Mennonite Church Hides Girl from Her Family

The 14-year-old daughter of Doug Ramsey disappeared from her Pennsylvania home last December. She was helped in her quest by leaders of a Mennonite church — they say the girl just wanted to practice the faith she had been brainwashed into accepting:

Three church members were arrested Wednesday for allegedly concealing the girl from her parents and from police after she ran away from home, with plans to ultimately take her to Kentucky.

Ramsey told police that his daughter had left a note, saying she was running away because she was “upset because she wanted to practice her religion and stay with others who believed the same,” according to the affidavits.

The religion was that of a Mennonite church the girl had been attending for a few months, until her parents told her she could no longer go.

Don’t think this is just a story of a girl running away. One church member encouraged her to do it and others helped make it happen:

Then, after she ran away, the Ramseys found several letters [Rachel Zimmerman] Starr had written to their daughter, outlining a plan for the teen to leave her home in the middle of the night without her parents’ knowledge. Starr later admitted to the correspondence, according to the affidavits.

“This included detailed instructions as well as instructions to burn, destroy or hide these letters,” according to the affidavits.

In later interviews with police, the teen confirmed that Starr had encouraged her to “sneak out of the house during the middle of the night and come to her residence where she would conceal her,” according to the affidavits.

Following the plans, the teen said she left her home about 2:30 a.m. and went to the home of Starr, who gave her plain, Mennonite clothing. The teen said Starr then took her to [Alda Hoover] Martin’s house, where she was hidden in the chicken coop when police came to look for her.

Try imagining this story in a different light — what if an atheist group helped a Christian girl leave her church by helping her run away from home?

We’d have Christian groups calling for our heads. And we’d deserve it.

It’s one thing to get a child to think about religion and question their beliefs.

It’s another to hide a child from her parents because you think you know what’s best for her (or you think God will approve of your actions).

The Mennonites’ actions are disgusting and criminal. At least they’re all being charged with “criminal conspiracy in the concealment of the whereabouts of a child.”

(Thanks to Juliet for the link)

  • DGKnipfer

    What is wrong with some people?

  • jen

    Wow, change the girl’s name, make her 3 years older (but still a minor), and change the locations, and you’ve got the Rifqa Bary story…

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    I’m so glad her family got her back safe.

    I wonder if she was able to snag some of that great soap the Mennonites have before she left the coop.

  • http://sundialsaga.blogspot.com Modern Girl

    Great post. I agree that it’s one thing to get young people to question their beliefs, and completely another to prey on their vulnerability. Yikes.

  • Jim

    Whatever happened to “Honor thy father and thy mother”?

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com Robert Madewell

    I don’t know. I am a bit divided on this one.

    On one hand, she is 14 and a minor. So, she doesn’t have any legal choice in the matter.

    On the other hand, she does have freedom of religion and maybe her parents violated that.

    In only four years, this would not be an issue.

    However, it’s just not right for the Mennonites to encourage her to run away. Then again, if she was being abused, the encouragement would have been justified. And, a case for the denial of religious freedom, could be seen as abuse.

    Oh man, I don’t know where to go with this one!

  • littlejohn

    Why would any 14-year-old girl want to run away someplace where she can’t play with electronic toys, has to wear a bonnet, and would wind up marrying some guy with an Abe Lincoln beard? I thought normal kids ran AWAY from that sort of thing. Not to mention Kentucky.

  • Demonhype

    How often have we seen the same thing on atheist sites, where a young atheist–some the same age of 14–is being forced to go through the motions of religion and is being explicitly disrespected and disparaged by his/her religious parents, after having made it clear that s/he does not hold those beliefs anymore?

    I don’t think I have ever seen any older atheist, when asked for advice in this situation, advise a child to run away or that his/her parents have no right to prohibit the FoR. They are most often told to stick it out (unless there is physical/sexual abuse going on, in which case they should get help), and make plans for how they will live or pay for college when they turn 18. It is just what an xian would tell an atheist kid in the same situation–until you’re 18, your parents hold the cards. (And then, as we’ve seen, if it’s an xian kid wanting “freedom of religion”, all of a sudden the views change…)

    A religious parent has no legal requirement to respect the right of religious freedom for her atheist kid, and it goes the same for the religious kid of…well, parents of a different religion, or atheist parents. It’s not fair if a parent won’t respect his kid’s views perhaps, and a good parent won’t just try to stifle their kids when they come up with different POV’s, but unless there is abuse or molestation going on, there’s not much you can do besides stick it out.

