HARRISON — Under fire for alleged racism, the final straw for Robert Celeste came late last week when a van from a television station blocked his driveway in Harrison just as Celeste and his ailing wife were about to head out for a drive.
As Celeste spoke with a reporter, his wife, Cecily, who is beginning to suffer the effects of dementia, wandered off.
Worried about the hundreds of acres of wilderness nearby, Celeste, a regional school board member for the Oxford Hills School District, said he was relieved to find Cecily inside their house.
When Celeste started to get ready for a meeting later in the day, his wife asked that he not go.
“What if they come back to hurt me?” she asked.
That was it for Celeste. Using email, he resigned immediately from the SAD 17 board.
It was time to go anyway, the 74-year-old Celeste said Monday.
“I’ve put in my dues,” he said. “It’s time for someone else to do it. I’m tired.”
Though his departure puts an end to calls for his resignation, Celeste insisted he is not a racist and does not deserve his critics’ scorn.
“I am not the problem. The problem is what’s being taught in the public schools to Christian boys and girls,” said Celeste, a former construction company owner who calls himself pastor of the web-based Church for the American Christian Patriot.
He strongly denied he is a racist, despite his having posted material calling for the defense of “the white race.”
“God created four races — white, red, yellow and black,” he said Monday. “Man created a fifth race through rape, slavery and prostitution — the mixed race.”
Celeste is not shy about expressing his views on race and religion, which were well known when he was elected in a 2016 race when he faced only a write-in candidate.
He regularly submits opinion pieces to various newspapers, many of which have run over the years, often prompting rebuttal from others in the community.
Celeste said there is nothing wrong with trying to protect white people.
“Nobody tells the yellow race they need to integrate and water down,” he said.
Richard Colpitts, superintendent of the regional schools, said Celeste, who served on the district’s 22-member board since 2016, had not brought up many of the prejudices discussed on the church website. Colpitts said Celeste has always been polite on a panel that has diverse viewpoints.
Colpitts, however, said he was surprised when he eyeballed Celeste’s internet site. The pastor’s decision to resign, Colpitts said, was “probably in the best interests of the board.”
While Celeste has not expressed great concern for the board or the district, he insists they are failing students on many levels.
He said he gave up the seat because his wife is becoming more ill and he may be, as well. Diagnosed with terminal colon cancer four years ago, Celeste said he knows his time is limited. What he really seeks now, he said, is to complete a Bible translation on which he has been working for some time.
Celeste is no stranger to controversy.
He began fighting for gun rights and other conservative issues more than three decades ago, rarely feeling bad about some of the barbs tossed his way by his critics. Those barbs do not get to Celeste because his beliefs are rooted in the Bible and his love for America’s freedom and Republican government.
In his view, he said, “I have said nothing controversial.”
The schools, on the other hand, have much to defend, in Celeste’s opinion.
Take dinosaurs, for example.
Celeste said it has been only about 6,450 years since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, a place where people and animals lived in innocence and togetherness.
So when books and teachers in schools say that dinosaurs lived “millions and millions of years ago,” Celeste is more than just dubious. He is outraged.
“What that is saying is that God lied,” Celeste said.
They are telling Christian children, he said, that what they learn at church is wrong.
Celeste said they ignore the historical fact that dinosaurs were still flying around “out West” when cowboys first ventured out toward the Rocky Mountains, something that scientists say is not true.
Celeste said Christian parents ought to teach their children at home or send them to a church school, although he is open to letting them take specific classes in public schools on subjects, such as chemistry or vocational training, that do provide “lies” meant to undermine faith.
Celeste blames public education for much of what he does not like about society today.
“Where are they taught guns are bad and abortions are good?” he asked.
The answer, he said: public classrooms.
It is tough to be a Christians these days, according to Celeste.
For example, there are a lot of 14-year-old girls wearing clothing that is “too provocative,” creating temptation for men.
“Why do girls want to make me want to commit adultery?” Celeste asked.
He then joked that even if one of those girls pranced naked between him and the television, he is so old and sick that he would just tell her to get out of the way.
With Celeste’s departure, Harrison town officials can fill his seat until the next town election, when voters will select the person who will serve out his term until 2019.
Celeste’s conduct while on board
HARRISON — Former SAD 17 Director Bob Celeste has never minced words about his disdain for public education.
It is what drove him to run for a three-year director’s seat representing Harrison on the 22-member board in June of 2016 and it is what he chose to earmark in his brief letter of resignation from the board on March 8 in a brief letter to the Harrison Board of Selectmen.
“As you consider a replacement and ponder the effects of withdrawing Harrison from SAD17, you may find this site of interest: https://www.schooldigger.com/go/ME/district/10770/search.aspx,â he wrote in his resignation letter.
The SchoolDigger.com allows readers to view the academic performances of a school district. In this case, he has linked the SAD 17 scores which shows a downward trend in state assessment test results district-wide since 2013.
