|www.corpun.com : Archive : 1998 : US Domestic Dec 1998|
The Boston Globe, Massachusetts, 6 December 1998
Judge says pastor may not spank his son
BOSTON (AP)- A Woburn minister has lost a round in his fight for the right to spank his 11-year-old son.
Suffolk County Superior Court Judge John Cratsley has ruled that Donald Cobble may not use corporal punishment against the boy and that doing so could constitute child abuse.
Cobble, who admits to spanking the boy regularly with a belt, told the Boston Herald he would challenge the ruling.
"I am going to fight this thing and I'm going to win," he said.
Cobble, an associate pastor of the Christian Teaching and Worship Center, says the Bible sanctions corporal punishment and he is a firm believer in the philosophy of "spare the rod, spoil the child."
He administers one or two spanks with the leather end of a belt when his son acts up.
"What I have done is legal and it's Biblical," he told the newspaper. "Why are they able to declare me a child abuser?"
The Department of Social Services filed abuse charges against Cobble last year, charges that were affirmed Cratsley's ruling.
DSS argued that spanking put Cobble's son at risk, a factor that outweighs his right to practice his faith.
"Given the continued nature of the spanking, the vulnerability of the child, and the Cobbles' admission of both spanking and believing in spanking as a form of discipline, there is a real risk that this practice will lead to serious injury," Cratsley ruled last week.
Cobble's lawyer, Robert Sherman, called the decision "bizarre" and said it appeared to rubberstamp the DSS findings.
"I think this decision will never withstand scrutiny by a higher court - you cannot label somebody an abuser based on what they may do in the future," Sherman said.
"You're judged by your current conduct. Was it abusive? The answer is no."
Cobble was turned in to authorities in March 1997 after his son mentioned the spankings to a teacher. Social workers, who said the child told them he was afraid of his father when he gets angry, offered to drop the case if Cobble agreed to stop striking his son.
But Cobble refused. He pulled his son from the school and teaches him at home.
DSS spokeswoman Loraine Carli acknowledged that corporal punishment isn't against the law but said case workers have to make decisions about whether punishment crosses the line into abuse.
"These are very tough calls," she said. "It's much easier when you have a very clear-cut abuse or neglect case."
State Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, criticized the ruling, saying it sends a message that parents better understand DSS regulations "or beware." She said DSS investigators are not always properly trained and can get carried away with their work.
"Very oftentimes abuse is in the eye of the beholder, who happens to be the DSS investigator," she said.
But Joyce Strom, executive director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said officials should put children's safety first.
"We wouldn't be having this discussion if it was about someone hitting a dog and we saw it," she said. "We'd call the MSPCA, they'd move in, file charges and take the dog away. We all feel like we must protect animals in this country. But we don't want to interfere with how someone treats children."
Follow-up: 29 April 1999 - Is spanking abuse? SJC to take up case
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