25 Apr 2011

Evangelical pastor charged with aiding international parental kidnapping of girl in custody fight between lesbian couple

New York Times - April 23, 2011

Pastor Is Accused of Helping to Kidnap Girl at Center of Lesbian Custody Fight


Federal authorities last week arrested and charged a Tennessee pastor with aiding in the “international parental kidnapping” of a girl who has been missing since late 2009 and is at the center of a lengthy custody battle between her two mothers — a onetime lesbian couple who were in a civil union.

The two had a bitter falling-out after one became an evangelical Christian and denounced the other’s continued “homosexual lifestyle.”

Their legal battle over visitation rights and custody, carried out over the last seven years in Vermont and Virginia courts, received wide publicity because of the clashes over sexual orientation and religion, and because it raised questions about the rights of nonbiological parents in same-sex unions that are not recognized in many states.

Lisa Miller, the girl’s biological mother and a newly fervent Baptist, was championed by conservatives for her efforts to shield her daughter from homosexuality. A Vermont court had granted her primary custody of the daughter, Isabella Ruth Miller-Jenkins, after Ms. Miller split with her partner, Janet Jenkins, in 2003. But the court also declared Ms. Jenkins to be a legal parent with liberal visiting rights, and Ms. Miller, who had moved with the girl to Virginia, defied repeated orders to permit the visits.

The case took a turn in late 2009, as the Vermont family court, citing Ms. Miller’s noncompliance, shifted primary custody to Ms. Jenkins. Ms. Miller and Isabella, who is now 9, disappeared. A warrant was issued for Ms. Miller’s arrest, and they have not been heard from since.

According to an F.B.I. affidavit unsealed in Vermont on Thursday, the pastor, Timothy David Miller of Crossville, Tenn., helped arrange in September 2009 for Ms. Miller and Isabella to fly from Canada to Mexico and travel on to Nicaragua, where he worked as a missionary for Christian Aid Ministries. (The F.B.I. said it had no evidence that Mr. Miller and Lisa Miller were related.)

Ms. Miller and Isabella stayed in a beach house in Nicaragua that is owned by a conservative businessman with close ties to Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., and whose daughter works at the university’s law school, according to the affidavit.

Lawyers from Liberty, including the dean of the law school, Mathew D. Staver, represented Ms. Miller in court appeals on the custody issues. They argued without success that Ms. Jenkins had no parental rights and that laws in Virginia, which ban same-sex unions, should prevail over those in Vermont.

On Friday, Mr. Staver said the legal team has had no contact with Ms. Miller since the fall of 2009 and had always advised her to obey the law. He said he knew nothing about the accusations involving a law school office assistant, Victoria Hyden, and her father Philip Zodhiates, the beach house’s owner.

Mr. Zodhiates runs Response Unlimited, a Christian direct-mail company in Waynesboro, Va. He did not respond to requests for comment, but on Friday he told The Advocate magazine that the pair were not living at his house in Nicaragua and called the accusations “absurd.”

Ms. Miller and Ms. Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000 and planned to raise a child together. Isabella was conceived by artificial insemination and born to Ms. Miller in 2002, with Ms. Jenkins present at the birth. But the parents’ relations soured over the following year. Ms. Miller moved with Isabella to Virginia, became deeply involved with a Baptist church and renounced homosexuality. A Vermont court dissolved the civil union but treated Ms. Jenkins as a full parent with visitation rights.

Over time, Ms. Miller began refusing to allow the required visits, among other things objecting that Ms. Jenkins’s “homosexual lifestyle” would offend Isabella’s religious beliefs. At one point, a court in Virginia, which does not recognize same-sex unions, agreed with Ms. Miller’s claim to be the sole legal parent, but the Virginia Supreme Court eventually confirmed that the Vermont rulings should prevail.

Last June, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit, an unnamed person called one of Ms. Jenkins’s lawyers, Sarah Star, and told Ms. Star that the mother and daughter were hiding in Mr. Zodhiates’s Nicaraguan house. Much of the evidence in support of the criminal charges and other accusations, the affidavit said, was obtained through court-approved, covert searches of e-mail accounts, uncovering messages from Mr. Miller that appear to arrange the mother and daughter’s 2009 flight to Nicaragua and from Mr. Zodhiates arranging to send them supplies.

On Friday, Ms. Jenkins issued a statement through Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a rights group in Boston that has also represented her in court.

“I know very little at this point, but I really hope that this means that Isabella is safe and well,” it said. “I am looking forward to having my daughter home safe with me very soon.”

