Fish and Game ‘looking into’ complaint about religious material at safety class

Fish and Game ‘looking into’ complaint about religious material distributed at hunter safety course in Meredith

Pastor Nason, former FIsh & Game chaplain, described as a ‘good individual’



LACONIA — The local pastor who apparently distributed religious pamphlets along with educational material at a hunter safety course is “a very good individual who was immediately upset and apologetic,” according to a Fish and Game official.

Labeling it a personnel matter because the instructor is a part-time employee of the agency, the N.H. Fish and Game Department is “still looking into” the matter and Col. Kevin Jordan said he doesn’t know what the ultimate outcome will be.

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, had mailed a complaint to Fish and Game on June 28, saying one of those attending the mandatory class for hunters last April was offended to find religious fliers mixed in with the official course material.

“The department did not support the distribution of religious material, and took immediate steps to see that it stops,” Jordan said.

Nicola Whitley, public affairs division chief with Fish and Game, said, “This is the only complaint of this nature we are aware of regarding our hunter education classes.”

She confirmed that the instructor, Pastor Joel Nason of the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church on Meredith Center Road, Laconia, had been employed by the agency’s Law Enforcement Division as a Chaplain between Dec. 12, 2014, and Dec. 21, 2016. The job description says responsibilities include developing and conducting formal religious services for residents or employees, advising and counseling residents in religious matters and making referrals to other departments, coordinating therapy and religious counseling goals, coordinating religious activities and supervising volunteers, and speaking to community groups about care, treatment, and rehabilitation.

Jordan said he asked Nason to step away from the chaplain’s job after becoming division chief because of concerns about the job description.

“The job description was clear, but I thought there were problems with deciding how involved that person would become in the agency,” Jordan said. “I thought it needed more work, and I asked Joel to step away until I had time to decide as a group what we wanted from the position.”

He said Fish and Game has had a chaplain for years, but was always careful to maintain a separation between departmental duties and religion. The chaplain’s job, he said, was to offer counseling during traumatic events such as officer-involved shootings and missing persons.

“Never once have I heard Joel ever push his religion,” Jordan said, recounting an episode in which a Muslim family lost three family members in a drowning in the Merrimack River. Finding them reluctant to speak with him when they were so upset, Nason worked to establish a good rapport and helped them through the tragedy, Jordan said. “He was very successful in his endeavors.”

“It is very effective to have someone like him to counsel people,” he said, noting that it also allows Fish and Game officers to focus their resources where they can help, without having to stop and try to console the families themselves.

“You have to be very careful, I think, in not pushing the religion,” Jordan said. “The chaplains can identify who they are and where their church is, but not hand out anything but material on things such as grief, critical stress levels, and recognizing when you’re in trouble — nothing with a religious base. And they can’t include that in hunter safety.”

He noted, “I’ve been in courses held in churches, and a lot of them have religious info that was out on a shelf, but the instructors never promoted religion or encouraged anyone in any way.”

Asked about the propriety of holding hunter education classes at a church and whether the complaint would lead the agency to avoid holding classes in such spaces in the future, Whitley said, “Some of our education classes take place in churches, as these are important community meeting sites, as well as in town facilities, fish and game clubs, and other locations. This allows us to meet the needs of the communities in which we hold these mandatory classes in every corner of the state.”

In addition to the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church, this year’s schedule of hunter education courses lists the Raymond Baptist Church, with other classes taking place in community buildings and sportsmen’s clubs. The Raymond instructor is not a church official, but Jordan said some instructors are church leaders.

When Jordan learned that Nason had listed his position as Fish and Game chaplain on his church’s website, he asked Nason to take it off, Jordan noted.

Whitley said the hunter education classes are taught from a set curriculum and all instructors are trained and certified.

“They are instructed to use only the official curriculum,” she said. “We have 480 volunteer instructors teaching hunter education, which is required to get a hunting license in New Hampshire. Approximately 5,000 people take these classes every year.”

“He’s a great guy,” Jordan said of Nason, “and I’m sure he didn’t think [distributing the literature] would be a big problem. He looks at everybody in the same way, but there are various personalities that don’t share his views. I’m sure he was very upset about it.”

Nason has not returned repeated attempts to reach him for comment on the incident.

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
  • Category: Local News
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Lakes Region's first 'StorySlam" attracts tellers & listeners alike

LACONIA — Throughout the nation people have been taking to the stage sharing their own personal stories in a “StorySlam” style, but it wasn’t until Thursday night that this popular event came to the Lakes Region.

Although it was uncertain how people would respond to the newly introduced concept, it became apparent that the community was ready for this event to come to town, as more than 60 people gathered to take part in the inaugural Real Stories North of Concord event led by local, Brendan Smith.

The idea to bring a StorySlam to the Lakes Region has been on Smith’s mind for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that he decided to take the chance and introduce it to the community. Taking his unique idea to Dick and Connie Mitchell, the owners of Pitman’s Freight Room, Smith said that this would be a great opportunity for community members to get closer with one another and share their own stories.  

