Armenia - A 21st Century Symbol Of Religious Intolerance

The Constitution as amended in December 2005 provides for freedom of religion; however, the law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of adherents of minority religious groups, and there were some restrictions in practice. The Armenian (Apostolic) Church, which has formal legal status as the national church, enjoys some privileges not available to other religious groups.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period. Some denominations reported occasional discrimination by mid- or low-level government officials but found high-level officials to be tolerant. Jehovah's Witnesses reported that judges sentenced them to longer prison terms for evasion of alternative military service than in the past, although the sentences were still within the range allowed by law.

Societal attitudes toward some minority religious groups were ambivalent, and there were reports of societal discrimination directed against members of these groups.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 11,500 square miles and a population of 3 million.

Approximately 98 percent of the population is ethnic Armenian. As a result of Soviet-era policies, the number of active religious practitioners is relatively low, but the link between Armenian ethnicity and the Armenian Church is strong. An estimated 90 percent of citizens nominally belong to the Armenian Church, an independent Eastern Christian denomination with its spiritual center at the Etchmiadzin cathedral and monastery. The head of the church is Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II.

There are small communities of other religious groups. There was no reliable census data on religious minorities, and estimates from congregants varied significantly. The Catholic Church, both Roman and Mekhitarist (Armenian Uniate), estimated 120,000 followers. The Jehovah's Witnesses estimated their membership at 9,000. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Yezidis, an ethnic Kurd cultural group whose religion includes elements derived from Zoroastrianism, Islam, and animism; unspecified "charismatic" Christians; the Armenian Evangelical Church; Molokans, an ethnic Russian pacifist Christian group that split from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th-century; Baptists; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); Orthodox Christians; Seventh-day Adventists; Pentecostals; Jews; and Baha'is. Levels of membership in minority religious groups remained relatively unchanged. There was no estimate of the number of atheists.

Yezidis are concentrated primarily in agricultural areas around Mount Aragats, northwest of the capital Yerevan. Armenian Catholics live mainly in the northern region, while most Jews, Mormons, Baha'is, and Orthodox Christians reside in Yerevan. In Yerevan there is also a small community of Muslims, including Kurds, Iranians, and temporary residents from the Middle East.

Foreign missionary groups are active in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution as amended in 2005 provides for freedom of religion and the right to practice, choose, or change religious belief. It recognizes "the exclusive mission of the Armenian Church as a national church in the spiritual life, development of the national culture, and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia." The law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of religious groups other than the Armenian Church. The Law on Freedom of Conscience establishes the separation of church and state but grants the Armenian Church official status as the national church.

Extended negotiations between the Government and the Armenian Church resulted in a 2000 framework for the two sides to negotiate a concordat. The negotiations resulted in the signing of a law March 14, 2007, that codified the church's role.

The law establishes confessor-penitent confidentiality, makes the church's marriage rite legally binding, and assigns the church and the state joint responsibility to preserve national historic churches. The law does not grant the church tax-exempt status or establish any state funding for the church. The law formally recognizes the role that the Armenian Church already plays in society, since most citizens see the church as an integral part of national identity, history, and cultural heritage. January 6, the day on which the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas, is a national holiday.

The law does not mandate registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including religious groups; however, only registered organizations have legal status. Only registered groups may publish newspapers or magazines, rent meeting places, broadcast programs on television or radio, or officially sponsor the visas of visitors, although there is no prohibition on individual members doing so. There were no reports of the Government refusing registration to religious groups that qualified for registration under the law. To qualify for registration, religious organizations must "be free from materialism and of a purely spiritual nature," and must subscribe to a doctrine based on "historically recognized holy scriptures." The Office of the State Registrar registers religious entities. The Department of Religious Affairs and National Minorities oversees religious affairs and performs a consultative role in the registration process. A religious organization must have at least 200 adult members to register. By the end of the reporting period, the Government had registered 63 religious organizations, including individual congregations within the same denomination.

According to the Department of Religious Affairs and National Minorities, some minority religious groups, including the Molokans and some Yezidi groups, have not sought registration. Although it was not registered as a religious facility, Yerevan's sole mosque was open for regular Friday prayers, and the Government did not restrict Muslims from praying there.

