The System Works!

I’m not normally one to indulge in schadenfreude, but here’s a piece of news I cannot restrain my glee over hearing: Kent Hovind and his wife have been convicted of tax fraud – and it couldn’t have happened to two nicer people.

The Hovinds were charged in July with twelve counts of willful failure to pay income taxes, forty-five counts of structuring financial transactions to avoid bank reporting requirements, and one count of impeding an IRS investigation through the filing of frivolous lawsuits and criminal complaints. The trial began in mid-October, and the prosecution rested yesterday. The Hovinds’ public defender opted not to present a defense, and after deliberating for only three hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. To judge from the Pensacola News Journal‘s somewhat vague report, it would seem that the Hovinds were convicted on all charges. (Edit: According to an updated article, this is indeed the case.)

Regular readers of Daylight Atheism and other skeptical sites will undoubtedly be well acquainted with the antics of Kent Hovind. Hovind is a notorious bottom-of-the-barrel creationist who calls himself “Dr. Dino”, although his “degree” is a worthless piece of paper from an unaccredited diploma bill called Patriot University, a picture of which one can view here, and his supposed doctoral thesis is a rambling, poorly written rehash of standard creationist fare that presents no original research or conclusions. Hovind’s anti-evolution arguments are so bad that they even embarrass other creationists; for example, the young-earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis wrote a lengthy article rebutting Hovind titled Maintaining Creationist Integrity, although they later pulled it from their website after complaints from readers. (So much for creationist peer review!) Hovind is particularly infamous for his “$250,000 offer” for anyone who can offer proof of evolution, a challenge that is a transparently obvious scam since Hovind himself decides what evidence is or is not acceptable as proof and unilaterally hand-picks the committee members who would judge any submission.

Hovind’s ideas on other topics are even more bizarre. Most of them have something to do with bizarre and paranoid conspiracy theories about secret plots engaged in by the government. According to articles published on the Internet, Hovind believes that the 9/11 attacks were a U.S. government conspiracy, as was the Oklahoma City bombing; that the flu shot (or perhaps the flu itself) is a “hoax” perpetrated by the government; that the government is secretly spraying poisonous chemicals on people to control them; that the government possesses, but has suppressed, a cure for cancer; that UFOs are either demonic apparitions or a top-secret government conspiracy, or possibly both; that bar codes are the Mark of the Beast; that the moon landing was a hoax; and that government agents can watch you through your television set. (Here are some of these quotes from a thorough web site devoted to debunking Hovind.) And, of course, the central bizarre belief that landed Hovind in all this trouble: he is a tax protestor. Until his trial, Hovind was the owner and proprietor of Dinosaur Adventure Land, a young-earth creationist theme park in Pensacola, Florida, from which he apparently made a tidy sum, selling almost $2 million in Christian merchandise in 2002 alone. However, Hovind argued that he was not a citizen of the United States, and that everything he owns “belongs to God” and therefore is not subject to laws concerning income tax. Fortunately, the jury did not buy this sophistry.

Given the number and severity of the charges against them, the Hovinds could potentially go to jail for the rest of their lives, but I very strongly doubt that this will happen. For one thing, it would be an unjustly disproportionate sentence, since despite all their ludicrous false beliefs, the Hovinds are not alleged to have harmed anyone or done any violence. However, I suspect a more realistic reason underlying the judge’s sentencing decision will be a desire not to appear unduly harsh, so as not to be accused of persecuting Christians. On the other hand, I would urge the judge to keep in mind that, from all accounts, Hovind has shown no remorse and still does not admit that the law applies to him. Both of these factors indicate a high probability of recidivism whenever he is eventually released. (There is already evidence supporting this: in 1996, Hovind filed a petition claiming bankruptcy to avoid paying taxes and was rejected, with the judge finding he had filed in bad faith and falsely claimed that he owned no property.) I think an eight- to twelve-year sentence would suit him well, although I suspect something in the neighborhood of three to six years is more likely. It is extremely unlikely, in either case, that Hovind will cease his whining about religious persecution so common among the fundamentalists who run the country, but I believe it will send a strong message that justice cannot be so easily denied, and that religious beliefs do not grant a person license to exempt themself from the laws that we must all abide by.

* * *

In other news, holy cow: Ted Haggard, the president of the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has resigned both positions after allegations surfaced that he has had a three-year sexual relationship with a male escort. To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, Haggard was and is a fervent and vocal opponent of gay marriage and has been urging Colorado voters to approve a constitutional amendment banning it in a referendum that will be held during next week’s midterm elections. Haggard is also one of the nation’s most politically influential evangelicals (he was named among the top 25 in 2005 by Time magazine) and, until recently at least, participated in a weekly conference call with the White House and boasted that he had “direct access” to George W. Bush.

Atheists, more than any other group, should understand the value of evidence in reaching conclusions, and I would urge my fellow nonbelievers to maintain appropriate skepticism toward this story and not make assertions that cannot yet be supported by facts. On the other hand, though Haggard has denied this story, I find it extremely difficult to believe that he would resign so abruptly if there were nothing to it. His startlingly sudden exit, in fact, reminds me of nothing so much as the resignation of the disgraced Republican representative Mark Foley.

Even if the Haggard story turns out not to be true, it truly is remarkable how many leading Christian figures either have close gay acquaintances and relatives or have turned out to be gay themselves. It is tempting to wonder if the zeal that any other conservative firebrands show in preaching against homosexuality is driven by their own self-hatred, a self-hatred provoked by rigid religious beliefs that will not permit them to accept their own nature. Sadly, whether driven by repressed rejection of their own sexuality or not, the religious right’s unrelenting and vicious bigotry is still causing untold harm to real people who want nothing more than to live in peace free of discrimination. When will we learn that it is no business of anyone else’s how consenting adults live their own lives?

UPDATE: As some commenters have pointed out, Haggard has now admitted purchasing methamphetamine from the male escort who first made these allegations (after previously denying that he ever met the man). He has also admitted receiving a massage from him. He continues to deny having sex, a denial which looks far less plausible now. Dispatches from the Culture Wars has more, including a comment with a link to an amusing news story in which the Bush administration is already trying to distance itself from Haggard.

UPDATE 2 (11/05): Haggard has now admitted, without elaborating, that he has committed “sexual immorality”.

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