An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday acquitted a former Southern Baptist Convention leader accused of propositioning an undercover male police officer, but did not address whether the lewdness statute under which he was charged is unconstitutional, according to news reports.
Lonnie Latham, 61, was arrested Jan. 3, 2006, in Oklahoma City, Okla., allegedly after inviting an officer to a hotel room for sex. At the time he was pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, a member of the SBC Executive Committee and an officer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. He resigned all three positions after his arrest, which was widely reported both in mainstream media and on gay Web sites.
Latham's attorney last month filed a motion to have Oklahoma's lewdness statute declared unconstitutional, based on Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states cannot make it a crime for consenting adults to engage in homosexual acts.
Unlike other suspects arrested in the Oklahoma City sting operation, Latham reportedly did not discuss exchanging money. If an act isn't criminal, attorney Mack Martin argued in a two-week non-jury trial, it shouldn't be illegal to discuss it.
Martin told the Tulsa World that Latham was ecstatic about the verdict when he spoke to him Wednesday afternoon. The Associated Press added that Latham is not bitter about the case. Latham reportedly did not return phone calls to the newspaper Wednesday afternoon.
Latham's case drew widespread attention because of his connection to the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most strident U.S. denominations against acceptance of homosexuality. As a spokesman in media, he reportedly supported the SBC's position that homosexuality should not be tolerated but rather overcome through religious faith and counseling aimed at changing sexual orientation.
It also drew support from the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging that charges against Latham be dropped.
A former director of missions, Latham became pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in 2002. Sunday school attendance grew during his ministry and the church baptized more than 100. He had been vocal in opposing expansion of gambling in Oklahoma.
In 2000 supported a resolution by DOMs encouraging churches to "seriously consider" adopting the newly revised Baptist Faith & Message as their confession of faith. Among changes adopted that year was addition of homosexuality among a list of vices to be avoided by Christians.
Following his arrest, Latham told reporters in Oklahoma City that he did nothing wrong and that he was "set up" and abused by police.
Latham told reporters he was in the area because he was "involved in a prayer ministry."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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