(Photo: Screen Grab via WHIO TV)
A self-described militant atheist allegedly battered an Ohio pastor leaving him with a broken nose and several cuts across his face after he asked the man's girlfriend, who is a congregant, if she felt safe.
The battering, according to WHIO TV, took place after the pastor had ended his sermon at The Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, Ohio.
Police say the atheist, James Maxie, 28, of Springfield, Ohio, was arrested and charged with second-degree felonious assault while the pastor, Rev. Norman Hayes, 57, said he feared for his life while begging the atheist to stop during the attack. The man never stopped, however, until he had broken the pastor's nose and gave him three long cuts across his face that required stitches.
"I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe," Hayes told WHIO TV. "He was very, very upset that I'd even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly."
The pastor explained that his concern for his congregant was triggered by Maxie's argumentative and confrontational behavior during the service.
"It looked like he was looking for an argument," said Hayes.
He said after the sermon the couple approached him and he took the opportunity to ask the girlfriend if her atheist boyfriend was abusing her.
"He came from nowhere and hit me ... and knocked me down, and then he got on top of me and just kept hitting me over and over," said Hayes.
"It was fortunate he did stop," Hayes added. "I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn't stopped hitting me in the face over and over."
The atheist then took off on foot with his girlfriend and ran into a cornfield where he was spotted by two North Hampton officers who were responding to the scene. He was later caught hiding behind a home.
Police Chief Jarrod Campbell said he had rarely dealt with "an incident this brutal" in his 11 years with the department.
"Churches are somewhere where people go to worship their particular religion, and violence is usually the last thing you see," he said.
The preacher said Maxie, who reportedly proclaimed on his Facebook page "I'm proud to be atheist," made comments about Hitler and religion prior to the church service on Sunday.
But in a written statement to police Maxie said he was "trying to regain my faith in God," when he went to listen to Hayes sermon. He explained that he "asked questions about science and faith," which offended Hayes. He said the pastor said his girlfriend was "going to hell for dating me."
"That's when I made the worst mistake ever," Maxie wrote.
Now the pastor wants the atheist to pay for his crime.
"We believe there is hope for everyone," said Hayes, "but we also believe that regardless of that, people need to pay for what they have done, and I hope he has to pay for what he has done. Get put away for a while and not hurt anyone else. In my opinion, the next person won't be as lucky as I was."
The pastor asked for a protection order against Maxie and it was granted by Judge Denise Moody. Maxie is being detained in jail in lieu of a $51,000 bond.