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Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 21:57:09 UTC
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APn  03/07 1941  Camp Sister Spirit
Copyright, 1994. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
   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.