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God's word? Md. appeals to the law

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Rev. Bruce Hawthorn says God told him to start a service to pay the medical bills of Christians.

The state, however, says that in this matter, it's the one with the higher authority.

The Ohio preacher was ordered in January to stop soliciting subscribers, who pay $50 a month toward the medical bills of fellow members whose plight is featured in the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter.

Mr. Hawthorn, who, through his newsletter collects $3 million a year in subscriber fees, argued that a group of people who pull together to share the burdens of like-minded Christians was protected by the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.

But the Maryland Insurance Division yesterday rejected his appeal, ruling that the mailing constituted an unlicensed insurance business. A lawyer for the newsletter, Michael Sharman of Culpepper, Va., said he would appeal the ruling.

If members feel a calling to donate to charity and "bear one another's burdens," they are free to do so by giving to any number of charities, the administrative ruling said.

"No amount of rhetoric will change the fact that the sale of an insurance product is not a form of religious worship."

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