By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
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By CP Staff
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Alsbury nods approvingly. The 76-year-old pastor has experienced God flowing through him for the last 53 years. A cane rests near his chair. But while his body is weakening, his mind is strong. He says the main issue for continuing the 20-year court battle is the church's effort to protect its way of life.
"Basically," he says, "it's a matter of who we are and what we do versus the county decision to tell us who we are and what we do. An easy way to think of it is the relationship between Caesar and God."
Adds Simonson, "Throughout history, true Christians have faced situations where they had to choose between being faithful to their beliefs or obeying the edicts of government."
"What I'm telling you is Jesus had the opportunity to deny his faith but instead chose to state the truth," says Alsbury. "If we abide by the state's definition of us, then we deny who we are."
Eleven days after the verdict came down ordering the church to pay $234,945 to Patricia, Christ's Household filed a new suit at the federal level. But this time, Michael Rooney was not part of the case, nor was Patricia. It was Christ's Household versus Ramsey County. The suit had the church, for the first time, in the role of plaintiff. It was now arguing that if Ramsey County enforced the state court's ruling, it would infringe on the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner will have nothing to do with this argument. In her response to the U.S. District Court, she urged the dismissal of the entire case.
"With the exception of one district court judge's order in 2006, which was reversed by the appellate court, every district court order has rejected Plaintiff's First Amendment claims," she writes. "The Court of Appeals, too, addressed Plaintiff's First Amendment claims in a published opinion, and found them without merit."
Gaertner believes the case should be dismissed, arguing that the district court lacks the jurisdiction to even take the case.
Mostly though, her words suggest that the suit is a way for Christ's Household to get around the issue of paying child support and more or less overturn the state court's ruling.
Of course, this is not how Christ's Household sees it. The men are very specific in their intentions not to rehash any of the state court issues. In his own U.S. District Court filing, Aggregaard writes, "Christ's Household of Faith simply had no reason to litigate any enforcement-related issue until it had exhausted every last remedy related to liability." Again and again, he reiterates that the suit is only about enforcement.
Back inside the study, Alsbury continues to talk. The conversation moves to lighter subjects, such as church members' love for basketball and the talented musicians the school develops.
While this happens, Rooney surfs through his computer. The 20-year court hearing for him is like a cloud that never leaves. "It's always there," he says. "Overall it's been a spiritual blessing, even though I know it's impacted other community members."
Since the start of the litigation, all four children Michael was responsible for have grown, and some have their own families. Two of the children chose to return to Christ's Household of their own free will.
As the night progresses, it becomes apparent that the overriding issue is that Christ's Household does not want to pay Patricia because she betrayed the church's teachings. "They will have to take the money from us," says Alsbury. "We will never pay a dime to a person who denied her oath to marriage and her community—a covenant breaker? It's out of the question."