The United States attorney for Vermont, Tristram Coffin, told the Rutland Herald newspaper that Mr. Miller had been arrested on Monday night in Virginia and was scheduled to appear in Federal District Court in Burlington on Monday. Officials declined to say whether others may be arrested or what measures they are taking to find Ms. Miller, who faces criminal charges, and Isabella, who under current rulings should be in the primary custody of Ms. Jenkins, with visitation rights for Ms. Miller.

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Secular News Daily  -  April 26, 2011

Curious Custody Clash: Did Religious Right spark an ‘international parental kidnapping’?

by: Rob Boston

Religious Right groups talk a good line about “family values.” But, as a recent case from Vermont indicates, some groups have an unusual definition of what that terms means.

In 2003, a same-sex couple in Vermont, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, decided to split. The two had a legally binding civil union and were the parents of a child named Isabella. Although Isabella is the biological daughter of Miller, the two women had raised the child jointly, and, after their civil union was dissolved, a Vermont court granted primary custody to Miller and gave Jenkins liberal visitation rights.

But Miller, who became involved with a conservative Baptist church and now denounces homosexual relationships, has repeatedly denied Jenkins’ right to visit Isabella. Miller moved to Virginia, where she became a martyr for Religious Right groups that championed her cause.

Backed by Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel, Miller fought in Virginia courts to nullify the Vermont court’s visitation order. That gambit failed when the Virginia Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter.

Things took a turn for the worse for Miller in 2009, when a Vermont court, citing her non-compliance with the visitation order, shifted primary custody of Isabella to Jenkins.

At that point, Miller and Isabella disappeared.

According to a New York Times report, a Tennessee pastor stands charged with helping Miller flee the country.

“According to an F.B.I. affidavit unsealed in Vermont on Thursday, the pastor, Timothy David Miller of Crossville, Tenn., helped arrange in September 2009 for Ms. Miller and Isabella to fly from Canada to Mexico and travel on to Nicaragua, where he worked as a missionary for Christian Aid Ministries,” reported The Times.

Added the newspaper, “Ms. Miller and Isabella stayed in a beach house in Nicaragua that is owned by a conservative businessman with close ties to Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., and whose daughter works at the university’s law school, according to the affidavit.”

Staver insists he does not know what happened to Lisa Miller and Isabella. He told The Times that he always advised Lisa Miller to abide by the law. Yet something about this isn’t quite right. Staver is dean of Liberty University’s law school – and it just so happens that someone connected to the school appears to be sheltering the two.

Is it just me, or does this not pass the smell test?

Just to be clear, I’m not accusing Staver of any wrong-doing. But I do believe an atmosphere exists at Liberty Law School that led some people there to believe they could elevate their interpretation of “God’s law” over U.S. law.

Victoria Hyden, the woman whose father is accused of sheltering the two, is an office assistant at Liberty Law School. Her father, Philip Zodhiates, owns a direct-mail marketing firm in Virginia. He would not talk to The Times but has previously denied that Lisa Miller and Isabella are staying at his house in Nicaragua.

The Tennessee pastor, David Miller (he is not related to Lisa Miller) may be the key to mystery. He has been indicted for aiding in an “international parental kidnapping.” My guess is, Pastor Miller knows where the two are. Perhaps he’ll ‘fess up rather than go to prison.

In any case, this unfortunate situation is a reminder of just how much some Religious Right activists hate gay people, and it illustrates that some Religious Right zealots are willing to defy the rule of law when it suits their purposes.

The bottom line is that a little girl is being denied access to a woman who helped raised her and who loves her. You could call that many things. “Pro-family” isn’t one of them.
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Secular News Daily  -  April 26, 2011

Liberty Counsel Asserts It Had Nothing To Do With Lisa Miller’s Disappearance

by: Right Wing Watch

As we noted last week, there had been a break in the Lisa Miller saga with the arrest of a man accused of having helped her flee the country with her daughter rather than abide by court ordered custody arrangements with her former partner.

As we wrote, according to the FBI affidavit Miller and her daughter lived rumored to have lived in a home in Nicaragua owned by the father of a woman who worked as an Administrative Assistant at the Liberty School of Law, which just so happens to be where Miller’s Liberty Counsel attorneys - Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen – just so happen to serve as Dean and Associate Professor, respectively.

Last time Miller was in the news was when she disappeared and Liberty Counsel steadfastly refusedto comment and, instead, tried to wash its hands of the hole thing.