The Law on Education mandates that public schools offer a secular education but does not prohibit religious education in state schools. Only personnel authorized and trained by the Government may teach in public schools. Classes in religious history are part of the public school curriculum and are taught by teachers. The history of the Armenian Church is the basis of this curriculum; many schools teach about world religions in elementary school and the history of the Armenian Church in middle school. Religious groups may not provide religious instruction in schools, although registered groups may do so in private homes to children of their members. The use of public school buildings for religious "indoctrination" is illegal.

The law on alternative military service allows conscientious objectors, subject to government panel approval, to perform either noncombatant military or civilian service duties rather than serve as combat-trained military personnel. The law took effect in 2004 and applied to subsequent draftees and those serving prison terms for draft evasion. An amendment to the law on military service that took effect in January 2006 criminalizes evasion of alternative labor service. Conscientious objectors maintained, however, that military control of the alternative labor service amounted to unacceptable military service.

The military employs Armenian Church chaplains for each division, but no other religious groups are represented in the military chaplaincy. The Armenian Church runs a prison ministry program but does not have permanent representatives in prisons. The Armenian Evangelical Church has chaplains in seven prisons.

The Government's human rights ombudsman and the head of the Department of Religious Affairs and National Minorities met with minority religious organizations during the reporting period.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of adherents of minority religious groups, and there were some restrictions in practice.

The Law on Freedom of Conscience prohibits "proselytizing" but does not define it. The prohibition applies to all groups, including the Armenian Church. Most registered religious groups reported no serious legal impediments to their activities during the reporting period.

Although the law prohibits foreign funding of foreign-based denominations, the Government did not enforce the ban and considered it unenforceable.

During the reporting period, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists reported that low-level government officials denied them the use of public space for religious gatherings. However, the Jehovah's Witnesses noted that, in general, they were free to assemble without harassment by police or other government entities.

A customs issue pertaining to the Jehovah's Witnesses ability to obtain shipments of religious literature was not resolved at the end of the reporting period. On March 29, 2007, customs officials in Yerevan reevaluated a shipment of religious periodicals received by the Jehovah's Witnesses at a significantly higher rate than the group expected, making it financially difficult for them to arrange clearance of the shipment. Customs officials maintained that the reevaluation complied with the customs code.

At the end of the reporting period, the Jehovah's Witnesses reported that following complaints to high-ranking officials, the military commissariat had issued certificates of registration (necessary for obtaining passports) to the majority of a group of Witnesses who had completed prison sentences for conscientious objection to military service.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

According to leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses in Yerevan, as of the end of the reporting period, 69 Witnesses remained in prison for refusal, on conscientious and religious grounds, to perform military service or alternative labor service. Two additional members were awaiting trial. Representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses stated that all of the prisoners were given the opportunity to serve an alternative to military service rather than prison time, but that all refused because the military retained administrative control of alternative service.

Jehovah's Witnesses complained that the courts handed down tougher sentences for evasion of alternative labor service during the reporting period. In the period covered by this report, of the 48 Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced, 24 received 30-month sentences and 5 received 36-month sentences, the maximum allowed by law. Of the remaining 19 Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced during the reporting period, 15 received sentences ranging between 22 and 27 months, and 4 received 18-month sentences. Of 36 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted during the previous reporting period, only 1 received a 30-month sentence, and none received 36-month sentences; the majority were sentenced to either 18 or 24 months of imprisonment.

Unlike during the previous reporting period, there were no reports that military hazing of new conscripts was more severe for minority group members. Yezidi representatives reported no harassment or discrimination.

During the reporting period there was no reported officially sponsored violence against minority religious groups. Other than Jehovah's Witnesses who were conscientious objectors, there were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

Nineteen Jehovah's Witnesses who had begun and then abandoned alternative military service were acquitted, and criminal proceedings against them were terminated by a decision of the Prosecutor General on September 12, 2006. The individuals were charged with desertion or absence without leave. Seven of the 19 had been in pretrial detention or agreed not to leave the country before their trials at the time of their acquittal. The others had received sentences ranging from 2 to 3 years in prison and served between 5 and 9 months of their sentences.

