NORFOLK, Va. – An Alabama church is swallowing the advice of animal-rights activists, and says it will no longer allow the eating of live goldfish as part of its “Fear Factor” ministry.

Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says its was inundated with phone calls from church members and other residents of the Florence, Ala., area who were outraged by the practice in which children were encouraged to learn about fear by swallowing live goldfish.

PETA sent a letter to Rev. Gregory Woodall, senior pastor at the First Assembly of God, who is now assuring an end to the practice.

“I do appreciate your concern and just wanted to let you know that this will never happen again,” wrote Woodall. “My views are a reflection of yours. We love God’s creatures and would never want to show them harm.”

But originally, members of the church defended the event.

“We need to be realistic about what the Bible says about fear and not be afraid to share our faith in school,” youth minister Anthony Martin told the Florence Times Daily. “We can’t let that fear rule our lives.”

Martin said participants were between the ages of 14 and 21, and needed signed permission from their parents to swallow the fish.

“Through this ministry, kids are surrendering their lives to Jesus and developing a deeper relationship with Jesus,” he said. “The method of the ministry that we use to bring people is going to change, but the message is going to stay consistent.”

“We all agree that children must come to terms with their fears,” said PETA director Debbie Leahy, “but causing tiny goldfish terror and pain as they are eaten alive is no way to teach kids a lesson.”

Leahy’s group claims “fish are intelligent, sensitive animals who have developed cognitive abilities and who experience pain and fear, just as all animals do.”

The news comes the same week that the city of Rome, Italy, has banned goldfish bowls, claiming they’re too cruel to house the fish.

“It’s good to do whatever we can for our animals who in exchange for a little love fill our existence with their attention,” said Monica Cirinna, the councilwoman behind the measure.

“The civilization of a city can also be measured by this,” she told Rome’s daily Il Messaggero.

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