    Many of us have had the same situation, religions reversed, and we’ve either had to get lost at 18 or we’ve discovered ways to communicate with our parents or reconcile in some way. Rather than doing it that way, this girl decides to just run away from the situation. I’d like to say that it shows how immature she really is, but then the idea wasn’t even hers from what I’m hearing. A child wanting to run away is one thing, but a church not only helping her but coming up with the idea itself…

    What I don’t get is this–why is this not considered kidnapping? If you offer a kid candy to get into your car, he will go willingly, yet it’s still considered kidnapping. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter if your bait is candy or Jesus or if the kid went willingly, the result and intent are the same.

    Kind of like with statutory rape. It doesn’t matter if the fourteen year old boy or girl “wanted” it or not, it’s still a crime. And we don’t consider the parents to be standing in the way of their daughter’s “freedom to the pursuit of happiness” when they stop her from dating that creepy thirty year old man. And we don’t consider it a defense of the girl’s freedom if the 30 year old man disappears her to some other state.

  • Demonhype

    BTW, littlejohn:

    “I thought normal kids ran AWAY from that sort of thing. Not to mention Kentucky.”

    LOL!!!!

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    “I don’t think I have ever seen any older atheist, when asked for advice in this situation, advise a child to run away or that his/her parents have no right to prohibit the FoR. They are most often told to stick it out (unless there is physical/sexual abuse going on, in which case they should get help), and make plans for how they will live or pay for college when they turn 18. It is just what an xian would tell an atheist kid in the same situation–until you’re 18, your parents hold the cards. (And then, as we’ve seen, if it’s an xian kid wanting “freedom of religion”, all of a sudden the views change…)”

    Yep, exactamundo. Didn’t we just read this sitchy here last week? We all told the chick to wait until she was 18 and then tell her parents to go fuck themselves :D

  • We Are The 801

    I’m sure there will be some Christians that trot out the BS scripture about “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children…” yada yada yada. I’m sure that was at least part of the Mennonites rationale for doing this.

    The girl might not know any better– she’s young after all. But the adults…?

  • http://www.wideeyedpictures.com/ Dan

    This is the thing.

    They strongly believe in a god, but this is still how immoral they are. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that I need to account for human error, the natural sin we’re born with, and a plethora of other exceptions to why we’re not ALWAYS moral. But that’s kind of the point – even WITH a god, people can’t seem to get their morals straight; whether it’s because humans are just prone to error, or their god fucked up. Meanwhile, plenty of atheists as well as believers in other supernatural claims seem to maintain their own level of morality that any Christian would find acceptable.

    Bottom line, you do not need a god to be moral.

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com/ Eamon Knight

    Wow — and I actually had some respect for Mennonites up to now (OK, maybe not the really strict ones). The Mennonite Central Committee does good work.

    That being said, there are all kinds of reasons why teens run away due to conflict with their parents — could be fault on either or both sides, and without knowing the details we can’t judge. But outside adults encouraging, aiding, abetting and hiding the runaway is beyond the pale.

  • Matto the Hun

    I don’t think I have ever seen any older atheist, when asked for advice in this situation, advise a child to run away or that his/her parents have no right to prohibit the FoR.

    Next on “Ask Richard Wade” Run away from your parents and eat babies on our atheist compound!

    But that’s kind of the point – even WITH a god, people can’t seem to get their morals straight

    You nailed it Dan!

  • Staceyjw

    The adults in this story need to go to jail, EVERY ONE that helped HIDE HER. The one that wrote the letters and did the planning should be sent away even longer, as he is a KIDNAPPER. She wasn’t forced physically, but I would say that mental coercion counts- and when an adult in authority, who shares your new found faith, sends you a letter telling you what to do, that IS coersive!!!

    If you are doubting whether or not they did wrong (how, I have no idea), just switch out Mennonite with Atheist, and think about what would happen. It would be all over FOX news, talking about how we are evil baby snatchers that go after kids with no regard for the law.

    I have no idea what’s going on with the girl, or her family, but I don’t need to. These people did something illegal and unethical, and doing it for religious reasons only makes it creepier.

    @Jen
    I don’t think this is like Rifqa, who thought she would be KILLED, and had good reason to think this. In this situation, running away, and helping her, is the right thing to do. It would have been netter to go to the police first, but it wasn’t wrong to try to keep someone safe.

  • liz

    uh…where are the kidnapping charges?

  • fritzy

    Can’t speak on the specifics of this girl’s mentality but in general, kids this age are rebellious, confused and easily impressionable. That’s why adults are supposed to know better than to assist adolescents in rebelling against their parents. That is also why there are laws to protect children when said adults don’t observe these norms. This is not a freedom of religion issue. Religion should have no bearing on this case. This is a clear cut case of adults helping a child run away from her (presumably) law abiding parents. That is exactly how it needs to be presented in court–period. Criminal Conspiracy seems almost inadequate in this case. And while I am no expert in matters of the law, it would appear that Starr also needs to be charged with kidnapping.

