A pastor at the center of a dramatic and acrimonious custody and kidnapping case has been jailed for refusing to testify in court.
Kenneth Miller, a 47-year-old Mennonite pastor, told U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions on Thursday that he could not answer questions from a grand jury regarding the flight of Lisa Miller and her daughter to Nicaragua to avoid a custody transfer, reports the Associated Press. Lisa Miller (who is not related to Kenneth Miller) took the child overseas in 2009 so she would not have to comply with a court order allowing her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, to see their daughter, reports NBC News.
In August, Kenneth Miller was convicted of helping the mother flee the country. His sentencing begins in March, and he faces a maximum jail time of three years.
The pastor apologized to the court on Thursday and said his "religious beliefs" prevented him from testifying, according to the AP. Miller said that he, and possibly others who may or may not have helped Lisa Miller violate the custody order, were motivated by their conviction in "God's Law," the AP reports.
The reluctant judge replied that while he appreciated the pastor's "faithfulness to your religion and your moral beliefs," the criminal justice system could not function without the grand jury, according to the AP.
The Beachy Amish Mennonites, the Protestant splinter sect that Kenneth Miller belongs to, believes that same-sex marriage is a sin. The group has about 13,000 members worldwide.
The root of the custody dispute and ensuing kidnapping dates back to 2002, when Lisa Miller gave birth to daughter Isabella. At the time, she was still together with her partner Janet, reports NBC News; but the couple was divorced two years later. Some time after that, Miller became a born-again Christian, renounced homosexuality and stopped allowing Jenkins to see Isabella.
The battle between Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, as well as the trial of Kenneth Miller has snowballed into a widely publicized debate that pits religious conservatives against LGBT advocates. In August, conservative firebrand Bryan Fischer, who has grabbed headlines in the past for inflammatory comments about Newtown and the LGBT community, said Lisa Miller had a responsibility "to obey God rather than man" and kidnap her daughter, reports Right Wing Watch.
Jenkins has also filed a civil suit in which she alleges that Miller, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and the Lynchburg-based Thomas Road Baptist Church all conspired to help conceal the whereabouts of her daughter. The suit is asking for unspecified monetary damages.