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Domestic CP - April 2001

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The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 1 April 2001

Discipline or abuse? Church renews spanking debate

By Dahleen Glanton
Chicago Tribune


ATLANTA -- A minister jailed for ordering children in his congregation to be whipped "because the Bible allows it" has refocused attention on corporal punishment, an issue as old and as controversial as Scripture itself.

Though spanking and harsher forms of physical discipline have been part of American culture for centuries, the debate over whether adults should have the right to strike a child has created tension between those who firmly believe in its benefits and those who consider it abuse.

Nowhere has the issue been more volatile than in the South, where corporal punishment is deeply rooted in fundamental Christian values and is practiced openly by parents anywhere a child might become unruly, from the grocery store to the playground.

While the law says that no one has the right to physically harm another person, most states give parents wide latitude when it comes to discipline.

Authorities said the case involving the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., pastor of the House of Prayer in Atlanta, is one in which authority was clearly abused.

Allen, 68, was charged with cruelty to children for ordering the whippings of two young church members because they had been unruly in school.

On Wednesday, a judge put 41 children in foster care for a year after their parents refused to stop whipping them in church-sponsored beating sessions and forcing teen-age girls to marry.

"I hate to see these children jeopardized by what I consider to be a cult," Juvenile Court Judge Sanford Jones said.

The judge was told about a 7-year-old left with welts and bruises and a 10-year-old with open wounds on his belly and side.

A former church member also testified that she was forced to marry at 15 and was beaten when she refused to have sex with her 23-year-old husband.

Authorities removed 41 children ranging in age from 5 months to 17 years from the church and their parents' custody after investigators learned of the alleged abuse. Six church members also were charged and additional charges are pending involving other children.

Allen, who served 30 days in jail in 1993 after ordering church members to beat a 16-year-old girl, acknowledged that he instructs parents to whip unruly children and that he has no plans to discontinue such corporal punishment at his 130-member church.

"The Bible says, 'Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beat him with the rod, he shall not die,'" Allen said, quoting Scripture that he said gives parents the right to use corporal punishment. "We use this as a last resort, when everything else fails. It's not something we do on a regular basis."

"We haven't done anything wrong under Georgia law, but they are trying to do everything they can since they have made such a bold and senseless move to take away our children," he said.

Irwin Hyman, a professor of school psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, said corporal punishment is most common in the United States and Canada. The United States, he said, "has the highest rate of spanking, leaving more bruises and welts than any other country we studied."


While most states ban corporal punishment in day-care centers, family day care, group homes or institutions, and in family foster care, only 27 states have banned physical punishment in public schools. It remains legal in almost every Southern state to whip children in school, though many school districts have prohibited such practices. In Illinois, corporal punishment is forbidden by law in schools and every form of child care.

But for parents, it's another matter.

"There is no statewide law that forbids parents from spanking their children, but there are civil laws that do forbid excessive corporal punishment. That means: when children are hit hard enough to cause welts, bruises or abrasions on the child," said John Goad, associate deputy director of the Cook County, Ill., Child Protective Services. "We consider kids under 6 to be very vulnerable, and any mark would be excessive punishment to an infant. But if your kid is fussing and you're in a store and you swat the kid on the bottom a couple of times, we don't consider that abuse. You would have to do something much more serious before we get involved."

In a case such as the allegations involving Allen's Atlanta church, religion or any other reason given for the abuse would not hold up in court, says Robert Tsai, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia.

"In general, people have the First Amendment right to practice their faith as they like, but there are limits. The major one is that it doesn't harm another person. So when you are accused of harming another person by your conduct in following your faith, case law has pretty well established that there is no religious defense," Tsai said.

The religious foundation of corporal punishment is rooted in the Old Testament, largely from the Book of Proverbs, where King Solomon said, "He that spares a rod, hates his son," according to some theologians. But even within the fundamentalist Christian movement, there is division over whether the Bible encourages corporal punishment.

Corpun file 6791 at


Time, New York, 2 April 2001


Whippings In The Pulpit

A congregation loses 41 of its children to the state after a boy tells the police what happened at church

By Amanda Ripley. Reported by Amy Bonesteel and Greg Fulton/Atlanta

The seven-year-old Atlanta boy will probably forget one day what he did to earn the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr.'s ire. But the memory of the punishment that followed will surely live on. Police say three of Allen's flock, heeding the pastor's teaching, held the boy down in the House of Prayer church while a fourth whipped him with a switch. On Feb. 28, when the boy told a teacher he was in pain, she found welts on his body.