“They are fun events and are something new to do in the area,” said Smith. “I am grateful that the Mitchell’s were so willing to try out this new idea and I was blown away by the number of people who came out and took part in the event.”

Those who attended the StorySlam were invited to sign-up to be a storyteller and tell a six-minute story centered around a chosen theme. Smith chose the theme “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” for the inaugural event, as it was a relatable topic that many people had a story to fit with.

Each person who took the stage to share their own story was judged based upon short criteria. The judges rated beginning, middle, and end, and was conveyed clearly. Storytellers were also judged on how well they knew the story and if they needed to use note cards or not. At the end of each six-minute segment, each of the four judges gave scores between 5-10 for the participant. Once all participants had shared their stories and been given a score, a winner was named for the evening.

The winner for the inaugural event was local Don Percy, who told a story about a journey he took on a hot air balloon that seemed like a good idea at the time, but went completely haywire.

“Percy took the crowd through quite a ride, where he told of how the balloon ended up crashing into a house and took off the entire siding, and although it was a hectic story people were laughing the whole time,” said Smith, who added that Percy was fortunate enough to live to tell the tale.

Percy won a plaque and a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The second and third place winners also won gift certificates and were thanked with the other storytellers for their willingness to participate in the event.

To get the event kick started, Smith wanted to make the event a fundraiser to support a local charity, as he believed it would draw more people in to the event. Partnering with the local Humane Society the event raised $625 for the organization, which will be presented with a check next week.

“I think the night went really well and I hope that we can have more events like this in the future,” said Smith.

More information about Real Stories North of Concord and upcoming events can be found at its Facebook page.

  • Written by Alana Persson
  • Category: Local News
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Drivers looking for traction in Overton 301

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Martin Truex Jr., fields questions from the media at New Hampshire Motor Speedway yesterday.  (Alan MacRae for the Laconia Daily Sun)


Drivers looking for traction in Overton 301

'TrackBite' resin laid down to add grip, encourage side-by-side racing


LOUDON — Drivers in Sunday's Overton 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be looking for traction, both on the track and in the standings.

This crucial playoff-qualifying race, the 19th of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, can play a big role in building a driver's momentum toward a championship run. From 2010 to 2016, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth used wins in this race to carry themselves into the NASCAR playoffs, and in 2013, Brian Vickers upset the field for his first win since 2009.

This year's points leader Martin Truex Jr., has 709 points and three wins and took over the lead thanks to his win last weekend in Kentucky and a penalty assessed against Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing for a rear brake cooling assembly that didn’t meet standards at the same race.

Larson held a one-point lead over Truex and the penalty, dropped him down to second place, 34 points behind. He is still 66 points ahead of third-place Kyle Busch.

The on-track traction will come from the surface at NHMS being treated with PJ1 TrackBite, a type of resin that will be applied to the very bottom of the track on the yellow lane , and two lanes above the racing groove. The expectation is that the additional grip will increase the number of driving lanes and produce more side-by-side racing. PJ1 was used previously this season at Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Truex said at a Friday morning presss conference that he had received a map of where PJI will be applied on the track and that he will test those areas out with his Toyota in the ealy running of Sunday's race.

Busch said at his press conference yesterday that at NHMS drivers are used to running in one line and that he thinks the PJI will “give us a little more opportunity to pass,” and produce more side-by-side racing.

There will be another new element in Sunday's race, which will be the first one at NHMS which will be run under NASCAR's new staging rules, which award drivers points for their standings in early parts of the race. At NHMS's 1.058-mile oval, the stages are marked at laps 75 and 150. The top 10 finishers of each of the first two stages receive bonus points. Whoever claims the final stage is recognized as the race winner.

Biggest beneficiary so far has been Truex, who has already led 1,115 laps and won 13 stages and the playoff bonus points that go with them. Kyle Busch, who has won four stages, is closest to him.

He said at his press conference that stage racing has definitely changed the strategy of the race teams and inrodced a new element into decisions about how to best run a race.

Truex has won three races and has 13 stage wins to runner-up Larson’s three. As such, Truex has racked up 28 playoff points, 15 more than Larson, who finished second in last week's Kentucky race and has two first place finishes.

Kevin Harvick holds fourth place in the standings with 599 points, followed by Chase Ellitt with 560, Jamie McMurray with 545, Denny Hamlin with 538, Brad Kezowski with 536. Six-time winner and defending champion Jimmie Johnson, who has three first place finishes, is ninth with 519 points.

The Overton 301 race, which officially kicks off the second half of the season, is scheduled for 3 p.m. The starting time was moved back an hour and a half with the idea that a later start would make it cooler for race fans.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at 2 p.m. and K&N Pro Series East at 6:30 p.m, will put on their annual summer show Saturday, with the NASCAR XFINITY Series race sandwiched in between at 4 p.m.

Overton, the new race sponsor at NHMS, is a nationally known marine and watersports superstore.

  • Written by Roger Amsden
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