Pastor wants Alabama town to be based on ‘teachings of Jesus Christ’

Tuesday, May 18, 1999

A fundamentalist preacher and 200 of his followers are seeking to persuade a probate judge in Alabama to allow them to incorporate their small community as an officially Christian town.

In April a group of neighbors led by the Rev. James Henderson asked a Madison County probate court — which has jurisdiction to decide property issues — to incorporate Brooksville, an area south of Huntsville, Ala., based on their religious principles. The judge told the group they needed at least 200 signatures and dismissed its request. Henderson and his group have now garnered 200 signatures and will try again next month to secure the judge’s blessing.

The group’s charter says the mission of the town would be “to conduct the community’s business according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Henderson, a retired military colonel, told The Washington Post that “over the years, the judges have stolen religion from us. And with it they took a sense of community, of neighbors helping each other.”

The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union has referred to the efforts of Henderson and his neighbors as “humorous.”

Pamela Sumners, a Birmingham attorney who frequently tries cases for the state ACLU, said that if the probate judge acted competently, then he would deny the group’s charter request. She noted, however, that many probate judges do not have law degrees and that “I would not count on a probate judge to do the right thing.”

“I think this situation is amazingly amusing,” Sumners told the First Amendment Center. “Sometimes, however, amusing things can be dangerous too. We often wake up in this state and have establishment-clause violations for breakfast, but this one is truly hilarious.”

Sumners said that if the court were to charter Brooksville as a Christian town, the ACLU would consider a legal challenge to the charter as a violation of the separation of church and state.