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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sheriff Morgan Funding Assembly of God Prosletyzing Under Guise of Drug Rehabilitation


The Escambia County Sheriff's Office funding for the Pensacola Men's Center, which is legally part of the Teen Challenge International Inc., presents several problems.  Sheriff Morgan's office is funding a sectarian religious organization whose practices are a danger to those attending the Pensacola Men's Center and a violation of their constitutional right not to be indoctrinated into a faith using public funds.  These problems are as follows:

One, Teen Challenge International Inc. is a "Mission" of the Assembly of God and is bound to that organization's belief system.

Two, its mission to "evangelize" youth in its custody and "initiate the discipleship process" means that its "drug therapy" is actually religious indoctrination in a highly controlled and structured environment which places Christians and non-Christians in a hostile religious environment.

Three, the Assembly of God's position on homosexuality makes it completely unsuitable to provide anti-drug counseling to gay men.

Four, the policy of denying its clients, either those who voluntarily attend or those who are sentenced to the drug treatment program, prescribed medications for psychological illnesses is dangerous to its clients.

Five, the counselors at the Pensacola Men's Center are completely unqualified to provide drug counseling.

And six, the Teen Challenge centers and the testimony of Pensacola Men's Center "counselors" make it clear that religious indoctrination and recruitment into the Assembly of God is the main, if not sole purpose, for the Pensacola Men's Center.

Referenced Documents for Quick Access:

2008 Teen Challenge Best Practices Manual

1995 Teen Challenge Articles of Incorporation, Florida

2014 ECSO Check $2000 to Teen Challenge

2015 ECSO Check $2500 to Teen Challenge

2014 Teen Challenge Intl USA Form 990 to IRS

2013 Teen Challenge Florida Form 990 to IRS

The Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund (ECLETF)

It is probably fair to assume that most residents of Escambia County are unfamiliar with the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund or ECLETF.  The statute establishing procedures for the "disposition of liens and forfeited property"--the actual source of the funds--is governed by Florida statute 932.7055.  Under this statute, the Board of the County Commissioners establishes that the funds can "only be used for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs."  The funds are disbursed "upon request by the sheriff to the board of county commissioners."

For Fiscal Year 2014, which ran from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014, the Board of County Commissioners and the Sheriff's Office disbursed $279,842 to community organizations, according to documents obtained by CJ's Street Report through a public records request.

Funding for the Pensacola's Men Center or Teen Challenge between 2011 and May 15, 2015, totals $10,500.  A review of the Sheriff's Office records demonstrates that funding for the organization, with the exception of one year has been escalating: 2011: $500; 2012: $800; 2013: $4,200; 2014: $2,500; and, as of May 15, 2015: $2,500.

Teen Challenge International, Inc., Employer Identification Number 59-3302759, which is registered in the state of Florida, reported to the federal Internal Revenue Service on its Form 990 that between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, it received $2.154 million dollars in contributions and had net assets of $341,186.  For the year, it operated at a budget deficit of just under $9,000.

The Real Purpose of Teen Challenge International, Inc.

Teen Challenge International, Inc. the parent of the Pensacola Men's Center, is a religious organization.  According to its 1999 "Articles of Amendment to Articles of Incorporation" filed with Florida's Secretary of State, the organization was "only" changing its name from "Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc." to "Teen Challenge International, Inc."  In other words, its purpose had not changed.  The name change was cosmetic.

According to its 1995 filing with Florida's Secretary of State of the "Articles of Incorporation of Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc.," "Article III Purpose" stated unequivocally that "Teen Challenge centers are all 501(c)(3) organizations situated throughout the United States and abroad whose purpose can be generally described as follows:

'to evangelize people who have life-controlling problems and initiate the discipleship process to the point where the student can function as a Christian in society applying spiritually motivated Biblical principles to relationships in family, local church, chosen vocation, and the community.  Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.'"

According to Teen Challenge International USA, Inc.'s 2014 Form 990 filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service, the purpose is to "provide youth, adult and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society by applying biblical principals [sic]."

