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Whites-only Christian gathering riles some Alabama neighbors

Beyond the KKK banners, behind the white supremacy flag, is a controversial "pastors conference," held in rural Alabama open only to "white Christians," upsetting both neighbors and local officials. WVTM's Kalisha Whitman reports.

A three-day whites-only religious conference — which will conclude with a flaming cross — in Lamar County, Alabama, has some residents upset at the racist implications while the minister complains that his freedom of speech is being violated.

"Yes, we believe that the Europeans and their descendants are the chosen people of God," according to the website for Christian Identity Ministries, which is holding the event with Church of God’s Chosen. "We believe this, not because we think that the white race is superior, but because there is overwhelming proof in support of this belief. We do not back down from this belief, because we are certain."

Some local residents learned of the July 4-6 gathering after the group posted fliers promoting their fourth annual pastors conference, announcing "All White Christians Invited," according to a report by WBRC in Birmingham.

"It was put up throughout the town in the middle of the night. (It was) when everyone was asleep without the permission of the business owner," said Tyler Cantrell, manager of Norris Music in nearby Winfield, Ala., the report said.

According to the flier, the three-day conference, being held in a rural area, will end with a "Sacred Christian Cross Lighting Ceremony."

"Business people are upset. The city is upset,” Winfield Mayor Wayne Silas told the TV station. "The city of Winfield does not condone this."

Christian Identity Ministries founder Mel Lewis, who spoke to a reporter from WAFF TV of Huntsville, charged that the Winfield mayor was violating his flock’s right to free speech.

"The mayor ordered our fliers to be taken down," he said. "When did they start religious censorship?"

"We are not breaking any laws. We're not violating any ordinances. We're bringing the Word of God to people who want it, obviously, or they wouldn't be here," said Lewis at the rural venue, decorated with Confederate flags and KKK banners.

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The cross-burning ceremony planned for Friday — reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan practice used to intimidate blacks — was especially troubling, said Hezekiah Jackson, president of the Birmingham Metro Chapter of the NAACP.  

"The only context that I'm familiar with is one that is not very positive. And one that really symbolizes an era that many of us have hoped to put behind us," Jackson told WIAT TV of Birmingham. "And that is this whole era of Jim Crow, this whole era of white supremacy, this whole era of discrimination and racial hatred."

Lewis said the "cross lighting" ceremony is a symbolic rite of purification that long predates the Klan's inception, according to the report.

Some of the participants in the conference are Ku Klux Klan members, organizers said, though that was not a requirement.

"We don't have the facilities to accommodate other races, and we have nothing, not one bit of animosity, no racism whatsoever," Christian Identity Ministries Pastor William J. Collier told WIAT.

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