Poor test scores is one reason Celeste has cited for promoting home schooling, certainly not the only reason, but probably his least controversial reason.
Celeste was elected to the school board by Harrison voters by a vote of 167 to 24 write in votes and 57 blanks. He was one of two representatives from the town of Harrison on the eight-town regional school district board.
“I think the priorities set by school boards on what to teach children is absolutely wrong,” he told the Advertiser Democrat in 2016 after filing nomination papers for the seat being vacated by long-time board member Ann Macro, who, at the last minute, jumped back into the race as a write-in candidate.
“People who are happy with what is being taught in the school today can write her name in. Those who are unhappy with what’s being taught can vote for me,” he said.
“I am running because I believe the way the school board is prioritizing education is wrong. I believe we need to get back to reading, writing, arithmetic and history.”
That seemingly benign declaration may have won him the election.
Surprisingly, Celeste, who claims to have earned a PhD in theology and calls himself senior pastor of the American Christian Patriot web-based church, was not combative or disruptive during his nearly two year tenure on the SAD 17 Board of Directors.
He appeared to listen attentively to discussions, occasionally asking questions, occasionally providing an opinion and occasionally voting in opposition to his fellow members on the board that in recent years has become more diverse in its opinions.
He politely promoted Christain and home schooling.
But on the screen of his ChristianPatriot.com website, his Facebook and Twitter pages, he projected a far different character filled with his controversial opinions on subjects ranging from rape and incest to gun rights and “blood and bullets.”
And that, said some Harrison residents, is what scared them.
Residents speak out
Until, Monday, March 5, when a group of four Harrison residents showed up at the Board of Director’s meeting demanding Celeste’s resignation, there had been no public outcry against the 74-year-old at the board meetings.
Celeste’s name and intentions had been in the public eye for years, particularly as a prolific writer of letters to the editors of local area newspapers that detailed his opinions on everything from abortion to education and gun rights. Some were unprintable.
But in recent weeks, as discovery of the depth of his convictions surfaced when a group of parents came across his Internet church’s webpage, ChristianPatriots.com, his future with the local school board was about to be challenged.
“It’s not ok someone of this level of racist is on the school board making decisions for the community for kids in our community,” parent Liesha Petrovich of Harrison told the school board members on March 5. She called his Twitter and Facebook post “extremely racist.”
Others echoed her concerns, one apologizing on behalf of the people of Harrison who elected Celeste, and asking what could be done.
“I’m appalled that in 2018 we can have someone sitting in this sort of power that can make decisions and affect my 7-year old daughter,” said Harrison parent Brian Sessions. “I would ask the gentleman to resign … it’s not acceptable”
Celeste was absent from that meeting.
School board protocol dictates that members will not respond to public comments and questions at the same meeting they are brought up, said Chairman Ron Kugell. Instead, it is suggested that those with concerns and/or questions put them in writing for processing. The subject could be put on a future agenda at the request of a resident or board member, if appropriate.
“We don’t ignore it, we just don’t respond to it at this time,” he said to the Harrison parents at the March 5 meeting.
But fueled by the very strong comments of the residents, board members revived the conversation with the superintendent some two hours later at the end of the meeting, asking what could be done.
Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the board that they have no legal way to remove a board member. While the board could develop a policy regarding the removal of a board member, it would take at least three months, under the board’s current policy for developing and approving new policies.
“In terms of state statute, there are provisions that school boards can take in terms of having policy related to removing a board member, but you would have to have pretty strong evidence before the board could vote by policy to remove a board member,” said Colpitts.
The board does have a policy on ethics, he said, but it focuses on attitude and behavior of board members while in a meeting toward one another and student presenters. It is not necessarily connected to the private beliefs of a board member or their expressed rights outside of sitting at a board meeting, he added.
There is also a policy in place that deals with a habitually absent board member, Colpitts said.
“If you miss three meetings unexcused that makes you habitually absent and theoretically the board could vote to remove a board member,” he said.
Voters in the town the member represents could vote to remove an elected official, such as Paris and other towns have done, if they had a recall ordinance in place. Harrison does not.
Ultimately, the pressure may have to come from board members themselves, he said.
“My concern is as a board member sitting on this board we welcome anyone who’s voted by their constituents to sit at this board,” Colpitts told the directors. “The good news is there are 22 members of this board and 21 of you can fairly easily drown out someone who is acting or behaving inappropriately. You put good pressure on people.”
“If you’re not supportive of public education you probably shouldn’t be sitting on that board,” said Norway Director Donald Ware.
“It’s a slippery slope. Are we to judge what somebody does outside that doesn’t affect us here?” asked director Lew Williams of Hebron. “We are all elected by our towns. It is very difficult for us as a board to censure him for something he hasn’t done here.”
Celeste has resigned, and said in his letter of resignation that he will continue his decades-old translation of the King James version of the Bible into the ACP (American Christian Patriots version) to make it, what he calls, “more understandable.”