But this time around, Liberty Counsel is far less reticent and is insisting that it had absolutely nothing to do with, and knew nothing about, her disappearance:

Some have suggested that organization was involved with hiding Miller, but that’s a charge attorneys flatly deny.
"It’s absurd to try to suggest Liberty Counsel had anything to do with the whereabouts or the disappearance of Lisa Miller," Mathew Staver, Dean of Liberty University’s School of Law and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Staver served as Miller’s attorney through 2009. During that period, Miller was living in Forest and attending services at Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Staver says Miller was looking for a job and gave no indication she was planning to leave the Lynchburg area when she abruptly ended all contact with Liberty Counsel.
"She simply stopped communicating by phone, by e-mail, by letter," said Staver. "We have no idea where she went."
But some believe Liberty had another motive and took part in hiding Miller – a claim Staver says is 100-percent false.
"None of us would be stupid enough to place our careers and our futures and our law licenses on the table to try to help someone violate the law," said Staver.

This article was found at:


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1 comment:

  1. Sect Pastor Is Convicted of Assisting in Abduction

    By ERIK ECKHOLM, New York Times August 14, 2012

    After only four hours of deliberation, a federal jury in Burlington, Vt., found an Amish-Mennonite pastor guilty of abetting international parental kidnapping in a widely publicized case involving a same-sex union and religious opponents of homosexuality.

    The pastor, Kenneth L. Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., could face up to three years in prison. He was convicted of helping Lisa A. Miller flee to Nicaragua with her daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, in 2009 to evade court-ordered visits with Ms. Miller’s former partner in a civil union in Vermont.

    After the verdict, more than 100 of Mr. Miller’s supporters from the Beachy Amish-Mennonite sect, the women in traditional long dresses and head scarves, men with trimmed beards, gathered outside the courthouse to sing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns.

    Mr. Miller, 46, joined the group and said, “We are of course disappointed, but with the grace of God and by his help, we will bear the consequences.”

    After splitting up with her former partner, Janet Jenkins, in 2003, Ms. Miller, who is not related to Mr. Miller, moved to Virginia, declared herself a born-again Christian, tried in court to strip Ms. Jenkins of her parental rights and interfered with mandated visits. In 2009, as a frustrated Family Court judge in Vermont threatened to transfer custody of the girl, Ms. Miller disappeared with her daughter.

    The Beachy Amish-Mennonites regard homosexual behavior as a sin.

    In the trial, Mr. Miller’s lawyer, Joshua M. Autry, did not dispute the evidence that Mr. Miller had helped arrange for Ms. Miller and her daughter to fly from Canada to Nicaragua and obtain shelter from missionaries. But Mr. Miller, his lawyer argued, did not realize that Ms. Miller was defying any court orders at the time.

    The prosecutors cited evidence that Mr. Miller tried to hide what Ms. Miller was doing, including by specifying that the flights should not touch down on American soil and giving the pair Mennonite garb to wear as a disguise. His case was also undermined by the reluctant testimony of a fellow pastor in Canada, who said he had refused to transport Ms. Miller and Isabella across the United States-Canada border because he feared they were breaking the law.

    “The evidence shows the defendant helped Lisa Miller because he believed in her cause,” Paul Van de Graaf, an assistant United States attorney, told the jury.

    Mr. Miller had to give up his passport but remains free for now. Mr. Autry said the defense might appeal, arguing that the trial should have been held in Virginia, where Mr. Miller’s actions took place.

    The prosecutors presented evidence that others had worked with Mr. Miller to help Ms. Miller flee. Chief among those alleged to have taken part was a businessman in Virginia, Philip Zodhiates. Telephone records suggest that Mr. Zodhiates was in touch with Ms. Miller for months and drove her and her daughter to the Canadian border for their escape.

    Mr. Zodhiates has not been indicted, and declined to comment.

    Telephone records also indicated that as he drove home from the border, Mr. Zodhiates tried to call a cellphone number registered to Liberty Counsel, an evangelical legal group.

    That cellphone number has sometimes been used by Mathew D. Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, dean of the Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Va., and a leader of Ms. Miller’s defense team.

    In an e-mail Tuesday, Mr. Staver said that the phone number in question had been widely circulated as a contact number for Liberty Counsel’s public relations office and that he had no knowledge of Ms. Miller’s flight and had never discussed her case with Mr. Zodhiates.

    Federal agents believe that Ms. Miller and Isabella, now 10, are still hiding in Nicaragua.

    Jason McLure contributed reporting from Burlington, Vt.