APn 03/07/94 1941 Camp Sister Spirit

APn  03/07/94 1941  Camp Sister Spirit

   HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) -- U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno 
overstepped her authority when she intervened in a dispute 
between residents and a feminist retreat run by lesbians, two 
of the neighbors claim in a lawsuit filed Monday.

   John Allen and James Hendry are asking the court to order 
Reno to stop her agency's attempts to mediate the dispute with 
the tiny southern Mississippi town of Ovett. They also are 
seeking damages of at least $50,000 apiece.

   Hendry is head of Mississippi for Family Values, a group of 
Ovett-area residents opposed to the retreat. Allen is pastor of 
the First Baptist Church of Richton.

   Reno called in federal mediators last month after Camp 
Sister Spirit owners Brenda and Wanda Henson reported receiving 
a handwritten threat in the mail. The two, who consider 
themselves married and share the same last name, said they have 
also received threats by telephone.

   Reno told a gay-rights group she "considers the threat of 
violence in Ovett to be real."

   Mediators have met with some camp residents and opponents, 
but there have been no joint meetings.

   Some of the town's 400 residents have said they fear the 
120-acre camp will become a hub of homosexual activity. 
Donations to fund the lawsuit were collected at a January 
meeting attended by 350 people at which Allen accused the 
Hensons of having a "radical agenda."

   "We contend that Janet Reno exceeded her jurisdiction and 
has infringed upon the powers reserved for the state and the 
people," the plaintiffs' attorney, Mike Barefield, argued in 
the lawsuit.

   A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman defended the 
involvement of the Community Relations Service, saying it had 
helped defuse conflicts over nuclear power, the anniversary of 
the 1970 Kent State University shootings and a tax dispute 
concerning the Church of Scientology.

   "We fully believe that the CRS has appropriate and legal 
authority to mediate this volatile community conflict," 
spokesman Carl Stern said in a statement.

   Brenda Henson called the lawsuit "ludicrous."

   "They're showing by the suit they really don't want to 
resolve this," she said by phone from Washington.

   "They don't want to solve the problem, they want to make an 
issue," she said. "All we want to do is live in peace."

   The Hensons have 20 women in residence helping to rebuild 
the former pig farm. They want to hold workshops on sexual 
harassment and abuse and women's legal rights.