On October 27, 2006, Yerevan's Holocaust memorial, which had been inexplicably vandalized earlier in the year, was replaced and rededicated to the memory of both Jews and Armenians who had been the victims of "heinous crimes." A gesture of respect and national empathy, the memorial was erected with the cooperation of international donors, the Jewish community, Armenian Diaspora organizations, and the Government.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Societal attitudes toward most minority religious groups were ambivalent. Many citizens are not religiously observant, but the link between Armenian ethnicity and the Armenian Church is strong.

According to some observers, the general population expressed negative attitudes about Jehovah's Witnesses because the latter refused to serve in the military, engaged in little-understood proselytizing practices, and because of a widespread but unsubstantiated belief that they pay the desperately poor to convert. Jehovah's Witnesses continued to be targets of hostile sermons by some Armenian Church clerics and experienced occasional societal discrimination. Unlike in the previous reporting period, the press did not report complaints of allegedly illegal proselytizing lodged by citizens against members of Jehovah's Witnesses.

On June 1, 2007, in the village of Lusarat, a passing Armenian Apostolic priest verbally harassed and assaulted two Jehovah's Witnesses having a Bible discussion with a woman in the central square. While the Witnesses agreed to drop assault charges pending the priest's apology, none was forthcoming. Police closed the case for lack of evidence after the priest denied the incident.

Two Jehovah's Witnesses filed a complaint with local police after they were allegedly threatened by a man with a pistol while they engaged in public ministry on April 15, 2007. Police did not investigate the incident, citing lack of evidence.

At the end of the reporting period, a Witness dropped his case against a co-worker who had attacked him. Police had taken no action on the matter. On March 29, 2007, the co-worker had attempted to choke the Witness at their place of work after discovering that the latter was a member of the religious group.

The group also reported that an Armenian Church priest assaulted two female Jehovah's Witnesses on August 21, 2006. According to the group, one of the victims suffered a broken arm. Police refused to initiate an investigation, in part because the priest expressed remorse, and the women were unable to appeal the decision.

In isolated incidents, some members of the press stoked suspicion of "nontraditional" religious organizations. On February 14, 2007, online news source Panorama published an article based on an e-mail from a reader that accused several famous Armenian singers and a television commentator of being "followers of religious sects." On February 13, 2007, online news source A1+ published an article warning readers about "false Bibles" distributed by "sectarian organizations."

The Jewish community reported no incidents of verbal harassment during the reporting period. In the summer and fall of 2006, a number of spray-painted swastikas of unknown origin, accompanied by the words "No Arabs," "Sieg Heil," and "Russians out of our country," were observed on kiosks and construction site walls in downtown Yerevan; the symbols appeared to express general xenophobia.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. During these discussions, the U.S. Government emphasized to authorities that continued eligibility for the $235 million (approximately 79 billion AMD) Millennium Challenge Compact remained contingent upon the Government's performance in meeting good governance indicators, which include standards of respect for religious freedom. Embassy officials maintained close contact with the Catholicos at Etchmiadzin and with leaders of other religious and ecumenical groups in the country. The Embassy maintained regular contact with resident and visiting regional representatives of foreign-based religious groups such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Baha'is, and raised their concerns with the Government when necessary. Embassy officials closely monitored trials related to issues of religious freedom and took an active role in policy forums and NGO roundtables regarding religious freedom.

Leaders of local minority religious groups were regularly welcomed at embassy events.

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Mormon Church Experimentation In Nigeria

Outside Zion Osandu Ndukwe's one-room apartment, a naked toddler ran up and down a filthy hallway lit by a single candle. The power in the overcrowded slum was off yet again. The stench of urine from the communal bathroom overpowered the fragrance of spices in the bubbling soup a neighbor was stirring.

But this night, the misery all around Ndukwe — the crime, the uncollected trash, the bathtub-size potholes, the cars belching black smoke — stopped at his door. It was a Monday evening, and because Ndukwe, 39, had been baptized into the Mormon church six months earlier, that meant it was time to be with his family and sing God's praises.

"I am a child of God!" he sang, as he, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter celebrated in loud, joyous voices a faith once known for its all-white, all-American membership.

"I'm a changed man," Ndukwe said, sitting on a bed that took up most of his apartment. "I used to drink. I had girlfriends outside my marriage. I don't do that anymore, and I feel better. The Mormon church contributed 100 percent to the change."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is formally known, now has more members outside the United States than inside it.