“As for me, well, with the time I have left, I would like to finish the ACP/KJV translation of the Word of God,” he said in his letter of resignation.
It is a project he began at least two decades ago.
“I am going through the Bible, starting with Genesis and by the time we are done, all the way through the Book of Revelation. God willing. I will be using the King James Version and this is what I am doing,” he explained online.
By color coding and initializing, he completes one chapter at a time. For example, when a pronoun such as he or him or his is used and it refers to God the Son, God the Father or God the Holy Ghost, the”h” will be capitalized. He overlaps each reference to God, the Son and Satan with a different color.
As he completes a chapter, Celeste’s puts it on the Internet for others to read and edit his work.
Celeste says he is done with politics, but he continues his controversial remarks on his Facebook and Twitter pgaes.
Harrison Selectmen will now decide how to fill the vacancy created by Celeste.
“At this point the process is to either fill the position until the June election or leave it vacant until then. The position in June will be to fill the 1-year remaining in his contract. It is not a decision that has been made as of yet as the Board has not had a meeting since receiving the letter of resignation late Thursday afternoon,” Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said Monday.
HARRISON — Following are some recent posts (original text as written intact) from Bob Celeste’s Facebook page:
“OK folks, ask your sons and daughters who graduated from a public school in Maine Over the past ten years, this question: Was there anything taught to you in sex ed that the teacher told you was absolutely 100% wrong in all instances? Rape? Incest? Don’t ask current students be cause as soon as the superintendents get word of this, incest and rape will be taught as 100% wrong in all circumstances, but fear not we have a few more examples.”
“Christians must know this, within the first year your little one enters public school he or she is read books about dinosaurs. Everyone of those books starts out “millions and millions of years ago, before man dinosaurs walked the earth…..” What that book is telling very young Christian boys and girls who have heard even a children’s sermon on Genesis one, “In the beginning GOD created the heaven and the earth” those books on dinosaurs are the public educations systems way of indoctrinating your child into secual huminism and telling them that God is a lair, man and dinosaur never walked the earth together.Christian parents, there is no exemption for a parents ignorance in: Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea..”.
“Any way I can reach out to parents and get them thinking about what the schools are doing to their kids, I will take. What disappointed me is that they, tabloid six, completely missed the opportunity to investigate what is being taught in the public schools, I gave her several examples but she was focused on other things.”
“This is what I would like to see. 25 years old to buy a gun, drink a beer, and vote, UNLESS you are active duty military or are Honorably discharged US Military, then 18 to vote to buy a gun to drink a beer.”
“What a shame that this gun rhetoric cannot be used to teach students in Public Schools what the Constitution really says about guns, without the bias and bull dung inserted by despicable NEA/MEA members. Parents, if you love your children and want them taught the truth that it is abortion that kills, not guns, that abortion is murder and that gun ownership is a Constitutional right, not privilege, then HomeSchool your little ones.”
“Trying to replace the likes of maine’s two communist Chellie Pingree and Angus stanley King at the ballot box is much, much more difficult than my solution. Hint, the solution is found in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.”
“OK Fools, so you take that 5 year old and against her wishes, begging and crying, you force her on to a school bus driven by a stranger that will take her to a school full of strangers and adults she does not know, and in the even of trouble, in the event of a madman with a rifle you expect this guy, who is the first on the scene to forget his little girl and charge in to rescue yours? You are not only a fool you have the brain of a democrat. He and his wife love their little girl enough to homeschool and you honestly expect him to make her fatherless to take a bullet for the one you care so little for that you put her in that kiddie kennel? Is it any wonder that angus king got elected with voters so apathetic that they can’t even see the damage done by the public schools?”
“this folks, is what your little brain dead marshmallows are learning in the public school you have condemned them to. Are you proud of yourselves? You should be begging GoD to forgive you for not homeschooling them. As for you, who claim to be CHRISTians yet send your kids to the pits of hell everyday, read this, for there is no exemption for ‘parents’ as a matter of fact I think you will be judged more harshly than even the teacher that teaches that abortion is good and guns the NRA kills people.”
“After the very public, very immature, imbecilic staged protest/riots
of the last week, I do believe it is time to raise the voting age back
up to 21 and ban all NEA/MEA members from voting.
“I would rather live on cabbage and potatoes than put my kids in a
public school today. Your children in public schools are not being
taught they are being indoctrinated.
“The public schools today have zero tolerance for self defence but
encourage girls to get abortions and engage in anal sex.”
“Home school or send to a private school that is armed. This private Christian school teaches teachers and kids to fight back. If you’re gonna die, you might as well die fighting rather than cowering.”
“I feel naked when I go to a school board meeting, so I sit where the bodies of those who voted to make our meetings GUN FREE, can protect me. I know it won’t be but a half hour or so before the police, who helped draft the policy, arrive.”
“If I get killed at a School Board meeting, my wife is going to one very, very rich lady. Emails live forever.”