The Second Coming of J.C.

resAfter almost two months of being on hiatus, The Word of J.C. is back!  Now that life has settled down a little bit, and I have more time to write again, keep on the look out for new posts, which will be coming out at least every two days, throughout the summer.  For now, let’s review a few of the top stories that were missed during the break:

In April, Catherine and Herbert Schaible were charged with third degree murder, after losing their second child to a preventable illness.  For those of you who don’t remember them, the Schaibles were charged with involuntary manslaughter and placed on probation in 2009, after another of their children died from pneumonia. The couple had refused to seek medical attention for him, opting for prayer as treatment, which eventually led to the child’s death.  This time, another of their children, an eight month old infant son, suffered through two weeks of diarrhea and breathing problems while the couple once again refused to take him to a doctor, watching and praying as he wasted away.

Sylvia Browne, the widely acclaimed psychic, was once again exposed as a fraud this month, after Amanda Berry was found and rescued from her captor’s house, where she had been abused and held prisoner for a decade.  Browne told Berry’s parents that Amanda was dead and “on the other side” in 2004, during a taping of the Montel Williams Show.  This is not the first time that Browne has wrongly predicted the death of a missing child.

Pat Robertson told a female caller to his show, last week, that cheating is a “tendency of man,” and to stop focusing on her husband’s transgressions.  He continued, telling her that it was her duty to “make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander,” implying that her husband’s infidelity was the result, not of his own choices, but of her inadequacies.

So far, over forty people have been killed in Myanmar, as a result of religious violence between Buddhists and Muslims.  Around 1200 Muslims are now taking shelter in a monastery, while the government attempts to quell the violence.

In Louisiana, lawmakers have voted to uphold a bill that requires creationism to be taught in any school that includes evolution in its curriculum.  A move to repeal the bill, which has been on the books since the 1980s, was shot down, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has determined it to be wholly unconstitutional, as it requires religious ideals to be taught in public school classrooms; a clear violation of the establishment clause.

These are just a few of the many examples of religion, science denial, and charlatanry causing direct harm to both individuals and society as a whole that have occurred in the short time that I have been on break from this blog.  This, more than anything else before, has convinced me that humanists, secularists, skeptics, and all of their like MUST continue to speak out on a regular basis about the dangers posed by those who would choose to hold religious and supernatural ideas in higher regard than scientific advancement, the good of others, and the protection of constitutional principles. It is time that we as a society stop tolerating injustice and death on the grounds that we cannot infringe upon the beliefs of others. These are not issues of freedom of belief or religious liberty, but issues of safety, health, and law, and they must be addressed as such.



‘Psychic’ Twice Arrested for Fraud Completely Avoids Legal Punishment by Paying off Her Victims in Both Cases

At the beginning of this month, the Orlando Sentinel reported on a woman named Peaches Stevens, who had been arrested for fraud, back in November of 2011.  Apparently, Peaches, who also goes by the name of “Miss Starr,” makes her money as a self proclaimed psychic and fortuneteller.  Her basic M.O. is to convince her victims that they and their loved ones have a terrible curse upon them, and then extort large sums of money from them, with promises to remove the curse:

Overwhelmed by problems, Priti Mahalanobis consulted a fortuneteller who told her there was a curse on her family.  After spending nearly $136,000 in cash, gift cards and jewelry to have Windermere psychic “Miss Starr” remove the hex, Mahalanobis came to the conclusion that she had been swindled.

This time, her fraudulent ways came back to bite her, and now she must repay every cent that she took from Mahalanobis and her husband. Now, I’m usually a huge fan of exposing and punishing frauds and charlatans, especially when they are forced to pay restitution to those poor, desperate and gullible people who they have victimized, but I have some major problems with the way that this case was handled.  For example:

All charges were dropped in September [2012] after Stevens agreed to give Mahalanobis and her husband a full refund of $135,898.60.

So, there will be no further repercussions for her actions, no record of charges or convictions, and she gets to go on scamming people out of their hard earned cash.  To me, this feels like a justification for ‘psychics’ like this woman defrauding people, based on their gullibility.

“Whoops, you caught me, this time. Since you were clever enough to figure me out, I’ll just give you your money back, and we’ll call it even. Next customer, please!”

On the other hand, I do believe in giving second chances, so I’ll try to be optimistic, and assume that the prosecutors in the case were hoping that the whole thing would convince her to switch to a more honest line of work.  If only we lived in a perfect world.

On Thursday [March 7, 2013], a similar settlement was negotiated and the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office agreed not to prosecute Peaches Stevens, 30, or her aunt Sharon Stevens, 45, also a psychic.

Sharon Stevens, professionally known as Sarah Stevens, was arrested last week at her home in Hallandale Beach on charges of scheming to defraud and grand theft. A warrant for the arrest of Peaches Stevens was recalled Thursday.

Sharon and Peaches Stevens will reimburse a 67-year-old woman in full: $50,702.94 in cash, gift cards and unspecified merchandise paid to have evil spirits vanquished, the State Attorney’s Office said. Neither psychic admitted civil or criminal liability.

So, we have the same psychic, this time with the addition of her aunt as an accomplice, arrested for pulling the same scams as before, and then being allowed to wriggle out of legal punishment in exactly the same way.  Once again, there is no deterrent or legal accountability.  Once again, she is allowed to continue operating her business under the fraudulent claim of psychic ability, and running her same old scams.  This woman should have been held to the same prosecutory standards as any other common con artist to begin with.  To allow her off a second time shows just how ridiculously tolerant of this kind of behavior our society is.

So, let me be clear on where I stand, here: charlatanry is NOT a victimless crime, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, with monetary restitution being only a portion of perpetrators’ total legal punishment.  Frauds like this woman prey remorselessly on the aggrieved and desperate, and the emotional and psychological damage that they often do to their victims goes far beyond monetary loss.  So should the consequences.