Direct Link to the Assembly of God

Teen Challenge International USA, Inc., the parent of Teen Challenge International, Inc. operating in Florida, is a mission of the Assembly of God.

According to the Assembly of God website listing its missions, Teen Challenge International USA, is one of seven missions.  The Teen Challenge International USA, Inc. link takes you directly to its link.  Put in Pensacola, Florida, USA, to find a local center and you are taken directly to a map on which the Pensacola Men's Center, Teen Challenge International is shown.  Click on the center and the link to its website and you are taken directly to Pensacola Men's Center, Teen Challenge International.

In 2008, Teen Challenge USA, wrote a "Best Practices" manual.  The manual clearly states that all local Teen Challenges have a contractual relationship with the Assembly of God.  According to the manual (page 1), "National Teen Challenge Inc. was created in 1984 and has evolved over the years to (1) be a liaison between the AG and Teen Challenge programs, (2) function as an accreditation office, (3) own the ‘Teen Challenge’ name and logo, (3) promote and represent TC on a national level, (4) maintain a national website, (5) function as a hub for referrals and donations, (6) own, update and sell the TC curriculum, and (6) provide vision and overall support for the TC programs.  Although TCUSA currently exists as an independent corporation, it is also one of the six departments under AG US Missions.  Every TC program in the U.S. exists as an autonomous, non-profit corporation as well.  Similar to a franchise, they agree to comply with national accreditation standards, pay a monthly fee, and sign an Affiliation Agreement with TCUSA in order to use the ‘Teen Challenge’ name."

Each of the five chapters regarding how to run a Teen Challenge center begins with a "theological foundation": organizational structure, financial management, compensation, fundraising, and conflict resolution.

Evangelizing Youth During Drug Rehabilitation

We have already seen that the "purpose" of the Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc., which is also the purpose of Teen Challenge International, Inc., is to "evangelize" and apply "spiritually motivated Biblical principles" in order to make those suffering from substance abuse "spiritually alive."

On the homepage of the Pensacola Men's Center, they declare that that "We are a highly structured and disciplined Christian discipleship program that helps men build integrity, character, strong family values, and dedication to church and community."

On the webpage describing the program, they categorically state, "This Christian-based discipleship program is both highly structured and highly disciplined, and is designed to help prepare a student to stand on his own feet after completion of the program.  Christian principles are the foundation of the ministry, and are taught and shared daily with the students."

Notice that it is not a drug rehabilitation program, but a "ministry" using a "discipleship program" based on "Christian principles."

The same webpage for the Pensacola Men's Center states that some of their clients "enter voluntarily" "while others are court ordered."

In other words, youth or adult offenders for drug-related crimes sentenced to the Pensacola Men's Center, a program that lasts typically "12 months in length but may be longer based on the individual and the amount of aftercare needed," are going to subjected to religious indoctrination as part of the program.

The emphasis upon "coming to Jesus" is also evident in the testimonies of staff at the Pensacola Men's Center in their inducement to young men to join them.

Scott Lipinksy, the center's program manager, "firmly believes that if God was able to change his wretched life through Teen Challenge, then anyone has a chance to be saved and healed from destruction."

Chris McKinney, the education coordinator, "just wants to give back to the same program that God used to save his life by helping others receive the freedom that he now has through Jesus Christ."

Pastor Bud South, the assistant pastor at the Warrington Assembly of God church, "assists in the spiritual development of the student body."

Roger Hughes, the Emerging Leader's Representative, "feels called to give back to the ministry that gave so much to him."

Chaplain Brian Eskelinen, a mentor, "lives and believes that there is not a man or woman alive beyond the delivering power and hope of Christ."

Matt Mitchell, a mentor, "serves as the worship Leader and mentor at Pensacola Teen Challenge" and "serves as a worship leader at Pensacola House of Prayer."  The Pensacola House of Prayer is formally linked to the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer.

While much more will be written about the Pensacola House of Prayer in the context of the larger Pensacola-based coalition, Pray for Pensacola, suffice here to say the model of the International House of Prayer is twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week perpetual prayer combined with fasting.  The International House of Prayer is linked to The Call, run by Lou Engle, which is a major group opposed to same-sex marriage and Islam.

