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”.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Freeyourmind

    “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?”

    Very well said and I was just saying a similar thing to my girlfriend. And personally, I couldn’t help but laugh at this news.

  • http://secularplanet.blogspot.com Secular Planet

    I think you meant “diploma mill” and not “diploma bill”.

  • andrea

    Well, Teddy has admitted to “some” of the allegations. I wonder if it’s harder to admit to drug abuse or homosexuality for him.
    Of course, he could use the Gibson/Foley/Etc defense and say the drugs “made” him do it.

  • Montu

    Dude friggen did it. As andrea said, he admitted to “some” of the charges, and to my mind I don’t know why you would call RentaBoy just to do meth. http://www.kktv.com/news/headlines/4557411.html

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    <Lewis Black>Sure, you rip off tons of people by getting them to pay you to tell them lies, no problem. But when don’t give the government their cut, then there’s hell to pay!</Lewis Black>

  • valhar2000

    I do wish that Kent Hovind spend quite a bit more than 12 years in prison. I disagree with you when you say that he has not harmed anyone; attacks on science harm us all, possibly even in ways that scape our comprehension, and his activities have contributed to the slavery of countless humans to religious dogma. He has done very much harm.

    And, about Haggard, I’d have to agree with PZ Myers, from Pharyngula: Haggard goes down in flames, and I’m not happy

    Haggard should not be chastised because he was gay, he should be chastised because he is a liar, a hate-monger and hypocrite.

  • andrea

    now Haggard claims he just bought the meth (knew it was going to be the drugs) but he never did any. Suuuuure. Hmmm, is the same as smoking pot and not inhaling?

  • Christopher

    Ah well, two more evangelical loonies out of the way. I wonder if these incidents might cause the “sheep” to take a closer look at their “shepherds” and critically evaluate what he spews out of his pulpit?

  • Andreas

    Christopher, a maximum of about three people will do that.

  • Alex Weaver

    For the sake of argument, having sex with another man doesn’t necessarily make him “gay”; bisexual is equally plausible, and there are other forms his desires might take that have little to do with “sexual attraction” as it is commonly understood. This might seem like a nitpick, but my observations suggest that making sure what we say implies what we mean is important in avoiding accusations of “witchhunts.” *eyeroll*

    As for Hovind, considering the number of important medical discoveries that hinge on evolution, those who oppose teaching evolution and resist efforts to push biological and medical research forward (if Hovind doesn’t oppose embryonic stem cell research I’ll eat my mousepad) are indeed [bodily?] harming people–potentially millions of them.

  • Shawn Smith

    I’ve also heard that some men who call themselves Muslim or Jewish or Christian believe that so long as you’re the “penetrator” and not the “penetratee” you are not gay.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I disagree with you when you say that [Hovind] has not harmed anyone; attacks on science harm us all, possibly even in ways that scape our comprehension, and his activities have contributed to the slavery of countless humans to religious dogma. He has done very much harm.

    Not in the sense I’m referring to. Whatever harm is done by Hovind preaching creationism is of a completely different sort from the harm that’s involved in, say, assaulting or raping someone. For one thing, no one has been forced to listen to or to agree with Hovind. The harm his deceptions have done to scientific education and research is deplorable, but it is not the sort of act that merits a prison term. Tax evasion is, of course.

    Haggard should not be chastised because he was gay, he should be chastised because he is a liar, a hate-monger and hypocrite.

    Agreed. His views deserve to be rejected on their own merits. If he is gay, there is nothing immoral about that. The immoral act is his effort to deny homosexuals equal rights under the law, and if it turns out that he is gay himself and secretly engaged in a homosexual relationship, that would only add a frosting of hypocrisy to that cake. Unfortunately, the media usually prefers to focus on the salacious aspects of a story rather than address the substantive issues that are part of it.

  • lpetrich

    I’ve done a satirical annotation of that infamous Patriot University picture.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    “We will await the outcome of this story, but the possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and to millions of others,” Dobson said. “The situation has grave implications for the cause of Christ.”

    Grave implications for the cause of Christ? Yes – like showing that no matter how much you scream about being righteous, at the end of the day you’re human. And Christ can’t make you stop hating yourself if you buy into the hate. And apparently Christ won’t stop the hate you have for others, either.

    Christ’s cause seems to be all hate and despair with these people. They preach love and anger but they act only the angry role.

    The cause of Christ – with warriors such as Haggard and Dobson is it doomed?