The church's rise from its roots in Utah to a steadily growing global faith in 176 countries and territories has been aided by the Internet, including the popular Web site, which seeks to dispel the mystery that still surrounds the religion; by a satellite system linking 6,000 of its churches worldwide with the Salt Lake City headquarters; and by tens of thousands of missionaries knocking on doors from Lagos to Lapland.

As the world's largest faiths — Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Hinduism — expand across the developing world, smaller faiths such as Mormonism are also gaining strength. The Mormon church, which did not permit blacks to become priests until 1978, says it now has more than 250,000 members in Africa, including almost 80,000 in Nigeria.

Mormonism, which teaches that an American named Joseph Smith was a prophet who received visions from God about how to restore the true and original Christian church, had 1.7 million members in 1960. Today, according to church statistics, it has about 13 million, more than 7 million of them outside the U.S.

The church's landmark six-spire temple in Kensington, Md., was its first east of the Rocky Mountains when it opened in 1974. Now there are Mormon temples in more than 40 countries, from China to Finland to Ghana, and more than 8,400 Mormon churches or meetinghouses abroad, with a new one built nearly every day.

As the church grows in numbers and diversity, it is gaining global recognition.

"A lot of people think nothing but polygamy" when they hear of the Mormons, said Rodney Stark, a religious-studies specialist at Baylor University in Texas, even though that practice has been outlawed by the church for more than a century. But as more people acquire Mormon friends and neighbors, Stark said, Mormons "are no longer seen as a peculiar little sect. They are too big."

Jan Shipps, a Methodist scholar who has written extensively about the Mormons, said, "When a cult grows up, it becomes a culture."


Finding "peace of mind"

Early Sunday morning in the dusty Oshodi neighborhood of Lagos, before the tropical sun pressed down like a heavy steam iron, the noisy streets were teeming. Women carried bundles on their heads — cans of paint or a sewing machine. Creaking yellow buses were overcrowded. Wealthier people drove past in ancient Mercedes sedans discarded by faraway owners.

Amid the seemingly endless shacks and open sewers on haphazard Llesanmi Street, one lovely place stood out: a gated, cream-colored compound with a steepled church. Inside the spotless chapel, about 170 people sat in neat rows under whirring ceiling fans as an organist played quiet hymns. Almost every worshipper was black, and every male worshipper wore a white shirt and tie.

One after another, adults and children walked to the microphone and professed their devotion to the Mormon faith. Their reasons for joining it were diverse, but nearly all had once belonged to a larger Christian church they found lacking. Perhaps most of all, they said, they were initially attracted to the Mormon belief that devout families stay together eternally, not just until death.

Joshua Matthews Ebiloma, 40, a sales manager for a power-generator company, said the Mormons offered him "peace of mind" he had not found anywhere else.

Nigeria is half Muslim and almost half Christian, and proselytizing foreigners, from the United States to Saudi Arabia, are pouring millions of dollars into the African nation of 135 million to expand their faiths.

Ebiloma has sampled a range of them. He was born into a pagan family and still bears the scars of tribal markings carved into his cheeks when he was young. After attending Muslim schools as a child, he tried various Christian churches before finding what he described as "happiness and peace" in Mormonism.

Now, Ebiloma nodded and smiled as fellow Mormons told their stories. One woman described the joy of having her family "sealed," a ritual that Mormons believe ensures that families stay together beyond death.

Another said she believed that tithing — the Mormon practice of members giving one-tenth of their income to the church — "would bring great blessings."

A third woman praised Gordon Hinckley, the 97-year-old church president in Salt Lake City, who followers believe receives divine revelations. "I know President Hinckley is the living prophet," she said, just as amplified clapping and stamping in a nearby Pentecostal church began drowning out more testimonies.

"It is quiet and more organized in here," Ebiloma said later. "In other churches, people are shouting at the top of their lungs, sweating so much they need a hankie. One thing I know for sure: God is not deaf."

