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JACKSON TOWNSHIP Local ministry group sues state on services



Published: Thu, January 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The group says its right to religious freedom is being denied by the state agency.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A local ministry group that promises victory over addiction is now seeking a victory over the state.

Six people from Victory Harvest Ministries are seeking $2 million from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Youngstown.

The suit was filed by Ronald and Karen Pyles of Columbia Station, Ohio, Charlie Gibson of Niles, Scott Pyles of Lake Milton, Judith Prout of Sharon, Pa., and Randall DeBolt of North Jackson.

All of them, according to the suit, are "ordained ministers teaching abstention from drugs and alcohol through the teachings of the Christian Scriptures" under the name of Victory Harvest Ministries.

Victory Harvest once operated an emergency shelter, food pantry, clothing and furniture bank and in-house and outpatient addiction recovery programs on Palmyra Road, Jackson Township. It operated out of the building that once housed the First Baptist Church of Rosemont and Heritage Bible College.

Behind this: In November 2000, Victory Harvest was notified by the state that it was operating a drug and alcohol treatment program without a required permit.

Ronald Pyles, who founded the shelter in 1995, was ordered to cease operation of the treatment programs until he obtains a certificate. A spokeswoman at the department of alcohol and drug addiction services said Pyles never applied for one.

Atty. David J. Gerchak, who filed the suit, said Victory Harvest believes it does not need a permit and that the state is infringing on its religious freedom.

"Those folks are not doing drug and alcohol counseling, they are doing ministry work," Gerchak said. "It is a religious program completely based on the Bible."

Run: According to a March 2000 Vindicator story, people enrolled in the drug and alcohol addiction programs participated in Bible-based counseling sessions, eight inspirational services per week and several weekly meetings with other program participants.

The main goal was to rehabilitate people spiritually, mentally, physically and financially.

The nine-month recovery program is called Victory Over Addiction and does not involve administration of medication or treatment by psychologists or psychiatrists, Gerchak said.

He said the group continues to hold nondenominational church services at the facility, but has moved its other programs and services to Pennsylvania.

Besides the monetary damages, Victory Harvest is also seeking a court order barring the state from further interfering with its ministry.

bjackson@vindy.com




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