FFRF calls for fraud probe into Rapture campaign

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate how many innocent people may have suffered financially, emotionally and physically due to Pastor Harold Camping's $100 million campaign predicting Armageddon on May 21.

FFRF is a national state-church watchdog with over 16,500 nonreligious members, including over 2,400 in California.

In a May 31 letter to Harris, FFRF noted numerous calls for apologies by victims of Camping's "Rapture" crusade and concerns for the untold numbers of people he and his organization duped.

"Our organization seeks to hold Camping accountable in a more tangible way," said the letter from FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. "We ask you to investigate Camping's 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Family Stations Inc., for fraud and deceit."

Family Stations is an umbrella for Camping's religious projects, including a radio show broadcast worldwide and streaming online, an online repository of religious commentary and the distribution of sectarian tracts and pamphlets. "Through these endeavors, Camping convinced droves of his loyal listeners and adherents that the end of the world was rapidly approaching and that people had only until May 21, 2011, to 'find' religion," the letter said.

"We understand that Family Stations Inc. maintains that the primary source of the $100 million was the liquidation of property owned by the nonprofit, whose reported donations totaled more than $18 million in 2009 — well before his Rapture campaign reached its zenith. It is not unreasonable to believe that at least that amount comprised part of the total advertising budget in 2010 and 2011. There are media reports of dozens of Camping's followers who liquidated their own assets to contribute tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to Camping's organization, convinced (by Camping) that they would have no need for the money or material goods after May 21 and that they were needed by Family Stations Inc., in order to advertise for the proclaimed Rapture. Others incurred thousands of dollars in debt through extravagant purchases and family vacations, allegedly convinced (by Camping) that they should enjoy the world before its impending destruction. Some quit their jobs, sold or abandoned their homes, packed their families and moved in preparation for the 'end of the world.' "

The letter continued, "Tragically, there are even reports that some of Camping's followers committed suicide to avoid the terror promised by the Rapture stories. A Florida man drowned in California as a result of his Rapture-related delusions, according to detectives, and in doing so, he pulled family members into the cold waters, endangering their lives as well. Perhaps one of the most horrifying stories related to the Rapture predictions comes from California, where a woman slit her children's throats and then her own in order "to prevent them from suffering through [the Tribulation]."

Many other people may not be speaking up "due to the embarrassment of losing their financial security as a result of their loyalty to a false prophet."

"The California Attorney General's Office has a duty to protect the public from predatory charities, and we hereby request that the Charitable Trusts Section investigate and, if appropriate, take legal action against Family Stations Inc. for its potential fraudulent misuse of charitable assets," said the letter, which listed relevant portions of the California Civil Code on deception and fraud.

"Camping's actions and the actions of Family Stations seem to show that they neither behaved nor conducted business as if they sincerely believed that the world would end on May 21, and they continued to solicit donations up to, on and after that date," the letter said.

"Camping did not commit deceit and fraud in being wrong about the date of the Rapture; the question to be determined is whether he may have committed deceit or fraud in persuading his followers to donate often large sums of money to his organization based on a claim — that the world would definitely end on May 21, 2011, and that he needed to advertise this 'fact' — while objectively conducting his business as though he knew it to be untrue."

The letter concluded, "If self-proclaimed 'prophets' are fraudulently enriching their coffers at the expense of their impressionable members, the Attorney General's Office must take action."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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