Ebiloma said those quiet services, along with the fact that all the men wear white shirts, have led many to think that his church is strange: "My friends ask, 'What are you doing in there? Did they make you wear a uniform?' "

Many scholars say the Mormons' decision not to adopt more local customs — such as incorporating African drumming or dancing into Sunday services — is one reason the church has not experienced the same remarkable growth as other denominations. Pentecostals, a lively evangelical Christian movement, can draw half a million worshippers to their all-night services here.

The Mormon church has often had strained relations with other Christian churches, not least because it was founded in the 19th century on the tenet that mainstream Christianity had strayed from the original message of Jesus.

Nigerian Catholic and Pentecostal leaders interviewed about the Mormons said the group was growing, becoming more visible especially because of its fine buildings, but was still small. Others have taken issue with the Mormons' membership statistics, saying that by counting as members those who have been baptized, they include those who have fallen away from the church.

Among the places the church says it is particularly vibrant are Brazil and Mexico, which have about 1 million Mormons each, and the Philippines, with nearly 600,000. In Africa, there are Mormon congregations in 27 countries.

Ebiloma said he especially liked that Mormons don't preach that people of other faiths were going to hell and that Mormon church leaders are largely unpaid and support themselves with other jobs.

Abstinence from alcohol, another church practice, was a tougher sell. But gradually, with the help of his favorite part of the church — regular home visits from missionaries and other members — he abandoned his Guinness beer.

Now, the affable father of two said, he even tries to obey the church's no-caffeine rule. "I am so happy," he said. "I am at peace."

"If you are bereaved or you have a new baby or you don't have money to pay your hospital bills, church members rally around you," he said, smiling. "You tell me: Is this a church I should leave?"

A racist past

Ebiloma is a now a Mormon priest, a lay position in the church which, three decades ago, he could not have held because of the color of his skin. Influenced by the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, many Mormons in the United States grew increasingly uncomfortable with that policy — including George Romney, the former Michigan governor whose son, Mitt Romney, is now a Republican presidential candidate.

According to Newell Bringhurst, an American scholar who has written two books about the place of black people in the Mormon church, the issue surfaced again in 1976, hurting Morris Udall, a Mormon, in his run against Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination.

It wasn't until 1978 that the Mormon president at the time said he had received a divine revelation and lifted the ban against ordaining black men to the priesthood, which has since been open to all "worthy" male candidates over the age of 12.

Like many members interviewed in Nigeria, Ebiloma said he knew nothing of that history. "But I know this church is not racist," he said. "Here it's strange if there is a white person in church."

Bringhurst said the church has been "more successful among blacks outside the United States than inside," partly because abroad there is less "awareness of this past historic discrimination."

The main pressure for the 1978 policy change, he said, "came from the Mormon church wanting to expand outside the United States. There was a certain element of pragmatism. Potential growth was being impeded in places like Brazil and Africa."

A few miles away, in another Mormon church, Muyiwa Omowaiye closed his eyes and fell back in the arms of a Mormon elder until he was completely under water. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," the elder said, as the seated congregation watched the 6-foot-1 computer salesman in a white gown being submerged, their eyes on a ceiling mirror hung above the pool-size baptismal font.

The role of the Internet

Omowaiye is one of more than 220,000 people a year baptized abroad into the Mormon church — four times the 54,000 annual baptisms in the United States. And like many people around the world, he first started learning about the church on the Internet.

The Mormons have embraced the Internet, and a new TV ad campaign in the United States directs people to find out more about the faith online. Millions of people first learn of the religion through its vast online depository of genealogical records.

The Salt Lake City headquarters has considerable oversight over the global church and transmits general conferences and leadership training sessions via satellite to churches around the world. About one-third of the church's 53,000 missionaries are not from the United States.

After reading about the church online, Omowaiye clicked his way to a dating Web site for Mormons (though not officially affiliated with the church). There he began chatting electronically with Deborah Hess, a relocation manager from Colorado. After corresponding for a year by e-mail, webcam and phone, Hess recently came to Lagos and married Omowaiye, a quiet, soft-spoken man.

"No matter where you go in the world, the service is the same," Hess said, noting that the buildings, baptismal fonts, services and hymns in Lagos were nearly identical to those back home in the United States.

