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A two-year litigation battle in Pensacola, Fla., heats up next week as a creationism ministry prepares to face county officials in court over a $50 building permit.
The suit Escambia County filed against Dr. Kent Hovind of Creation Science Evangelism is scheduled to be heard Wednesday. The action was taken against Hovind for refusing to obtain a permit before constructing a 30 foot by 48 foot metal building to expand the ministry.
According to a freedom of information request CSE obtained, the county has spent over $200,000 trying to force Hovind to get a $50 building permit. CSE, which works to educate people on the “deceptions of modern evolutionary thinking,” is part of the Faith Baptist Fellowship and doesn’t believe the county has jurisdiction over a free church.
Most churches have incorporated to receive tax-exempt status from the IRS, explains Hovind, founder of CSE. He says such churches are “sticking their head in the noose.”
“They’re no longer a ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ; they’re now an arm of the government,” Hovind told WorldNetDaily.
He says his ministry is not incorporated and therefore doesn’t believe Escambia County has the right to force a building permit on him.
“The county has never demonstrated that they have jurisdiction over a church,” he said.
In 1999, county officials gave Hovind a $50 citation for not having a building permit. He refused to sign it, so a warrant was issued for his arrest. He paid a $5,000 bond to be released and then filed a federal lawsuit against the county.
“All we want is … to be left alone, and we want them to pay the damages they have done to our ministry,” said Hovind.
He explains that his situation is like a Mexican police officer who issues an American citizen a ticket for speeding on a U.S. highway. The Mexican cop would have no jurisdiction to give the American a speeding ticket, so the person shouldn’t sign it, he says. Hovind believes his ministry belongs to Christ, not the government.
“We have very strict standards according to scripture,” he said.
“The county just wants control … and we can’t give it.”
Supporters of CSE have sent over 10,000 e-mails to county commissioners and others who could intervene on behalf of the ministry, but neither lawsuit has yet to be resolved. Hovind says Gov. Jeb Bush is in favor of what CSE is trying to do, but doesn’t want to get involved because it is a local issue.
Due to religious convictions, CSE has been unwavering in its stance against letting the county have jurisdiction over what it believes is Christ’s ministry. The state attorney’s office, says Hovind, told the federal judge on CSE’s case that it doesn’t want the $5,000 in bond money refunded.
“It’s an ego issue,” he said. “They see this as a threat to their little kingdom they’ve developed where everybody has to get their permission to do anything. Any challenge to their authority is taken very seriously.”
Section 4.01.02 of Escambia County’s Code of Ordinances states: “Permit required. No construction or land disturbing activity may be commenced without a valid Escambia County permit. Among others, land disturbing permits, building permits, development orders and/or land use certificates are issued by the county.”
Donald Mayo, director of building inspections in Escambia, had his office refer all questions on the CSE case to the county attorney. Administration personnel at the county attorney’s office told WorldNetDaily that the presiding attorney “has no comment on that case.”
Hovind says the county only assumes it has the authority to require the ministry get a permit and has never addressed the jurisdiction issue.
“We think everybody should obey the law, including them,” he emphasized.
It’s not about the safety of the building, Hovind contends, because private inspectors have inspected it – it’s above the building code and it’s been engineered for hurricane resistance. Several times the county has been invited to come in a “private capacity” to inspect the building and give advice, he says, but they’ve always declined.
The Navy and state of Florida construct buildings all the time without approval from the county, says Hovind, because the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over them. He feels the same about CSE’s buildings. He also doesn’t understand why the Amish are left alone when they build without a permit, yet his ministry has been pressed about a permit for almost two years.
Meanwhile, CSE forges ahead with construction on another building. Members of CSE hope this issue soon will be resolved in their favor, since litigation has been “costly and time consuming.” Hovind says CSE will appeal if it loses to the county.
“We’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” he said.