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Salvation Army Employee Pleads Guilty
to Embezzling $385,000

BY JOHN P. MARTIN                                                                                   © 2006 Religion News Service
 
or an employee at the Salvation Army, a charity that prides itself on "Doing the Most Good," Leroy Brown was, well, quite bad. For seven years, Brown, a financial manager at the organization's Newark, New Jersey, office, secretly stole money that was supposed to be used to subsidize rent for AIDS patients and the poor.

At a hearing on July 26 in federal court, Brown admitted to cutting 585 checks worth more than $385,000, then passing them to a friend who cashed them and split the proceeds.

Standing before U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway, Brown pleaded guilty to conspiring to embezzle and to tax evasion. He faces between 30 and 37 months in prison. "It's deplorable conduct," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said in a statement. "He deserves a long prison sentence for stealing from the needy individuals for whom that money was intended." 

Brown, 60, has since moved to North Carolina and didn't offer an explanation for his actions during the court proceeding. He declined to comment as he left, as did his attorney. The case stunned prosecutors and officials at the Salvation Army, where Brown had worked since at least 1994. "I'm not used to this kind of trauma," Col. Charles Kelly of the Salvation Army said as he left the hearing, declining to say more. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Harsch, said investigators didn't recover wads of money or other evidence that Brown was living lavishly off the scheme. He said Brown was basically "living hand to mouth." 

Prosecutors said he covered his tracks by drafting invoices of checks he claimed were for needy beneficiaries. But the names were fictitious, and the checks typically went instead to Brown's friend, Susan Bigelow, who cashed them at local stores. Bigelow has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and faces sentencing in September. 

Todd Wilson, an attorney for the Salvation Army, said the losses were covered by insurance. "There was no impact on their ability to provide services to people," Wilson said.
 

Washington’s High Court Upholds State’s
Defense of Marriage Act in 5-4 Ruling

BY GREGORY TOMLIN                                                                                  © 2006 Baptist Press

Washington’s high court is the third court in July to block efforts by homosexual activists to force recognition of “same-sex marriage.” In a 5-4 ruling July 26, the court upheld the state’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), overturning two lower court rulings that declared the legislation unconstitutional.

Consideration of the case began when 19 homosexual couples filed two cases to have the state’s DOMA overturned. Lower court rulings sided with the plaintiffs, but the supreme court’s ruling explicitly states that the court has not been given the role of deciding who may be married in the state. That role belongs to the state’s legislators, the ruling stated.

Legislators in the state’s government, the court’s majority opinion said, are "entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes."

Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the court’s opinion that, “In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government.”

Justice Bobbe Bridge, siding with the homosexual couples suing the state, wrote in his dissent that the high court would be maligned someday for not having overturned the state’s traditional marriage laws. Madsen, however, noted that should such laws be passed in the state, "it will be because the people declare it to be, not because five members of this court have dictated it."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the decision was surprising, given the court’s reputation as "one of the most liberal" in the country.

"Nevertheless, a 5-4 win is better than a 5-4 loss,” Land said, “and I can’t help but suspect that the decision by the Washington court reveals that even judges can read election returns and see which way the wind is blowing across the country. And that wind of public opinion is blowing against same-sex unions."

The high court in New York on July 6 upheld that state’s marriage laws in a 4-2 ruling, citing reasons similar to those in the Washington case. The New York case involved 44 lawsuits from homosexual activists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a homosexual rights advocacy group. 

To read the rest of this story, click here.
 
 
Church-State Lines Not Always Drawn With Faith-Based Groups
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                               © 2006 Religion News Service
 
An examination of the White House's faith-based initiative has found that some organizations are not separating religious activities from federally funded services.

At the request of two members of Congress, the U.S. General Accountability Office spent more than a year conducting a review of federal and state agencies related to the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. The GAO also investigated religious groups that have received government grants. The report, released Tuesday (July 18), said officials at 26 faith-based organizations that were visited by investigators said they understood that government funds could not pay for religious activities.

But reviewers found "four of the 13 FBOS (faith-based organizations) that offered voluntary religious activities--such as prayer and worship--did not appear to understand the requirement to separate these activities in time or location from their program services funded with federal funds."
 
One faith-based worker told investigators that she discusses religious matters while providing a service funded by the government if a participant asks and others don't object. In a few cases, staffers at faith-based groups said they prayed with program beneficiaries if they requested it.
 
Alyssa J. McClenning, a spokeswoman for the White House faith-based office, said efforts are made to prevent such situations. "The administration is engaged in continuous efforts to ensure that the regulations governing appropriate use of federal financial assistance are disseminated and understood by grantees," she said. 

But the congressmen who sought the review said the results show management of the fund is in question.
"The Bush administration has failed to develop standards to verify that faith-based organizations aren't using federal funds to pay for inherently religious activity or to provide services on the basis of religion," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who requested the report with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. 

George Washington University Law School professor Ira Lupu, said the overall report showed no widespread abuse of federal funds but pointed out the need for more monitoring on church-state matters.
"People don't understand that you couldn't do a prayer service in a government-funded program, that you had to do it separately," he said. "People somehow think in those groups so long as it's voluntary, it's OK. ... That's not the constitutional law."


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