U.S. Secret Service agents, who earlier confiscated Gospel tracts from Christians in Texas and Nevada because they carry a message of salvation and an advisory that they are not legal tender even though they look like a $1 million bill, now have taken the same tracts away from a Los Angeles man.
Jim Thomas, who with his wife Charlene had just finished an evangelism training program at their church, told WND he was handing out the tracts near an escalator at a downtown Los Angeles mall “and everything was going very well.”
Then, he said, a man approached him and told him that “there’s a problem here.”
He introduced himself as a Secret Service agent.
“He began to ask me questions, like ‘have you read the rules and regulations about bills similar to currency?’” Thomas said. “So he just kind of informed me what I could do to be in compliance.”
He said the officer suggested the bills be larger or smaller than regular currency, or be printed in black-and-white. Then he took Thomas’ stack of the tracts, which look like a $1 million bill but have a 160-word Gospel message and other disclaimers.
The tracts are produced by Ray Comfort, an evangelist whose Living Waters Ministry in Southern California has been inundated with requests for them since the first Secret Service confiscation happened last year.
That dispute currently is pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case brought by the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy.
“I think someone who is partially blind may think it’s a genuine bill if it’s given to them at night in the fog,” Comfort told WND. “Any bank teller who tries to give change for a million dollar bill should not be a bank teller.”
He said the whole point of a tract is to get a reader’s attention and carry a message, and that’s what this does.
“It makes people laugh. Even if it wasn’t a Gospel tract, I’d give them out, because they give a good feeling,” Comfort said.
WND messages left for the agent, who identified himself as Jess Martinez, weren’t immediately returned.
The case before the appellate court stemmed from the confiscation of about 8,300 of the tracts from the Denton, Texas-based Great News Network.
The Center for Law and Policy is working on the case, where District Judge Jorge A. Solis of Dallas originally concluded the tract is not sufficiently distinct from actual currency
Brian Fahling, a lawyer with the center, told WND that the arguments on behalf of the tract are straightforward: how can there be a counterfeit to something that doesn’t exist in reality?
“The statutes the Secret Service pointed to were inapplicable because the denomination itself is not in circulation. That seemed like a no-brainer,” Fahling said.
He said the district court judge “went well beyond the statutes” in finding the tract was illegal.
“I can’t fathom how the judge went their way,” said Fahling of the opinion that would “separate him (the judge) from five million people who would conclude otherwise.”
During the confiscation in Texas, the Dallas Secret Service officer said that someone had tried to deposit one of the million-dollar bills in a bank account, and the address on the back of the tract was of the Texas ministry.
The Secret Service has argued that the tract violates currency restrictions because it is regulation size and two-sided. However, Fahling said sections of the U.S. code’s title 18 cited by the government, 475 and 504, don’t apply. He said 475 deals only with authorized denominations and 504 pertains only to exact copies of currency, he said.
The tracts have multiple differences from real money, including the message:
“The million-dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Jesus said, “Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. That’s not God’s will. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. Jesus took your punishment upon Himself – ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Then He rose from the dead and defeated death. Please, repent (turn from sin) today and trust in Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.”
Fahling also was checking a situation in downtown Las Vegas, where 35-year-old Chris Bowen said he was passing out the tract on the city’s pedestrian Fremont Street when a Secret Service agent threatened him with arrest and confiscated his tracts.
Fake currency, including $1 million and $1 billion bills, are readily available on the Internet. World Class Learning Materials sells a set of 100 bills of different denominations it calls “play money.” And a website called Prank Place says its currency for sale “looks and feels real. Great conversation tool. Our funny money and fake million dollar bills look just like real U.S. Currency. These are very high quality, designed by an incredibly talented artist. Our fake money makes great gifts, additions to greeting cards, or even sales promotions and sales tools.”
Those bills carry serial numbers, the U.S. logo and the words “United States of America” with an “A Hamilton” signature and other traditional currency marks.
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