  • Alex Weaver

    Well, it’s fortunate that perhaps a substantial number of Haggards’ followers will have their blind trust in him shaken by these events; some of them might even go on to question their dysfunctional religious beliefs. But even better: is there a chance some of his followers might, recognizing now that “homosexuals” seems (at least to them) to include a person they admire, reevaluate their knee-jerk beliefs about homosexuality (much like we hope people will do if confronted by the fact that we’re atheists)?

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    Well, it’s fortunate that perhaps a substantial number of Haggards’ followers will have their blind trust in him shaken by these events; some of them might even go on to question their dysfunctional religious beliefs. But even better: is there a chance some of his followers might, recognizing now that “homosexuals” seems (at least to them) to include a person they admire, reevaluate their knee-jerk beliefs about homosexuality (much like we hope people will do if confronted by the fact that we’re atheists)?

    But then there’s the problem of True Believer Syndrome. Some people have the remarkable capacity to believe the most ridiculous things, even after they’ve seen incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Maybe in this case they’ll chalk it up to a “test of faith” or something.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Just in case anyone doesn’t yet have a sense of how prominent Haggard was among evangelicals, check out this picture.

  • Jeff T.

    One lesson that I take away from this is to understand that our actions are always subject to being revealed to the public. I have no problem with this man’s sexual encounters and I can understand his probable dependence on drugs—I understand it, but disagree with it. What I find very sad, is the betrayal that he committed to his family.

    The religious people will still claim that ‘satan’ did it. They will still be sheep waiting to be led by the next charismatic religious leader. And—they will still give their money to them.

    As an atheist, I admit I make mistakes. I just hope to live a life of morality and not lie or be deceitful.

  • Joe Hardwick

    “It’s religious hypocrisy with a political rocket booster,” said Kuo, who thinks politics is corrupting Christianity. “It’s tragedy enough if a pastor falls, but this is not about a pastor falling. This is about a politician falling, and the politician is bringing down Jesus with him.”

    Someone tell me I am not the only one frightened by people who think this way. Please!

  • LRF

    Kent Hovind is not a politician. He’s an upright Christian that is willing to take a stand against the evils of this world. (Something more than many of us would do) He’s not bringing Jesus down with him. He’s lifting Christ up the whole way. I’m sure that you aren’t the only frightened person by people that think the way Dr. Hovind does, and it’s a pity.

  • rock40

    valhar2000: you are an ignorant fool. Hovind has never attacked science. He attacks the fake science that you ill-minded beings are brainwashed into believing as truth. You think this man should spend over a decade in prison but probably have no problem with the free-roaming pedophile’s in vermont.

  • Alex Weaver

    Rock40: And your evidence that evolution is “fake science” would be…? Honestly. Do people like yourself even *think* about these comments, or do you just repeat whatever the nice-nice people on TV and in the pulpit with the winning smiles and the obvious ulterior motives tell them?

    As for “free-roaming pedophiles”…um, what? Unless you’re doing something laughable like conflating homosexuality with pedophilia I’m not sure what the hell you’re babbling about. Perhaps you could clarify? I could use a laugh.

  • Polly

    “…free-roaming pedophile’s in vermont.”
    As opposed to the fenced-in pedophiles that are given jobs as priests? Is that your solution to the “free-roaming” of pedophiles?

    Augmenting Alex’s comment (just in case there IS confusion) homosexuality is about as closely related to pedophilia as heterosexuality is related to the molesting of little girls by grown men. Just because someone is attracted to the same gender doesn’t mean they’re attracted to children. Even as a fundy, I knew that.

    And just what is “brainwashing” in your opinion anyway?
    Reading up on all the facts surrounding the debate and then coming to a thoughtful conclusion even if it means risking rejection from your family and community?
    Or,
    blindly believing, because of tradition, the non-evidenciary “explanations” of the universe produced by an ancient tribal culture because they’re written in a book that also happens to be filled with horrendous god-sanctioned carnage?

  • Alex Weaver

    Polly: You forgot divinely approved mass child rape. What was that about endorsing pedophilia again, Rock40?

    (Incidentally, when did the board software stop parsing anchor references in links properly?)

  • Polly

    Alex: *forehead slap* I forgot about that. Good point! Talk about your wandering pederasts.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    (Incidentally, when did the board software stop parsing anchor references in links properly?)

    Yeah, I keep forgetting to mail Ebon about this. I can click on the name of a recent commenter and get taken to their comment, but the number of comments or [...] links don’t work (the URL that ends with “#comments”).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The problem with the missing anchor references should be fixed now.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Indeed it is sir, thanks.