The pastor of Heritage Free Will Baptist Church of Laconia, NH is coming under fire after Christian literature was distributed during a Fish and Game Department hunter safety class held on the church's property.
The class was taught by the church's pastor, Dr. Joel Nason in April of this year. Nason also serves as a chaplain for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
A gospel tract and an invitation to Sunday services were given out with a safety guide and other hunting related materials at the class.
The class is mandatory for anyone who wants to get a hunting license. The Fish and Game Department holds them in community centers and various other locations all over the state.
Someone who attended the class contacted the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) about the church's handouts.
On June 28, the FFRF wrote a scathing letter to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, according to The Laconia Daily Sun.
In it, they asked the department to look into the incident and to "ensure that future classes… do not involve the distribution of religious materials."
"These proselytizing handouts are supremely insulting to non-Christians and unbelievers," wrote FFRF co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The State of New Hampshire has no business holding workshops of vital importance to hunting safety that berate attendees as sinners, etc. Such a misuse of a state function for sectarian, proselytizing purposes is disgraceful."
"We're reviewing everything that happened and are handling it like a personnel matter," said hunter education supervisor Laura Ryder.
Ryder also acknowledged that the department is unsure of who actually distributed the flyers.
Glenn Normandeau, executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, responded to the incident as well.
"I want to assure you that we do take the complaint seriously, and have confirmed that materials were in fact provided to participants that were unauthorized and outside of the approved curriculum," he said in a letter. He also assured them that "no materials should be distributed in any class other than those which are part of the approved curriculum."
It's a first for the department.
"This is the only complaint of this nature we are aware of regarding our hunter education classes," said Nicola Whitley, division chief of Fish and Game public affairs.
Heritage Free Will Baptist Church's website says they are, "A Community of People Redeemed by Jesus Christ."
Dr. Joel Nason has been the church's "sole pastor" for 22 years.
One official from the department said Nason is "a very good individual who was immediately upset and apologetic."
Nason has a good reputation with locals as well – even those whose religious beliefs don't align with his.
"Never once have I heard Joel ever push his religion," said Col. Kevin Jordan, a game law enforcement chief.
Jordan told The Laconia Daily Sun about how Nason even helped a Muslim family work through grief when they lost three family members in a drowning accident.
Jordan credits Nason with upright intentions and doesn't believe the pastor tried to cause a stir.
"I'm sure he didn't think (it) would be a big problem," Jordan said. "He looks at everybody in the same way, but there are various personalities that don't share his views. I'm sure he was very upset about it."