Reno juvenile hall stops preaching against homosexuality Siobhan McAndrew, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: Jason Bean/RGJ)
Being gay won’t be referred to as a sin anymore at the Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Center.
The Washoe County juvenile detention center said it will now offer more "tolerant" Sunday services and Bible classes after parting ways with its longtime chaplain, who shared his views against same-sex "marriage", divorce, abortion and premarital sex.
For 15 years, Marvin Neal held the formal volunteer chaplain post at the center’s Wittenberg Hall, a jail that houses up to 100 incarcerated youths between the ages of 10 and 21 at any given time. He started volunteering at the center 25 years ago as part of the Reno Christian Fellowship. He is also a pastor at A Voice in the Wilderness Church in Reno.
Neal said on Monday he received an email terminating his services.
Detention center division director Steven Calabrese said the facility is going in a different direction and looking for a chaplain with more tolerant views to lead the center’s services, for which attendance is optional. He said the decision came after reactions to recent sermons by Neal.
Neal, 62, said the split from the center happened after a girl in one of his weekly Bible study classes asked about God’s feelings on same-sex relationships.
“I did what I often did in these situations and said, ‘Let’s read what the Bible says about that,’” Neal said.
After reading several Bible passages, the girl asked if she was going to hell, Neal said.
He said the girl left the class upset.
“If she had stayed, I would have told her, as I have done with others, that it doesn’t have to be the case. If you are willing to turn from that type of lifestyle you can be forgiven.”
Neal said directors at the center approached him with concerns.
“”They asked me not to teach that anymore and hinted that they didn’t want me to say the same thing about abortion or suicide.
“I have to tell the truth in its entirety," he said. “I would not agree to not teach what the Bible says.”
He said he was surprised the detention center director asked him to go against his beliefs and said the purpose of a chaplain is to spread the word of God.
Similar situations have popped up around the country, said John Tomandl of the American Correctional Chaplain Association and a chaplain for the New York State Correctional system.
He said some states have asked chaplains to sign papers saying they don’t believe homosexuality is a sin.
“That is a violation of the First Amendment to sign something you don’t believe, but when you work for the state, you have to honor the laws of the state.”
Tomandl, who has been a chaplain for New York State for 13 years, said a chaplain’s faith is not necessarily why a chaplain is at a correctional facility.
|Washoe County's Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Center is seen in Reno|
“A chaplain is expected to be there for all people of the institution and offer spiritual care,” Tomandl said. He said examples including providing comfort to those incarcerated who have lost a loved one and need grief counseling.
He said that as a state employee, he has to agree to uphold the laws of the state, including that same-sex "marriage" is legal.
He said that does not mean he can’t have his own beliefs, and if asked, can share those beliefs, but he is there to help, no matter a person’s beliefs.
“The tools I use for that don’t always start or stop at religion,” Tomandl said.
Attorney Shannan Wilber of the National Center for Lesbian Rights said the purpose of a chaplain is to provide comfort.
“What is less comforting than someone telling you something is wrong with a part of yourself you can’t change?” she said.
“The facility needs to be looking for someone who is not going to harm children in their custody,” she said. “It is very well established that any response that suggests that young people can or should try to change their sexual orientation is completely ineffective and damaging.”
Wilber said public agencies have a duty to ensure the well-being of those children, especially ones in their physical custody.
She said it doesn’t matter if church services were optional. She said the center is responsible for every person who may have contact with children.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in juvenile justice systems are at a greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in secure settings, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The child welfare foundation’s mission is to help disadvantaged kids through watchdog reporting of data. Each year, it releases Kids Count, a collection of data on child and family well-being in the United States
In September, the foundation released a report on the high numbers of youth in the juvenile justice system that face "discrimination" because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth make up a greater percentage of detained youth because social stigmas, family rejections and discrimination can lead to substance abuse, homelessness and school drop outs, according to the study.
“These risks are well-documented and devastating, driving disproportionate numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth into the justice system,” said Carol Abrams of the Casey Foundation.
The foundation’s research shows that 20 percent of youth in juvenile justice facilities identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, which is three times the estimated numbers in the general population.
Abrams said the juvenile justice system stands to lead the way in improving how this group is treated.
The foundation‘s report recommends that all personnel, contractors and volunteers be prohibited from using language that demeans, ridicules or condemns this group of individuals and that there should be openness and acceptance through nonverbal and environmental cues.
It also recommends that the providers and programs are prohibited from conversion or reparative therapy or any attempt to change a youth’s sexual orientation.
Calabrese said church services have not been interrupted by the change and a new chaplain is going through a background check.
John Tomandl, a spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplain Association, said some states ask chaplains to sign statements that they do not believe being gay is a sin.Reno Gazette-Journal which the AP article quoted from
Similar situations have popped up around the country, said John Tomandl of the American Correctional Chaplain Association and a chaplain for the New York State Correctional system. He said some states have asked chaplains to sign papers saying they don’t believe homosexuality is a sin.