By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — County officials say that the pastor of the Bible Speaks Church in Lakeport is still free to conduct Bible study sessions at the Belknap County House of Corrections and deliver his message in the manner he considers most appropriate and is not being censored.
Pastor Robert Horne, in a letter to the editor published in Friday's Laconia Daily Sun, wrote that, after 30 years of conducting Bible study classes for inmates at the county jail, he was not willing to compromise the message has been delivering and would no longer conduct classes with the thought in his mind that everything he was saying was being monitored for its content.
He said that on March 14 he received a phone call from Tamara McGonagle, program director at the facility, in which he maintains that he was told "that we are no longer allowed to tell the truth of the Bible to inmates."
Jail Superintendent Keith Gray said McGonagle's call to Pastor Horne was an invitation to a session to be held at the jail on March 30 at 9 a.m. which would involve others who have ministries at the jail. He said the meeting is designed to address concerns raised by inmates about the content of the classes offered by the various ministries and whether or not they are appropriate in a correctional systems setting.
Horne said that he told McGonagle that he would not attend the meeting. On Friday he said that he decided not to be a part of he meeting as he expected it would be confrontational.
"We were being told we couldn't talk about sin and hell. I don't compromise the Gospel,'' said Horne, who added that he is concerned "we're going from a situation of political correctness to one of religious correctness."
He said that he wouldn't resume the every-other-Tuesday Bible study classes until he has assurances from county officials that he will be able to continue with the same message in the same manner that he has delivered in the past.
An email invitation to March 30 meeting was received by another pastor who has a ministry at the jail, Jim McCool, who confirmed that the invitation was for a discussion along with the jail's chaplain, Deb Hoffman, and McGonagle of appropriate Gospel messages in a correctional facilities setting.
Gray, who was attending a meeting of corrections officials Friday, said that he had not yet read Pastor Horne's letter and would meet with McGonagle and Hoffman on Monday to discuss the situation.
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that he was upset by Horne's letter and noted that inmates are free to attend whatever Bible study group they want to and if they don't like the message are free to leave.
He said that he has discussed the situation with Pastor McCool and hopes to make contact with Pastor Horne in order to reassure him that his message is welcome at the jail and that the county appreciates his efforts in working with inmates over the last 30 years.
"I'm not sure that it's a good idea to be asking the pastors to reshape their messages. No one is made to go to the meetings and if the inmates don't like the message, they don't have to go," said DeVoy.
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