Ngozi Ndukwe, a teacher and the wife of the recent convert who says the church helped him stop drinking and womanizing, likes this uniformity. She has watched meetings in Salt Lake City on satellite TV here and saw that the teachings in Nigeria are the same as in the United States — including the emphasis on ancestors.

A central Mormon belief is that even the dead deserve the chance of salvation through baptism. In temples — only Mormons "in good standing" can enter — baptisms by proxy are done with a living person standing in for one who has died, with names and dates of birth and death discovered in genealogical research.

"My daddy didn't attend any church before he died," said Zion Ndukwe, who said he and his wife are planning an 11-hour bus ride to Aba, in southeastern Nigeria, where there is a stunning new Mormon temple. There, he said, he will wade into a pool, surrounded by his Mormon family, and be baptized on behalf of his father. He believes the church teaching that his whole family can be together in heaven one day. "It gives me hope," he said.

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Expulsion From The Church An Expression Of Love?

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."

In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey's case, calling it a "private ecclesiastical matter." He did say that while the church does not "blacklist" anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. "A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God," he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. "If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership."

In Christianity's early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.

Little Consensus

Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.

Since Mrs. Caskey's second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.

Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.

"I don't intend to abandon that church," Mrs. Caskey says. "I feel like I have every right to be there."

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Vulnerable James Packer Was A Perfect Scientology Recruit

Sad, overweight and jilted by his then wife Jodi Meares, James Packer was the "perfect recruit" when actor Tom Cruise set off on a carefully targeted crusade in mid-2002, aimed at converting wealthy and influential celebrities to scientology.

The claim is made in a blockbuster new biography of Cruise by British author Andrew Morton, who describes the then 35-year-old Mr Packer as the "raw meat" Scientology needed to gain recognition and credibility.

"Not only was he (Mr Packer) wildly wealthy and emotionally confused, he was a well-known figure in a country that has been hostile to the faith, a 1965 (Australian) Government report accusing scientology of being 'evil'," Morton writes in Tom Cruise: An Unauthorised Biography.

"Dominated by his larger-than-life father (the late Kerry Packer), James Packer cut a sorry figure, overweight and out of shape.

"Not only had his One.Tel communications business collapsed, but his wife of just two years had walked out on him.

"His 'ruin' was obvious to anyone - and it did not take long before he was reading Scientology literature."

Morton says Mr Packer was specifically targeted by Cruise, who by mid-2002 had resolved to dedicate his life to Scientology.

He suggests Cruise offered Mr Packer a role as a samurai extra in the film The Last Samurai solely to convert him.

Mr Packer was quickly seduced, saying later he admired Cruise for his humility, values and decency.

Morton claims actor Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett, were similarly targeted by Cruise because of their stature in African-American society.

Cruz relationship 'calculated'

Even Cruise's love interest with actor Penelope Cruz was calculated to boost scientology in Spanish-speaking countries, he says.

"He (Cruise) was not only an advocate but a teacher, donor, a preacher and a recruiting sergeant, using his celebrity and his image as a clean-cut action hero to gain access to the levers of power while making Scientology seem like a middle-of-the-road institution for regular folk," Morton writes.

Australian customers who wish to read all of this for themselves, may have trouble buying a copy, after US publisher St Martin's Press reportedly instructed its distributors not to sell it outside North America.

It was still available last night on the internet. had a notice saying the publisher had authorised distribution of the book only to US and Canadian customers.

However, The Australian had no trouble ordering a copy using an Australian credit card and an Australian mailing address.

Book sellers scrambling for copies

Angus & Robertson book manager Jodi Smith said the company received an email yesterday from its US wholesaler, Baker & Taylor - one of the main suppliers of books to the Australian market - stating it could no longer provide the book to Australian customers because of restrictions placed on it by St Martin's.

"We had every intention of ordering the book," Ms Smith said. "But everyone we know has been unable to supply it to us.

"We physically can't get the book from anyone."

Another big US distributor, Ingram International, also emailed its Australian customers overnight, informing them it was no longer able to sell the book outside the US and Canada.

It said customers who had already placed orders would have them fulfilled, but no more orders would be taken.

Kinokuniya's Sydney store manager Steve Jones yesterday said the bookseller had found another distributor who was willing to sell to Australia.

"We have actually sourced another supplier of the book - although it may take a little longer," he said.

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