‘Racist’ church’s meeting adds foes

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Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sep. 18, 2002

The Rev. Harold Braxton isn’t surprised that a national white supremacist group picked Chesterfield County as a place to meet.

What troubles him is why.

“Racists think ours is an ideal county,” he said. “That saddens me. It bothers me that they think our residents would welcome this kind of thing.”

Braxton is the president of a Matoaca-based civic organization that grants scholarships to Virginia State University students.

He is also one of many people who oppose Chesterfield’s decision to allow the

“This group is un-American,” he said. “It runs afoul of all we are trying to do to be united.”

The opposition to this Illinois-based church – which calls itself the fastest-growing white, racist and anti-Semitic church in America – has crossed racial and religious lines.

Dozens of Richmond-area organizations and churches, as well as two members of Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors, have publicly challenged the county’s decision. Many plan to protest the meeting if it occurs Saturday.

Supervisors Edward B. Barber and Jack McHale have asked Chesterfield Administrator Lane B. Ramsey to cancel the church’s meeting. The board is expected to discuss the matter today in an executive session.

Other board members have said if legally possible, they also will support canceling the meeting.

The ACLU of Virginia yesterday cautioned Chesterfield against blocking the church’s controversial meeting.

Kent Willis, executive director of the organization, said, “If the county blocks the meeting, then we may be forced to intervene in the courts.”

“The First Amendment prohibits public libraries from excluding any organization from their facilities based on the organization’s beliefs,” Willis wrote in a letter to Kelly E. Miller, chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors.

Ramsey said, “This group and what they represent is appalling to the staff and our elected officials,” but the county has to abide by the U.S. Constitution.

“The staff has reacted to the . . . right given to every American and every group to equal treatment,” he said. “All of the attention given to this issue by the media and those that show up feed into what this organization is looking for, to create controversy and gain publicity.”

Bishop Gerald O. Glenn, pastor of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, one of the largest black congregations in Chesterfield, said he doesn’t care about the constitutional ramifications.

“If it means that the county has got to be sued, then sue us,” he said.

Glenn criticized the county for not informing the community about its decision.

“I am not just angry. I am mad,” he said. “We should not have read about this for the first time in The Times-Dispatch. Again this county has done something without even the decency of recognizing that this is going to affect other people. The whole Chesterfield County administration should be fired.”

Two years ago, the county decided to honor April as Confederate History and Heritage month. The decision prompted a visit from David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan leader. At the time, Glenn asked people to boycott Chesterfield County stores to show their disappointment with the county.

Glenn plans to protest again. He has invited his congregation – all 2,500 of them – to the Chester Library on Saturday.

“I will be there, and I am going to go in that church’s meeting. I am so incensed,” he said.

Chesterfield officials said they had no other choice but to approve the church request.

“It is a free-speech issue that we could not rise above,” said Millard D. “Pete” Stith, Jr., deputy administrator of community development. “We in no way attempted to slight any segment of the community.”

John King, a leader of the World Church of the Creator, yesterday said the county cannot legally cancel his group’s planned event.

“It would be un-American to try to prevent a peaceful group from expressing its opinions in a library,” said King, who lives in Newport News. “I haven’t received any comments yet that we are unwelcome.”

Some people yesterday sided with King, saying the group has a right to speak.

“It concerns me greatly that two supervisors would deny this group their constitutional rights. Even though I do not agree in any way with the views of this group, I must fight for their rights to their views and their freedom of speech,” wrote O.H. Jackson Jr., a former Chesterfield resident, in an e-mail yesterday.

Others, however, charged that a racist, “whites-only” organization that has been linked to violence in the past has no place in Chesterfield.

“It’s shameful,” said the Rev. Lawrence Pollard, former chaplain of the Southside Virginia Training Center. “These people are talking about white-supremacy love. The group is founded on the basis of hate.”

Braxton said he is not sure what he will do if the group is allowed to meet.

“I know I have to do something,” he said.

Several peaceful protests are being planned should the meeting occur. The Chesterfield County Democratic Committee is calling on people to unite outside the library at 4:45 p.m.

There is a Chester Community Unity Meeting, sponsored in part by McHale, planned at Thomas Dale High School at 5 p.m.

Other groups, including the Chesterfield Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are also planning peaceful protests. Details were not available yesterday.

The Chesterfield County Republican Committee yesterday issued a statement condemning the church.

“This fringe group is not worldwide. It is not a Christian church. It has nothing to do with the Creator. And it is not welcome in Chesterfield County,” wrote Kevin Hoeft, chairman of the committee.

Members of the Richmond Peace Education Center, a 20-year-old education group founded on promoting peace through justice, are also speaking out.

“It gets to me that they are choosing to do this in the Richmond area,” said Ken Willis, executive director of the center (no relation to the ACLU’s Kent Willis). “If I was someone in Chesterfield, I would be terribly upset . . . they have the right to free speech, to share their views. Others have the right to protest.”

Mike Sarahan, a Richmond resident, has also called for a “unity in our community” meeting outside the library. All are welcome to attend.

This outpouring doesn’t bother King.

Instead, he welcomes it.

“Christians don’t hold the trademark on church,” he said. “They obviously don’t understand the freedoms we have as Americans.”

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