  • Revyloution

    “Try imagining this story in a different light — what if an atheist group helped a Christian girl leave her church by helping her run away from home?”

    I would denounce them immediately. Free thought should never incite family division. We should encourage youths to work through their problems, not run away from them.

    “I wonder if she was able to snag some of that great soap the Mennonites’

    Lagunatic, I had the same thought pop into my twisted mind when I read that line.

  • Alpha Bitch

    Actually, she doesn’t have freedom of religion until she is recognized as an adult. When you are a juvenile, your parents and the school board get to decide what you learn. I know several kids who are dragged to church on a regular basis and don’t believe any of what they learn. If mom and dad say you go, you go.

    This article is disgusting on so many levels. As has been pointed out, WHERE ARE THE KIDNAPPING CHARGES?!?!???!!!?

    I have a big problem with anyone who indoctrinates children into any religion. Fer cryin’ out loud, their brains aren’t even fully developed until the late teens or early twenties. By the time they realize they don’t really believe in the stories they are already ingrained in the cultures and traditions. What would happen if people didn’t indoctrinate their children? How many people would get through to adulthood learning about the world based on evidentiary support for theories, and THEN choose to follow a religion? Sure, there would be some, but not many.

    It sounds like some sort of twisted underground railroad for those wanting to get INTO slavery.

  • littlejohn

    I really should apologize to Kentucky. After all, I grew up in West Virginia. My friends and I caught rattlesnakes and sold them to a church ($10 apiece in the early 70s – easy beer money). WV is the only state where snake-handling is specifically legal. I think all fundies should handle poisonous snakes. Every day.

  • Claudia

    The only circumstances where I can see a justification for aiding a teenager to run away is when you have good solid evidence that the teen is suffering abuse and that local authorities are unable or unwilling to stop it. For instance though illegal I wouldn’t have any moral objection to someone helping one of the girls of the FLDS (the super-batshit mormons) run away from being married raped by an older man, knowing that the church personally controls much of the town, including the sheriff.

    Now encouraging and aiding a teenager in running away so she can join your particular little sect? Bullshit. I thought most Mennonites were more live and let live than that?

  • Alpha Bitch

    Claudia: They could certainly, and likely do, give this their own little spin that equals “live and let live.” For example, “Her awful parents were persecuting her for her religious beliefs. We had to free her from the chains of her parents religious bondage. Live and let live.”

    It’s in the perception.

  • Erp

    Mennonites vary and have multiple denominations; this group seems to have been one step away from Amish style conservatism. See http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O5465.html and search for Hoover.

    As for Rifqa, I think this is very similar. A Muslim family who allow their daughter to be a cheerleader doesn’t sound like the type to kill her for leaving Islam. However the accusation is a method of keeping her parents from reclaiming her. Now it is necessary to investigate but I don’t think anyone has found any supporting evidence beyond the “they are Muslim and that is what Muslims do” innuendo.

    Some people in the comments page of the article are alleging abuse by the parents in this case also.

  • http://mingfrommongo.livejournal.com mingfrommongo

    I don’t think this kidnapping (and that’s what it is) can be defended with ‘freedom of religion’. The parents were regulating their daughter’s behavior, not her beliefs. That is their right. Interference in a family that isn’t yours is wrong, for religious and non-religious alike.

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Victor

    Nothing says “The One True Faith” like kidnapping people’s kids.

  • Zarathustra

    Isn’t KID_NAPPING a Federal CRIME???

  • muggle

    I too am disgusted that kidnapping charges aren’t bringing brought but I’m not all that surprised and not at all sure it’s entirely because it’s religion.

    At the time of his suicide, my ex had had at one point had Federal charges for transportating a minor across state lines for illicit purposes. They were dropped because this 17 year old girl had a bad rep despite his also facing charges for child molestation and attempted child molestation. (2 girls got away and told.) I’m equally disgusted that the Federal charges were dropped based on this “bad” girl mentality. The ex was 33 at the time.

    Call me jaded.

    I don’t agree that parents are interferring with religious freedom bringing their kids to church. I protect their right to despite being terrified by buybull stories myself growing up. We can’t enforce Atheism and have religious freedom too. Not allowing someone to raise their child in their faith is interferring with religious freedom.

    However, just as there are limits on all our freedoms, this does need to have a line drawn from crossing over into the realm of physical abuse or even severe mental abuse (just telling the scary stories doesn’t do that if you ask me or do you propose also outlawing fairy tales and ghost stories and not letting the kids have any fun). If you pray your kid to death instead of seeking medical attention that is obviously needed, beat them because the buybull says spare the rod, practic exorcisms, and so on, yeah, then we need to interfere. But only then.

