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Hotel cancels meeting space for controversial church group

The management of the Holiday Inn Select has decided not to rent space to a controversial "Christian Identity" church group that had planned to hold its annual meeting at the hotel during Easter weekend.

It was not clear Wednesday whether America's Promise Ministries _ whose followers believe that white Northern Europeans are the true Israelites of the Bible, and that Jews have conspired to control the economy _ will still meet in the Tampa Bay area.

"We just chose to not have the meeting room available, and that's it. It's a decision that I made and that I thought was in the bestinterests of the hotel," said Bob Jones, vice president of operations for HI Development of Tampa. The company manages the hotel at 3535 Ulmerton Road.

"I think this decision shows the true face of Tampa Bay," said Norman Gross, a member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas County. The management company made its decision after the federation made a complaint.

Pastor Dave Barley, leader of the Sandpoint, Idaho, church group, did not return a reporter's call Wednesday.

The Times reported Saturday that Holiday Inn Select had agreed to rent ballroom space to America's Promise Ministries for all-day meetings Saturday and Sunday. The group, which used the name "Gideon's Outreach" when it made the reservation, was to have paid $400 for the space. About 100 people were expected.

News of the meeting brought denunciations from area religious leaders, who said they respected the group's right to meet, but wished it would meet somewhere else.

America's Promise Ministries is the outreach arm of the Lord's Covenant Church, of which Barley is pastor. Barley said last week that the church "believes like any other fundamentalist church," and denied that it preaches racism or anti-Semitism.

Still, Barley said he believes that "there is a conspiracy among Jews to control the money system." And the church's World Wide Web site sells books and pamphlets with such titles as America, Free, White & Christian, and Did Six Million Really Die?

Among the speakers who were scheduled to appear in Clearwater were a tax-protesting minister from Missouri and a Holocaust revisionist from Idaho.

A spokesman for Coalition for Human Dignity, a Seattle organization that monitors hate groups, said the Lord's Covenant Church has been associated with some of the most violent, racist people in the Christian Identity movement.

Charles Barbee, who has said he is a follower of Barley, is on trial in federal court in Spokane, Wash., for the 1996 bombings of a newspaper building, a Planned Parenthood office, and a bank, and for two robberies of the bank. Barley said Barbee was never a member of the church and that the crimes with which he is charged are reprehensible.

Jones said HI Development sent Barley a fax notifying him of its decision, but it wasn't clear Wednesday whether Barley had received it. The America's Promise Ministries Web site still listed the Holiday Inn meeting among its upcoming events.