North Hampton, OH - A pastor was attacked and brutally beaten on Sunday by a man claiming to be a "militant atheist."
Reverend Norman Hayes told WHIO that he was beaten by James Maxie, who has a criminal past, after asking his girlfriend if Maxie had ever been abusive toward her.
"I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe," Hayes said. "He was very, very upset that I'd even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly."
The incident occurred at The Bridge Community Church after service on Sunday. Hayes said that Maxie had been argumentative and combative during the service. His girlfriend attends Hayes' church, though he does not.
Hayes' nose was broken in two places, and he received 3 and 6-inch lacerations across his left and right eyes according to the police report. His right eye is so damaged that it has swollen shut, and his doctors are concerned about brain bleeding.
"He came from nowhere and hit me, knocked me down, and then he got on top of me and just kept hitting me over and over," Hayes recalled. "I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn't stopped hitting me in the face over and over."
Maxie has previously spent two years in jail for a felony assault conviction and is a convicted sex offender for having unlawful sexual contact with a minor in 2008. He was charged, but not convicted, on four counts of animal cruelty in 2004.
Raw Story reports that Maxie describes himself as a "proud" atheist on his Facebook page. A statement he wrote to police said that he was in attendance at church that morning because he was "trying to regain his faith in God. He admits that he "asked questions about science and faith," but said that Hayes told his girlfriend that she was "going to hell for dating me."
Maxie said that he considers beating Hayes up to be his "worst mistake ever."
Hayes thinks that "the best thing" for Maxie is for him to go to a place where "he is not going to hurt anyone else."
"We believe there is hope for everyone," Hayes said, "but we also believe that regardless of that, people need to pay for what they have done, and I hope he has to pay for what he has done. Get put away for a while and not hurt anyone else. In my opinion, the next person won't be as lucky as I was."
At Maxie's bond hearing, the judge granted Hayes a protection order against the young man. Maxie is currently in jail on a $51,000 bond.
"I think he probably was sorry for the situation he was in. I think it is very easy to be sorry in that environment in front of a judge. Hopefully, he will be able to find forgiveness and new hope and some answers for his life," Hayes added.