    Of course, I would never have allowed my daughter to attend church except for funerals and weddings. My rule was always if you want to go to church, you can go when you’re 18. It didn’t become an issue because she never wanted to but I’d have held firm if she had.

  • Alpha Bitch

    “We can’t enforce Atheism and have religious freedom too. Not allowing someone to raise their child in their faith is interferring with religious freedom.”

    Nobody said anything about enforcing atheism. I say, give them the tools of knowledge and reason and let them decide. Still, this emphasizes my point about children not having religious freedom until they are adults.

    You talk about outlawing fairy tales and ghost stories, but we teach them that these things aren’t real; that they are just stories in books. We [the collective we; perhaps they, rather] teach the children that the bible is true and god is real. People don’t base whole moral belief structures on fairy tales and ghost stories. That’s the big difference.

    You say that religious freedom is having the freedom to raise your family in your religion. Maybe so, but whose freedom is it? Certainly not the children’s. They aren’t given the evidence and allowed to decide for themselves. They are told what to believe from the time they are babies.

  • Dominion

    There are a certain kind of atheists who ‘help’ girls run away from home all the time…they’re called ‘pimps’. Christians, by the way, consider Mennonites to be heretics, but you wouldn’t care about that. You care about sensationalizing an otherwise unremarkable story. I said it, and I meant it, so you can have a reason to hate me without seeming ‘unfriendly’.

    You’re welcome.

  • http://www.thatpinkmouse.com/bloggy Jenny Bliss

    the morality issue always comes up and i always pose the same question (see im not just a pretty face haha) rather than asking if you need a god to be moral, twist that upside down and put it as do you need a god to justifi your imoralities, seems more or less the answer is yes :P

  • Pingback: Igreja Menonita esconde garota de sua própria família • Ateus do Brasil

  • David D.G.

    Dominion wrote:

    There are a certain kind of atheists who ‘help’ girls run away from home all the time…they’re called ‘pimps’.

    Citation seriously freaking needed for your claim that all pimps (or even a majority of them) are atheists. Since you are referring to a criminal activity, it is worth noting that atheists are disproportionately underrepresented in American prison populations. [http://www.skepticfiles.org/american/prison.htm]
    [http://www.freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Percentage_of_atheists]

    Even so, on the basis of just raw population statistics, any given U.S. pimp has an 80% or better chance of being Christian — a bad Christian, perhaps, but a Christian nonetheless according to his own beliefs. If you’ve got some sort of data to the contrary, lay it on us.

    Christians, by the way, consider Mennonites to be heretics, but you wouldn’t care about that.

    Why should we? Virtually every branch of Christianity considers virtually every other sect to be heretical, but they still qualify as Christian by some measure (even if largely by self-description). Despite the phrasing of your statement, there is no well-defined, monolithic group called “Chistians” — and certainly none that you have any authority to speak for.

    You care about sensationalizing an otherwise unremarkable story.

    “Unremarkable”? The girl is effectively kidnapped from her parents (by what you yourself consider a false religion), and you call this “unremarkable”? So much for Christian compassion.

    ~David D.G.

  • Dominion

    Calm down little fella, you don’t want to mess your pants…are a billion Catholics ‘monolithic’ enough for you?

    This girl’s plight is unfortunate, but as I said, you don’t really care about her, opportunists like you only care about how you can use her sad story as a weapon against people who have nothing to do with her problems or yours. Is this what you’d call atheist compassion? Such a thing is surely as common as this event, perhaps I should check under my bed for the Mennonite boogeyman.

    The STORY is unremarkable since there are so many others like her and in even worse circumstances. You don’t care about them either, you only make such a fuss because you hate the 80% of us who believe in God. That’s your figure, maybe a little high, maybe YOU’RE a little high…

  • cdo

    No one has the right to tell a child to sneak away from their parents in the middle of the night. Nor hide her from the police.

    Religion has very little to do with this case, it just makes it more sensational. The people who encouraged this obviously unhappy girl could have helped her in many other ways. Their solution was incredibly immature.

    The Mennonite group exhibited the problem solving skills of third graders. Okay, that might be an insult to third graders, sorry.

    As an atheist, I do not see this as a reason to castigate the religious, only the stupid.
    Unfortunately, the poster called Dominion also falls in this category since he thinks atheist=pimp.

  • ziggy28

    Do not blame all mennonites for the action of these few….What they did isn’t right and obviously they have much bigger problems. But to blame all mennonites just goes to show what mennonite-haters you all are. What if some one in your own family did this with out your knowledge, and everybody blamed you and the rest of your family for what the one person did??

    • Kate Gold

      I agree. A person could search any group or person and find a wrong-doing. (My English class classifies this form of propaganda as sweeping generalities, meaning that there is evidence, but the evidence is stretched and distorted.)


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