Rhome Smith, another mentor at the Pensacola Men's Center, "desire is to see students succeed in building a long and lasting relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ."

Martin Tate, the office administrator for the men's and women's centers, is the "worship leader at [the] Family Worship Center in Pensacola."  Actually, that is the fictitious business name of the Faith Temple Assembly of God on West Nine Mile Road.

Angie Wade, the administrative assistant, spends her free time at the Women's Center and "her vision [is] that each of the women in the program understand that whatever they’ve done, His blood has covered them and if they surrender all to Jesus He will do much more than just repair the damage.  He will restore what was lost..."

The Assembly of God on Homosexuality, Demons, and Medications

In 1979, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, approved a position paper ("statement") on "Homosexual Conduct."   Citing scripture, the AoG statement claimed that "Homosexuality is both a sin against God and mankind. It runs contrary to the divine plan, purpose, and will of God who created us in His image....Most fundamentally, homosexuality is sin because it perverts the created order of human sexuality, the heterosexual fulfillment of both man and woman."

Under the Assembly of God webpage for "Position Papers," is a paper on "Homosexuality, Marriage, and Sexual Identity."  Given the amount and consequences of advocacy for LGBTQ rights, as well as shifts in scientific understandings of homosexuality and sexuality that had occurred between 1979 and 2014, when the position paper was adopted by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, the Assembly of God declared: "We believe, in light of biblical revelation, that the growing cultural acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior (male and female), same-sex marriage, and efforts to change one’s biological sexual identity are all symptomatic of a broader spiritual disorder that threatens the family, the government, and the church."

In other words, nothing had changed for the Assembly of God between 1979 and 2014.  This is especially clear considering that it repeated its 1979 statement: "Homosexual behavior is sin because it is contrary to God’s created order for the family and human relationships."

Indeed, Teen Challenge USA "hosts ex-gay speakers around the country." 

In 2011, James Voss, a gay man, published an account of his being sentenced to Teen Challenge when he was 24-years old in 2007.  Voss, a youth pastor and graduate of "'Christ-centered Pentecostal'" North Central University in Michigan, chose to go to the Western Michigan Teen Challenge rather than be sentenced for driving under the influence.  In the four months that he stayed at Teen Challenge, he lived under the rules of a handbook with "111 rules and guidelines...designed to put program participants in submission to the program's leaders who supposedly were anointed by God and spoke with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit."  Proof of their anointment was "the ability to speak in tongues."

Voss wrote that individuals with "psychological problems were often not allowed to take medications prescribed by doctors since there was a ban on any medication that had any affect on the brain."  Daily life consisted of "chapel, bible classes, work duty, and two hours of praying on your knees."  In fact, Voss took three Bible classes per day.  Learning was reduced to "rote memorization."  Attendees were isolated from the outside world and monitored.  Voss wrote that "all conversations are monitored for ungodliness, all mail is read, and phone conversations are limited to five minutes every two weeks."  All of the regimentation and monitoring was to achieve one of the "stated program reprogram or recondition the mind."

Voss suggested that "the overall program is quite harmful to those who participate, particularly LGBT people.  The LGBT Community needs to watch out for programs like Teen Challenge and remember that it a massive organization with over 223 centers in North America with the capacity to sleep over 7,536 people, according to its website."

But, Voss is not the only person to write about his traumatic experience at Teen Challenge.  In fact, there are numerous websites dedicated to former attendees sharing their experiences.

Maia Szalavitz, who monitors abusive medical treatments, noted that Teen Challenges' ban on medications to treat mental illness is "not exactly evidence-based practice" and "since there are medications that can help treat particular addictions, this is even more absurd."

Szalavitz wrote an article for Time magazine published on November 13, 2012, in which she reported on abuses uncovered by the Tampa Bay Times at the Gateway Christian Military Academy which is "part of a national organization called Teen Challenge, which has a history of abusive practices carried out in the name of religion. For decades, Teen Challenge has run afoul of states with stricter oversight of youth facilities for some of its practices."

