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A common thread

February 27, 2009
By ABIGAIL McWILLIAM, Messenger news editor

Lester Roloff, a fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Texas, founded a large chain of teen homes called Roloff Homes that stirred controversy because of its disciplinary methods and allegations of abuse over a period of more than three decades.

According to media reports from the 1970s, Roloff said he'd face death or jail rather than submit to the licensing of his Christian homes for youths.

Lighthouse Baptist Church of Columbia, Tenn., which provides information about Anchor Character Training Center on its Web site, lists Roloff as one of its heroes.

Michele Ulriksen, a former student at Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, Calif., said Roloff was praised as a hero there. Michael Palmer who operated Victory, kept a framed photo of Roloff at Victory and spoke of him often, she said.

"Brother Roloff believed strongly that the state should not regulate any church or its ministries in any fashion. To agree to allow the state to regulate the homes would have meant that the residents could not legally be required to attend church services, among other things," the Lighthouse Web site states.

Disciplinary methods used in Roloff's homes for wayward girls created concern in Texas, Georgia and Mississippi, according to a 1982 report by The New York Times.

Three homes, including the Anchor Home for Boys, Rebekah Home for Girls and the Lighthouse Home for Boys, were ordered closed when Roloff refused to apply for state licensing, The Washington Post reported at that time.

Former residents of a Roloff Home based in Mississippi asserted in a lawsuit in 1982 that they were beaten, denied adequate meals and brainwashed at a facility called the Bethesda Home, according to The New York Times.

A 1982 class action suit filed by a 19-year-old unmarried pregnant woman resulted in more than half of the 70 residents leaving the facility, according to a civil rights law firm, Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala.

The girls who filed a class action suit on behalf of the woman said they were held against their will under 24-hour lockdown, paddled and forced to accept religious teachings without question, according to the law firm.

The lawsuit was settled in 1987 and Mississippi welfare authorities eventually closed the facility after conducting their own investigation.

Contact Abigail McWilliam at (515) 573-2141 or



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