'Friendly Atheist' offers to help Ohio pastor allegedly beaten by 'militant atheist'

An atheist blogger is helping to raise money to pay medical bills for an Ohio pastor who was badly injured in an alleged attack by a self-proclaimed “militant atheist.”

Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog and author of two books on atheism, set up a fund that’s so far raised more than $5,000 of his $15,000 goal to help cover medical expenses and other needs of the Rev. Norman Hayes, who was injured earlier this month by a man after a church service.

The accused attacker, 28-year-old James Maxie, told police he went Oct. 20 with his girlfriend to Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, Ohio, to try to “regain (his) faith in God.”

Maxie, who described himself as a militant atheist on his Facebook page, is accused of flying into a rage when Hayes asked his parishioner girlfriend if she felt safe with the atheist and attacking the minister.

The accused attacker admitted he’d asked the minister some questions about “science and faith,” but Maxie claims Hayes told his girlfriend she’d go to hell for dating him.

Hayes suffered broken nose, facial lacerations and bruises in the attack.

Mehta, a high school math teacher, read about the attack online and wrote a blog post asking his readers how they should react if a “militant atheist” beat up a pastor, and they decided to raise money to help the victim.

“This guy went through something rough,” Mehta told Religion News by phone. “I think it is a nice gesture to say we feel horrible for what you went through. This shouldn’t have happened. We disagree with Christians all the time but that is not how we resolve our debate.”

Mehta said he was particularly concerned with how deeply Maxie, a registered sex offender who’s been convicted of felonious assault and charged with animal cruelty, identified himself with the atheist community.

“I looked at his Facebook page,” Mehta said. “The things he liked and the things he had on his wall were friends of mine and he is a supporter of groups I like. So he is not just some random dude; he is someone who is a part of this movement in some way, and that is something to think about.”

Hayes’ church did not comment on Mehta’s offer, but the minister’s son said his father was grateful for the donations.

“It means a lot and it means less stress for him in this time of recovery,” Andy Hayes said. “There have been many responses from the Friendly Atheist post, (and) my dad just wanted to say thanks and that it means a lot. This isn’t about theology, it’s about humanity and how we treat each other.”

Maxie remains jailed on $51,000 bond, and a judge granted Hayes a protection order against his accused attacker.

Watch this video report posted online by WHIO-TV: