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Corpun file 7445 at www.corpun.com
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia, 6 June 2001
House of Prayer parents leave court in protest
By Alan Judd
The last of the House of Prayer children in state custody may remain there indefinitely. Their parents marched out of a court hearing in protest Tuesday after state officials set new conditions for the children's release. And their pastor has dismissed state legislators who negotiated to send home the last 15 of the 49 children seized in an abuse investigation.
For the remaining children to be released, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. said, it will take an act of God. "I'll obey the law, as long as it's just," Allen said a few hours after he led about 50 members of his northwest Atlanta church out of Fulton County Juvenile Court. "But I will not obey the injustice in the law. "They can do whatever they want to do, but I'm not going to play a role in their little farce." He said church members were prepared to leave the children in custody until they become adults "if necessary." "I don't believe they're going to let them go," he said. "They might even take some of the others back if they can hoodwink the public into thinking they have a legitimate reason for doing it."
Tuesday's court hearing was supposed to find ways to let most, if not all, of the children still in custody return home, as 34 others did May 25. Instead, it wound up deepening the chasm between the church and the state Division of Family and Children Services. Judge Sanford Jones agreed to release 11 children, including one who was supposed to return home May 25 but wavered on whether he wanted to go. The 11 are from four of the six families from which children were taken into custody. Four children -- two teenage girls who want to remain in custody, one of the girl's baby, and a boy whose psychological evaluation won't be completed until June 15 -- would not be immediately released, Jones said.
But for any children to go home, the judge said, the parents would have to follow the recommendations of psychologists hired by DFCS. Those psychologists suggested the parents use alternatives to corporal punishment, take state-sponsored parenting classes and undergo psychological tests. It was those recommendations that sent the parents marching out of Jones' courtroom. "All of them are hired by the state," said church member Yolanda Wilson, who has two children still in custody, referring to the psychologists. "I feel like this is a phony hearing." Allen led them out of the courtroom, denouncing the day's testimony as "lies, innuendo, manufactured evidence."
The parents also objected to testimony that said their children were depressed and had complained about corporal punishment in the church. "They identify it as being difficult to witness and certainly difficult to experience," psychologist June Cooley testified. But church member James Smith disputed her testimony. "I believe y'all are brainwashing my children," Smith told Cooley during the hearing. "They tell you what DFCS put in their head."
The chance of a resolution to the impasse that has kept children in custody diminished since Allen dismissed legislators who had negotiated on his behalf. Allen -- who has demanded the unconditional release of the children -- said the legislators "wouldn't have had the faith" to avoid compromise. "I didn't want them caught up in the middle of it."
"Rev. Allen asked us to withdraw," said one of the legislators, Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta). "He did not feel there would be any success by us."
Corpun file 7785 at www.corpun.com
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia, 26 June 2001
Probe ends, case dropped against pastor
15 children remain in state custody as parents defy court
By Alan Judd
State officials have concluded a four-month investigation into spankings at the House of Prayer by dropping an abuse case against the Atlanta church's pastor.
But for 15 children from the congregation who remain in protective custody, the controversy over disciplinary practices at the church is no closer to resolution. Their parents won't agree to court-imposed conditions for the children's release "in my lifetime," the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., the House of Prayer's 69-year-old pastor, said Monday.
Allen's defiance of state child welfare officials continued despite their decision to drop efforts to take his six children into custody. Officials canceled a court hearing scheduled for today at which they had planned to seek a judge's permission to seize the children, who are 6 months to 7 years old. "There's no physical evidence" that the children were abused, said Andy Boisseau, a spokesman for the state Division of Family and Children Services. "We got the sense that only the larger kids (in the congregation) are actually spanked."
Dropping the abuse allegations against Allen was a major step in ending the lengthy dispute between the church and the state's child-welfare system. However, Allen and 10 other church members still face criminal charges of cruelty to children in the alleged beatings of two boys, ages 7 and 10. District Attorney Paul Howard soon will decide whether to prosecute the case, said Erik Friedly, his spokesman. Allen contends that no children have been abused. "They were really trying to manufacture evidence," the pastor said at his home Monday. "That's why they kept postponing the trial. They were trying to get something against me."
In a statement issued Monday, Beverly Jones, the Fulton County DFCS director, said: "We became involved in this case as a result of one schoolteacher's observation and subsequent report of suspected abuse. Now, due to the widespread publicity surrounding this case, we expect there will be many more pairs of eyes in the community watching over these children. We will certainly not hesitate to reopen the investigation if a suspected abuse report is brought to our attention in the future."
Officials took a total of 49 children from six church families into custody. After the state investigation showed that no more than five children exhibited signs of abuse, 34 of the children were allowed to return home last month. The other 15 will remain in custody "until we receive word from the parents they are willing to comply" with several court-ordered conditions, Boisseau said. The group includes two teenage girls who reportedly told officials they don't want to go home. The parents would have to agree to restrict corporal punishment, to prevent their 14- and 15-year-old daughters from leaving the state to get married and to take state-sponsored parenting classes.
The parents will not budge, Allen said. "We'll never do that," he said. "The parents are not going to agree to that. Even if they stay (in custody) until their adulthood, they're not going to agree to these conditions." The children still in custody are as young as 7. After they spend a year in foster care, the state is required by federal law to either return children to their families or put them up for adoption. Allen said the parents' refusal to accept conditions for the children's release is a matter of principle. "Once you start giving in to them, they're not going to stop there," he said.
Staff writer Joshua Good contributed to this article.
Corpun file 7447 at www.corpun.com
Associated Press, 28 June 2001
Supreme court further clarifies acceptable parental discipline
By Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Nearly 1½ years after affirming a parent's right to use corporal punishment on children, the Maine supreme court on Thursday clarified the issue by outlining when parents went too far.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld a Bangor district judge's ruling that a 12-year-old girl from Dexter was in jeopardy because her adoptive parents went too far with spankings and locking her away for so long that she once had to urinate in a kitty litter box.
The case came to the courts after the girl's mother authorized her biological son to spank the girl after she hit the spray nozzle on the sink, causing water to spray on some clean dishes on June 22, 2000. The 23-year-old, who weighed more than 300 pounds, was instructed to strike the girl 35 times with a leather belt, but the girl fled after being struck five times. She ran in front of a car, pleaded with the motorist for help and was driven to the Dexter Police Department, where she was found to have large welts on her buttocks and thigh.
Last year, the supreme court reversed an assault conviction on a father from Cumberland who grabbed his son hard on the shoulder, put his hand over his mouth and told him to "shut up!" In that case, the court defined acceptable parental discipline as that which does not produce anything more than "transient pain" and "temporary marks."
The two cases were different because the Dexter parents, who were named in a civil case, were held to a lower standard. But even if the Dexter case was held to the higher standards, the result would not have changed because the punishments were much more severe than those in the Cumberland case, Justice Donald Alexander wrote for the court.
Alexander noted that the parents regularly locked the girl in a room with little heat and that the parents got carried away with the spankings. He noted that it took three weeks for the welts to heal. He also noted that the parents showed no interest in learning about alternative punishments and that they had expressed reservations about taking the girl back unless they could spank her. "The evidence in the record is sufficient to support the court's finding that (the girl) would be in circumstances of jeopardy to her health and welfare if she was returned to the custody of her parents," he wrote.
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