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Friday, December 20, 2013

A PBA Staffer's Been Foisting Christian Reading Material On People in Community Service

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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Along with all the standard menial labor, defendants completing community service in downtown Portland have been given a healthy dose of Christian moralization lately.

Attorneys learned earlier this week a Portland Business Alliance employee has been handing out photocopied packets to community court defendants working off minor offenses. The packets pose questions like "What does the Bible say about laziness?" and "Why read?" They also contain a copy of Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses," the seminal protestant document famously nailed to a church door in 1517. And there are all these confounding diagrams regarding international governance styles, among other things.

Here. Just check it out. [PDF]

The packets came to light a couple days ago, when a defendant brought one to a hearing at the Westside Community Court. The court's a venue where low-level offenders can keep misdemeanors off their records by completing community service or undergoing treatment. But attorneys and a judge had never seen the reading material before.

"It’s completely inappropriate for religious material to be passed out during community service," says Adam Gibbs, a deputy district attorney who works in community court. "This just got brought to our attention and we're looking into it."

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Turns out the materials were distributed by Wayne Baseden, a former bodybuilder and military member who handles community service as a staffer for the PBA's Clean & Safe district. The Oregonian lionized Baseden in this profile last year, and PBA leadership is quick to point out he's shepherded thousands of people through leaf and trash pick-ups since 2009.

Once the packet came to light, Gibbs reached out to the PBA, who have since told Baseden to cut it out.

"We agree the reading materials in question were inappropriate," spokeswoman Laura Shepard said in an e-mail yesterday. "He has been instructed to cease using these materials immediately and to clear all future readings with his supervisor and the Court."

As the Oregonian profile makes clear, Baseden likes a lot of dialogue with defendants. He'll ask trivia questions, maybe encourage people to turn their lives around. All above-board stuff, but at some point—maybe recently, maybe a while ago—Baseden began handing out the extra reading material.

Lynnae Berg, executive director of the Clean & Safe District, said the PBA didn't inquire how long Baseden had been distributing the materials or how many he'd handed out.

"We didn’t ask him that question," Berg said. "This is the first time we’ve ever received a complaint about this information so we addressed this specific complaint."

Berg said Baseden wouldn't be available for comment.

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