Szalavitz quoted from the Tampa Bay story about the severe psychological and physical torture suffered by 15-year old Samson Lehman--torture that reads as if it was produced at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo:

"'They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark. Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more. The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run.  The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness. So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal. By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.'"  The boy required months of expensive dialysis treatment to recover.

Compounding the severity of the torture, Szalavitz reported that the Gateway Christian Military Academy, part of the Teen Challenge International, Inc., was a member of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies.  This means that the "religious exemption protects the programs from inspections by the state’s department of children and families, which means students can be imprisoned or shackled and, unlike with licensed youth programs, can be denied contact with their parents and prevented from accessing child-abuse hotlines.  Regulatory authority over these religious programs lies almost entirely in the hands of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies (FACCA).  And these programs flourish in other states as well, since no national regulations exist to oversee such facilities for teens."

Teen Challenge International, Inc. is not currently a member of FACCA.  It is not clear when its membership may have ended, if it was a member.

And, there is a growing number of articles detailing abusive practices at Teen Challenge centers.  The pseudonymous DogEmperor, a woman who escaped from an abusive church, published a series of articles based on extensive research regarding abuses at Teen Challenge centers with links to other websites dedicated to exposing Teen Challenge abuses.  Many of her findings from various Teen Centers located around the country would be corroborated by or consistent with the account later given by James Voss.  Essentially, the rigid structure, religious indoctrination ("spiritual abuse"), coercive tactics, the lack of trained staff, and the lack of outside regulatory oversight make Teen Center essentially a "'Jesus Gulag.'"

Bruce Wilson, the co-founder of the progressive religious website Talk to Action, conducted extensive research on the "growing trend of exorcism on the evangelical right."  He reported that the director and assistant director of a Colorado-based Teen Challenge center reported that "demon possession is a common issue with life-controlling problems."  The assistant director stated that the problem of demon possession is "very common."  One year later, Wilson reported that though it is "downplayed and covered up, the ‘reparative therapy’ approach typically includes room for casting out ‘gay demons.'"  The Teen Challenge National Conference in 1996 had a session on "demon possession and deliverance."  The videotaped presentation is still available on an Assembly of God website.

Wilson also reported on Brandon Barthrop, a 2001 graduate of the Minnesota Teen Challenge center who heads his own inner-city ministry.  According to a post on Barthrop's ministry's website, Barthrop credited his recovery to exorcisms:  "'I'm sure I was completely demonized my whole life until I got born in heaven in October 1999 when I was court-ordered to Minnesota Teen Challenge for drugs. I was completely strung out on all kinds of drugs.  I was permi-fried from acid, and lived in a continual LCD trip. Tracers, shadows, and darkness abounded. I began manifesting demons nearly immediately after entering into the Teen Challenge program, and a lot of demons were cast out over a three month period. Everything afterward became much brighter spiritually and physically.  I was told I was the worst case they had ever seen in Minnesota Teen Challenge history'" [emphasis by Wilson].

Unqualified Staff at Pensacola Men's Center

Teen Challenge USA boasts, as does its local franchise, the Pensacola Men's Center, that "research done through the years on the graduates of Teen Challenge suggest as much as 86% of those graduates are living a life free from addiction, are attending church, and are employed."

But, this statistic, based on a small-sample study conducted in 1975, is nothing but pseudo-scientific hot air.

DogEmperor cited "Bill McColl, executive director of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, [who] dismisses both the statistic and the study.  He states that the study was done too long ago and conducted with an extraordinarily small sample group. This leads us to believe that this study has almost no statistical validity."

Dr. Janet Parker who writes at the Medical Whistleblower website noted that the 86 percent success rate came from a study of youth in Pennsylvania who had graduated in 1968 and were studied in 1975.  Parker also cited Bill McColl who had dismissed the study as irrelevant.

