Update on Beebe: “That man’s God is not my God.”

Cara Schulz —  June 19, 2014 — 114 Comments

[The Wild Hunt has an update on the alleged religious discrimination against Seekers Temple in Beebe including an interview with temple High Priest Bertram Dahl.] 

More details emerge in the conflict between Mayor Mike Robertson of Beebe, Arkansas and a Pagan church. High Priest Bertram Dahl said the city of Beebe welcomed him, his church, and store to relocate to the town with open arms – until they found out the church wasn’t a Christian church. Now the mayor claims Dahl’s Seekers Temple and metaphysical store cannot open due to zoning issues. In our interview with the Dahls they say it has nothing to do with zoning and everything to do with religious discrimination.

Bert and Felicia Dahl, along with their two children. Photo credit - seekerstemple.com

Bert and Felicia Dahl, along with their two children. [Photo credit: seekerstemple.com]

Beebe area Pagans asked the Dahls to relocate from El Paso, Arkansas to Beebe as it was more centrally located. The Dalhs agreed and in early 2014 they made the move. While looking for a place to live and host their church and store, the couple met Mayor Robertson and explained their plans to relocate their church. The Dahls had found a property that looked promising. It had a home and a large detached garage that could be used for their church and store. After talking it over with the mayor and seeing the other businesses and churches on all sides of the property, the Dahls made the purchase.

They then tried to rent out the city park for a Pagan Pride event and Dahl says that’s when things started to go wrong. Beebe Parks Manager, Lynn Hatcher, realized the couple was hosting a Pagan event and that the church would be a Pagan church. Although he had not even applied for permits yet, Mayor Robertson wrote a letter to Beebe Code and Zoning Officer Milton McCullar saying no conditional or special use permits should be given to Dahl. That same day, the city’s code officer sent a letter ordering Dahl to cease and desist.

City Attorney Barrett Rogers said in an interview with KARK that Dahl could not open the church or store because his residential property was not “zoned commercial, which is what’s required for a place of worship or a retail business.” Yet the city codes reveal the property is zoned R2, which means while the property is not zoned to allow for a store, a church or other non-profit would be allowed if a conditional use permit were issued.

Dahl said he has tried to apply for a permit, but the mayor’s office said he wouldn’t be approved for a permit and wouldn’t provide him with the permit application. When KARK asked Mayor Robertson about the paperwork, he said that “there was no permit he could apply for.”

Dahl says he asked for help from his alderman, but he refused. When the alderman was contacted by KARK, he said, “That man’s God is not my God.”

The mayor, city attorney, and city zoning officer declined to comment.

It’s not only city officials that have been unhappy with a Pagan church and store opening in Beebe. The Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, located across the street from the Dahls, first tried converting the Dahls. When that didn’t work, the Dahls say the church turned to harassment. Lighthouse Pentecostal erected a working lighthouse to shine a beam of light into the Dahl’s house. The Dahls asked church leaders to stop shining the light into their house. When that didn’t work, they appealed to church members during a gathering at Lighthouse church. A week later, Lighthouse church leaders filed a complaint against Bertram Dahl and he was arrested on disorderly conduct and harassment charges. Dahl’s first court date is July 9th.

Interview with Bertram Dahl
Cara Schulz: You noted in your account that the Pagan community in Beebe asked you to move your church and store to Beebe so it would be more convenient for the surrounding Pagan community. About how many Pagans live in, and around, Beebe?

Bertram Dahl: There is no way to answer this question, as their numbers are hidden to most for fear of persecution. Many that come to us in private, would never show their face as a Pagan to the public. This is in fact why we do what we do, so people will not feel the need to hide any longer and our children will not suffer what we do.

CS: Has the local Pagan community supported you in any way during this time? Have they attended City Council meetings? Have they donated for legal defense?

BD: We get letters and calls, but we shall see who is willing to stand with us at City Hall on June 23 at 6:30pm. As for donations, they are few and small. Most Pagans do not have money and we understand that. We ask for letters to be sent to Priest@SeekersTemple.com and donations to be sent to PayPal account SeekersTemple@yahoo.com or to the temple address, made out to Seekers Temple, 608 E. DeWitt Henry Dr, Beebe, AR. 72012.

CS: Beebe is a small town, just under 8000 people, so everyone in town must know something about this situation. How has the town reacted? Do you have non-Pagans willing to stand with you?

BD: We have many non-Pagans contacting us in support, but as we said, we shall see who will stand at the City Hall meeting.

CS: Let’s back up to when you first decided to move to Beebe. When you were looking for a location for your store and temple, did you check on local zoning before you purchased your property? Or are you renting?

BD: We did even better. We talked to the mayor. He was aware what we were looking for and what we were doing. He welcomed our church and even sold us three couches for the new home (he owns a furniture store). The problem is, he never bothered to read our card or go to our webpage until we bought the property. He now says if he had known what we were, he would not have helped us and would have stopped from moving here.

CS: Could you rent a store in the downtown area of Beebe? Would this solve the zoning issue?

BD: This is in fact the latest move in the mayors shell game. He condensed the zoning answers until it got down to “we zone individual properties”. This move is being stated by him now for the simple fact that he knows we put all we had into this place and can not afford to own two places. The fact is, the zoning doesn’t stop us here, but is requires him to say yes. We meet the zoning.

