Remember the Ranch For Kids and how it’s totally OK for it to answer to no one because Jesus? Well, it sure does amuse the owner, all this fuss about licenses and checks and government oversight and fees. Joyce Sterkel knows better, about everything, and no government of any nation is going to tell her how to run her ranch. She’s being sued by the state for it, and she seems to find this adorable: “We’ve got international intrigue and controversy going on here in little old Eureka. How did all this happen?” Sterkel says with a laugh.
Isn’t she droll, this 65-year-old woman dandling her adopted three-year-old on her knee? (Of course age limits don’t apply to her either, silly: She’s Joyce Sterkel!)
How did the ranch get away with this? The obvious answer is that nobody cares much about certifications and background checks for people who work with children as long as they have a place to send kids they can’t handle. (Naturally, this article includes a ringing endorsement from parents who believe the ranch is doing just peachy.) But if you read the earlier article, you’ll remember there’s a second answer: They declared themselves a church of sorts.
Yes, the Ranch for Kids is an “adjunct ministry” (of a church that hasn’t yet been deemed a church), and that means it can do whatever it wants. It’s worse than I knew, though: there’s no clergy, yet some guy runs around baptizing, proselytizing, “youth pastoring” and counseling kids with no qualifications whatever (surely the article would have mentioned them). Parents pay $3, 500 a month to keep their children here. There are “twenty-five to thirty” of them (damn, I hope someone’s counting!). I don’t think not being able to afford a license is the problem, and, as we’ll see, Sterkel doesn’t even pretend it is.
The government, of course, is not buying the ministry story:
The state charges that Sterkel is using the exemption to sidestep PAARP’s fees and regulations, and argues in its lawsuit that neither the Ranch for Kids nor the religious organization it partnered with qualifies as a real church or ministry.
That time she turned away the Russian consulate? “[The visit] was just a big publicity stunt.” And they weren’t going to get away with it, either. Why?
“This is a foreign government trying to come onto private property, into a private business in Montana,” Sterkel said. (Wait a minute, I thought it was a ministry. I wonder what the tax situation is here?) Continuing to explain why she wouldn’t let anyone in to see the children, she added, “We’re an open book.”
Again, here are the things Ms. Sterkel thinks don’t matter:
The PAARP board declined to renew the ranch’s license in June 2010 after an inspection found problems, including a failure to show that the ranch’s buildings were up to code. The inspection also found that the ranch lacked a disaster plan and did not require background checks for employees. Sterkel also denied the board information about the children, according to court filings by Tapper, the PAARP attorney.
Sterkel said she’d be more inclined to cooperate if she believed the state board had the children’s best interests in mind.
“If safety was an issue, truly an issue, they would have shut us down by now. The issue is control. They want us to dance their tune,” she said.
Bullshit, lady. There are reasons to run background checks. There are reasons to make sure buildings will not fall in on people. There are reasons for disaster plans. Lots of them. Really good reasons, reasons that people who care about the best interests of children grasp immediately. And the idea that the ranch would have been shut down by now if anything bad were going on is ludicrous…or did I miss the Catholic Church’s getting shut down because it put so very many children in danger? No? Didn’t think so.
I’m not saying Ms. Sterkel is running a combination child brothel and Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Shop. But she could be, and nobody would ever know as long as she kept stalling like she’s stalling now. The state has let this go on for years now, and sue me if I think it’s because the parents of the children don’t have anywhere else to send them.
And that sucks, but I don’t think troubled children should be in the hands of a woman who thinks she’s above all earthly laws. Not at all. (Shit, I don’t think such people should be allowed to own goldfish or walk around loose.)
The good news? They’re probably going to get rid of the horseshit “adjunct ministry” designation:
Even if the judge sides with Sterkel and the ranch, however, it may not matter. A bill introduced in the Montana legislature calls for eliminating the adjunct ministry exemption, which would force Sterkel into licensure or close her doors.