not be acceptable under the First Amendment, he said.

Paul Baier, a constitutional law professor at LSU, agrees, although more broadly. A former special counsel to the Louisiana attorney general, Baier said the government has the prerogative to determine rules on its property as it sees fit.

“The government owns the flagpole, and the government is entitled to favor certain symbols of the government,” Baier said. “So when it picks and chooses and excludes others, it’s exercising the government’s prerogative. This would not be a violation of the First Amendment.”

Baier conceded that someone simply carrying a rainbow flag into a park would not be breaking such an ordinance that Naquin is proposing. But he said the government could “legitimately refuse” to fly any flag it chooses.

recent post on the Constitutional Law Professors blog reiterated these points. It highlighted an opinion in Sons of Confederate Veterans, Virginia Division v. City of Lexington, Virginia.

The opinion said the city may prohibit the flying of the Confederate flag on municipal flagpoles, but only if it limited all government flagpoles to flying only national, state and city flags.

The opinion said the city may not “prohibit or curtail individuals from carrying flags in public” — such as carrying a flag to a park or at a demonstration on the street — “and/or displaying them on private property.”

While Werhan and Baier agree the wording of Naquin’s ordinance will ultimately determine its validity, Werhan said he think the issue falls more clearly on the issues of public versus non-public forums, not on the “ownership” issue.

“That’s just wrong,” Werhan said of Baier’s interpretation. “The question isn’t government ownership. The question is if its’ a public fora or not.”

-Lauren McGaughy, The Times-Picayune


South Carolina: Beaufort’s Role in Civil War Highlighted

BEAUFORT, S.C. — A presentation highlighting Beaufort County’s role in the Siege of Charleston Harbor during the Civil War will be held in downtown Beaufort on Thursday, according to a release from the Beaufort County Historical Society.

Pictured is Joe McGill in 2010 wearing a Union Army uniform inside the slave cabin behind the Heyward House in Old Town Bluffton. McGill is a founder of the re-enactment regiment of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. FILE — Staff photo

Pictured is Joe McGill in 2010 wearing a Union Army uniform inside the slave cabin behind the Heyward House in Old Town Bluffton. McGill is a founder of the re-enactment regiment of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Local historians Dr. Stephen Wise and Dr. Lawrence Rowland will host the “Gate of Hell” presentation at 7 p.m. in the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts on Carteret Street, the release said.

Although the presentation will provide full coverage of the Charleston attack, including pictures and sketches of the campaign, it will also highlight the role Beaufort County played in the attack.

Wise said nearly the entire county served as the Union Army’s base of operations for the Siege of Charleston Harbor, after the Union took the area in late 1861.

Wise said the Beaufort area served as a hospital, while Union operations were housed on Hilton Head Island. Further, ships that departed for the attack on Charleston left for battle from Port Royal Sound.

Wise added the presentation would also touch on Beaufort residents who fought in the Confederate Army.

The presentation, sponsored by USC Beaufort and the historical society, is free to attend.

The presentation is part of a series of planned events to mark the 150th anniversary of the events in Charleston.

Thursday is the 150th anniversary of the attack on Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor by the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an attack immortalized in the 1989 film “Glory.”

-Matt McNab, Beaufort Gazzette




Virginia: Civil War-era Graffiti Uncovered

WOODSTOCK, Va. — Often the bane of building owners, graffiti on an historic courthouse in Woodstock is getting some loving attention.

A paint conservator believes the graffiti dates to the Civil War. The graffiti has emerged as the courthouse — first built in 1795 and then added to in both 1871 and 1886 — undergoes a $1.5 million renovation that is expected to be completed this fall.

Historic courthouse in Woodstock, Va.

Historic courthouse in Woodstock, Va.

“Soldiers passing through did stay in the courthouse, although there’s still research that could be done to try to determine exactly who was there and when,” Barbara Adamson, president of the Shenandoah County Historical Society, told the Daily News Record ( “It’s fun to speculate.”

The historical society hired architectural historian Chris Mills to examine the Main Street landmark after an inspection found some writing where a few inches of paint had peeled off the wall.

In the portions of the courthouse constructed in 1795, Mills removed several sections of paint, uncovering words scrawled on several of the walls.

“He uncovered 12 layers of paint,” Adamson said. “Some of the walls had been written on, then whitewashed and written on again.”

While much of the writing is illegible, one section of wall has a drawing depicting an animal with a label beneath that reads “a leopard.”

Adamson said historical society members want to hire a conservator to carry out the painstaking process of uncovering all the writing. One room alone would cost up to $12,000, with the entire project estimated at about $50,000.

“Then we’d still have to make decisions about how to exhibit it,” she said.

Adamson said she is in the process of looking for grants and that a few fundraising efforts may be in the works to pay for the conservation work.

“Once the renovations are complete … we’ll really be able to move forward with all these exciting ideas,” she said.


Tennessee: Civil War Buffs Celebrate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Birthday

The sound of cannon fire boomed across Health Sciences Park in Memphis on Sunday as more than 200 people came out to celebrate the 192nd birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, reports The Commercial Appeal

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans pause during the benediction in front of the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the annual birthday celebration. Over 200 people attended the event sponsored by the SCV Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215. (Chris Desmond/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans pause during the benediction in front of the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the annual birthday celebration. Over 200 people attended the event sponsored by the SCV Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215. (Chris Desmond/Special to The Commercial Appeal)


This year’s event marked the first at the Medical Center site since the Memphis City Council changed the name of that park and two others with Confederate themes, but speakers throughout the day proudly maintained that they were celebrating in Forrest Park.

Forrest, described as “a military genius,” enlisted as a private in the Confederate army in 1861 and became a lieutenant general by the end of the Civil War.

He also continues to be a figure despised by many because of his early leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan.

The celebration was sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the General Nathan Bedford Forrest Historical Society.

In February, the City Council changed the names of Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park and Forrest Park to Memphis Park, Mississippi River Park and Health Sciences Park, respectively.