However, another study of Teen Challenge claiming a 75 percent success rate conducted by Wilder Research in 2011 is just as irrelevant.  Wilder's study was drawn from 315 people who had graduated from the Minnesota Teen Challenge between 2007 and 2009, consisting of 66 percent adult men, 23 percent adult women, and 11 percent.  Sallie Jo Sorenson writing at the Bluestem Prairie website for news about Minnesota, noted that the study was actually conducted on 154  of those persons one-year after graduating.  Of 154 people in the study's sample, only ten percent were boys (6 percent) and girls (4 percent).  The sobriety levels for those 15 or 16 teenagers were lower than the 75 percent.  But, a sample size of 15 teenagers cannot be generalized.  It is irrelevant.

Indeed, the Pensacola Men's Center itself offers no claim that its program for youth between 12- and 17-years old is effective.  According to its own website, though "the programs for adolescents ages 12 to 17 have not been formally researched, we have seen antidotal evidence of lives being transformed."

In other words, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that any money spent by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office on youth for substance abuse recovery at the Pensacola Men's Center is money well spent.  In fact, it is probably wasted funds that could be better spent on improving conditions in the poorest neighborhoods in Pensacola.

Which leads to the question of the qualifications of the staff at the Pensacola Men's Center.  Aside from their religious motivations to bring people to Jesus, the only qualifications they have are: (1) they are almost all former substance abusers, (2) virtually all of them graduated from the Teen Challenge program, and (3) a good portion of them have taken some follow-on training in the Emerging Leadership Program also conducted by Teen Challenge.

Only one person has anything approaching a certificate, Scott Lipinsky.  Lipinsky has a certificate from an Internet company, Net Institute, in "Restoration Ministry for Counseling and Addiction."  However, I searched every online course provided by Net Institute and could not find a course of study called "Restoration Ministry for Counseling and Addiction."  Even so, Lipinsky is not a counselor at Pensacola Men's Center; he's the program manager.

In other words, the personnel at Pensacola Men's Center have no formal academic training from any accredited college or university for treating substance abuse.  They have not worked in the field with a practitioner independent of Teen Challenge or the Assembly of God.  They have no certificate or accreditation from any state agency regarding treatment for substance abuse.  The only thing they are qualified to do is follow Assembly of God doctrine on theological matters and give the party line from Teen Challenge USA as specified in the Best Practices manual and other directives and guidance. 

Concluding Observation

Let me be clear: the Assembly of God and Teen Challenge International, Inc. are entitled to hold whatever religious beliefs they hold and to practice their faith in the manner they choose to practice it.  Those religious beliefs are not being questioned here.

On the other hand, I do not believe that Escambia County youth should be sentenced to attend the Teen Challenge Center in Pensacola and I do not believe the Escambia County Sheriff's Office should be funding Teen Challenge International, Inc.

The Pensacola Men's Center or Teen Challenge International in Pensacola is a religious ministry masquerading as a substance abuse recovery center.  There is no scientific basis for its claims that it has any degree of success in returning individuals, adult or juvenile, to a productive life.  The personnel at the Pensacola Men's Center have no qualifications to engage in any kind of counseling for substance abuse.  The Pensacola Men's Center, following the guidelines and best practices established by Teen Challenge USA, a religious mission of the Assembly of God, is, in its own words, "a highly structured and disciplined Christian discipleship program."

Any court in District 1 assigning or sentencing a person to the Pensacola Men's Center is essentially placing that individual in a Christian prison where the daily routine amounts to psychological torture--especially if they are not "Christian."  A gay prisoner would be subjected to months of religious indoctrination that could be characterized as psychological torture.  There is Teen Challenge International testimony before the U.S. Congress of Jews being converted in Teen Challenge centers or otherwise denigrated while incarcerated there.

Sheriff Morgan is using funds that could be better spent in the poorest neighborhoods and communities of Pensacola and Escambia County to fund a religious ministry that functions to recruit vulnerable youths and young men into the Assembly of God.  If that is not a violation of the separation of church and state, nothing is.

But, as we proceed to examine the funding patterns of Sheriff Morgan and the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund, two facts will stand out:  amidst the good spending on many worthwhile projects that benefit the residents of Escambia County, Sheriff Morgan manages to funnel money to church groups linked to the Pray for Pensacola coalition and other proselytizing religious groups, and, well off groups with large amounts of assets receive huge payments for their operating expenses.

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