CS: Let’s turn to the church you say is harassing you. Are they still shining a spotlight into your home?

BD: They are now shining it above our home and temple. This still is harassment, but its like “accidentally” bumping into someone you are not suppose to be bothering. They also leave pamphlets in our yard in the middle of the night. We have been told the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church requires its members to send their children to their private school and that they control them [sic] member finances. We are being informed they are in fact a cult. We have no proof of this, but it would explain some things.

CS: In your write up of the events, you note you went into the church during a church service and explained the situation and asked members to talk to their Pastor and elders about stopping the harassment. You were then arrested. What’s next in your criminal case and do you have legal representation?

BD: I go to plea “Not Guilty” on July 9. I do not, nor can I or the temple afford representation. We don’t even have a public representative at this moment as even our alderman has been ordered to ignore us by the mayor and has publicly stated “That man’s god is not my God”, showing just what side he is taking in this.

CS: I read a comment of yours that you don’t have legal representation for the alleged harassment, discrimination, and civil rights violations you have outlined due to lack of finances. Have you attempted to contact the ACLU, the Lady Liberty League, or any other legal aid?

BD: We have sent our case to the ACLU, LLL, and the FBI, among a few others. So far it is a civil matter and nobody has taken the position to defend us.

CS: The mayor, police, and other city officials seem to be providing a united front against the open practice of Paganism in Beebe, do you believe you can still resolve the situation outside of a courtroom?

BD: That is and always has been our hope. We never wanted this to become a public thing. We have only reached out because I am now facing the possibility of $2,000 in fines and a year in prison. The city wants us to shut up and go away and they will not even hear us.

CS: Why do you continue to stay in Beebe? Or are you considering moving to a new location?

BD: We were invited here by the people. It is in fact a good location, and we now have all of our money tied up in this property. We could not move if we wanted to and frankly see no reason we should have to.

CS: Is there anything about your situation that you feel it is important for others to know, which hasn’t received much notice?

BD: What is important is that ALL Pagans learn to stand up for their rights. We are a peaceful people with dreams and families and we have the right to exist like anyone else. If we hide in our broom closets and allow ourselves to be ignored, then we deserve nothing better. Our children are counting on us to make the world a better place for them. I do not intend to let them down. If I am persecuted, jailed or even executed, my children and grandchildren will at least know I did my best.

CS: How can people help you?

BD: We ask that people educate themselves about who we are. We ask that they stand with us at the Beebe City Hall on June 23 at 6:30pm and every fourth Monday after until we are heard and/or send a letter that they want us open to Priest@SeekersTemple.com and/or donate to PayPal accountSeekersTemple@yahoo.com or to Seekers Temple, 608 E. DeWitt Henry Dr., Beebe, AR. 72012

Timeline of events
June 2013 -The Dahls begin searching for a home in Beebe, where they can relocate their Seekers Temple and store.

Aug 2013 – They contact Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson about moving “a church” into one of the buildings on a prospective property. Mayor gives verbal approval.

January 2014 – The Dahls contact Beebe Parks Manager, Lynn Hatcher, to rent a section of Beebe City Park for Arkansas Pagan Pride. They direct Hatcher to the Temple website, letting him know it is a Pagan church and Pagan event. Hatcher says entire park rents for $600 for a weekend, but the group would get smaller rate due to needing only one pavilion and only for one day.

February 2014 – Hatcher informs the Dahls the rate for them for one day and one pavilion would be $600. Dahls decline to rent park.

February 2014 – The Dahls move to Beebe

February 5th, 2014 – Mayor Robertson sends a letter to Beebe Code Officer Milton McCullar saying not to issue a use permit to the Dahls, even though Dahls haven’t yet applied for a permit.

February 5th, 2014 – The city of Beebe issues a Cease and Desist order to the Dahls to shut down all aspects of Seekers Temple.

February 6, 2014 – The city of Beebe issues a Denial of Permit to Open to the Dahls, backdated to Feb 5, 2014. Dahls have not yet applied for a permit.

Feb 7, 2014 – Dahls meet with Beebe Mayor Robertson. Mayor says the Dahls would not be “opening a Pagan anything” in Beeb. A church and store not allowed in R-2 zoned areas even though they are. Dahls are not allowed to address the Town Council.

March 14, 2014 – Dahls attempt to apply for a city permit to open church and store. City Clerk Carol Crump-Westergren, after speaking with the mayor, says they are not allowed to apply and can not speak to City Attorney Barrett Rogers.

April 2014 – Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, located across the street from the Dahls, begins its proselytizing efforts to the Dahls.

May 2014 – Lighthouse Church builds a working lighthouse and begins to shine the light into the Dahl’s home day and night.

May 2014 – Dahls ask Pastor of Lighthouse church to stop shining light and is ignored. They ask for meeting with elders and are ignored.

May 21, 2014 – Bertram Dahl talks to members of Lighthouse Church as they gather for services, asking them to speak to their church elders about ending the harassment they are receiving. Police officers later tell Bertram Dahl he’s no longer welcome on church property.

May 28, 2014 – Bertram Dahl is arrested for disorderly conduct and harassing communications after a complaint is filed by Lighthouse Church elders.

June 17, 2014 – A Beebe alderman responds to media inquiry about the Dahl’s situation with, “That man’s god isn’t my God.”

 

 

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.