After interviewing that boy and a 10-year-old who also bore signs of lashing, Georgia officials removed them and 39 other kids from their homes in three separate raids in March. Officials with the Fulton County department of family and children services say they had offered the parents, all House of Prayer members, an alternative: they could agree to refrain from corporal punishment for two days during an investigation into the children's safety. All the parents refused. TV reporters captured harrowing images of crying children being dragged away. Allen and five of his 130 adherents were arrested on charges that they participated in or encouraged the beating of the two kids.

The pastor and some of those followers have been convicted before of similar charges. Even now, out on bail and awaiting trial, Allen, 68, vows to keep encouraging corporal punishment, which he believes Scripture condones. His nondenominational church is located in a mostly African-American neighborhood of northwest Atlanta, where the churches outnumber the stoplights. "We can't sway from the Bible because we're in trouble with the state," Allen told TIME on Friday, his followers standing around him intoning "Mmm-hmm." He says the country's notorious school shootings prove the need for discipline. And he points out that only two of the 41 kids were found to have visible injuries.

Research has consistently shown that the more often parents use corporal punishment, the more likely a child will be violent. But a majority of Americans still approve of corporal punishment. And 28% of parents hit their kids with objects like belts and paddles, according to a 1995 survey by sociologist Murray Straus. Corporal punishment is allowed in Georgia schools, and state law says it's O.K. to inflict "transitory pain and potential bruising" if they aren't "excessive."

Allen crossed the law's nebulous line in 1992. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison after a 16-year-old testified that two men held her down at the church while others beat her. The pastor himself testified that the beating lasted 20 to 30 minutes. The girl said he had "brainwashed" the congregation. Allen said she was being punished for sexual activity, a claim he made in the recent beatings too.

As in many clashes over corporal punishment, the public debate will come down to semantics: What does the Bible mean when it warns against "sparing the rod"? Does the law permit bruises that last overnight or just those that fade by evening? While the police measure the welts, the children sit in foster care.

"We're getting persecuted. They want to dominate us with their way of life." -- REV. ARTHUR ALLEN

Corpun file 6785 at


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia, 2 April 2001


Spare the rod, spoil the child?

Race, Region and Gender Play Roles in Support for Corporal Punishment

By John Head

When authorities seized 41 children from members of Atlanta's House of Prayer last month, not everyone applauded. Some people wondered aloud: Should disciplinary whippings really trigger an Elian Gonzalez-style raid on families by the government? "My listeners were saying we don't want the government telling us we can't spank our kids," says Kim Peterson, WGST-AM radio's drive-time talk show host. One of many letter writers to the AJC decrying the government's action declared, "This is tyranny."

That sentiment weakened as more news came out about the House of Prayer --- details of the severity of beatings, the pastor's past conviction over a 1992 beating, his advocacy of marriages for 14-year-olds and his belief that black children require more severe beatings than whites. Now, Peterson says, his callers tend to support the authorities.

Yet the episode pointed up an attitudinal dividing line in America: Support for corporal punishment has declined -- some child development experts now advise against it entirely -- but many people still think it's not only acceptable, but necessary.

Men, black people and Southerners all favor corporal punishment more than women, white people and Northerners, surveys have shown.

On his show, Peterson noticed that black callers seemed to support the practice more than white ones.

Child therapist Cassandra Johnson-Landry, who is black, says, "For African-Americans, our ways of disciplining are far different from any other cultures. We just have different beliefs. We're a very spiritual people."

She doesn't endorse what happened at the House of Prayer -- "what happened in that church, that was just abuse" -- but Johnson-Landry says black parents are more likely to rely on the Bible-based philosophy of spare the rod and spoil the child.

Johnson-Landry, 33, of Snellville does it herself as the substitute mother of an 8-year-old niece who has spent most of her life in Johnson-Landry's care. "She knows I mean business. If she's misbehaving and I walk into the room, she stops misbehaving. And still, she loves me to death."

Polls document the racial difference, says Murray Straus, professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire.

In the research lab's most recent survey, conducted in 1994, people were asked whether they agreed that there are times when children should be disciplined with "a good hard spanking."

Eighty-two percent of African-Americans said yes, compared with 67 percent of whites.

Sunaina Jain, a clinical psychologist, heads the New Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that runs programs in metro Atlanta to help families get through problems such as drug and sexual abuse.

Based on her experience, she says, African-American parents are more likely to use corporal punishment because of the importance they place on teaching their children to obey society's rules.

"I hear from them a great fear of losing control of their children because the consequences are so severe for African-Americans who fall off the track," Jain says.

That doesn't mean that spanking doesn't pose problems for blacks. Their initial sympathy for the House of Prayer members may have resulted from the fact that many African-Americans wrestle with worries about child-abuse officialdom.

"They feel that they're in a bind," says Anne Wimberly, a professor of Christian education at Atlanta's International Theological Seminary. "They feel that if they use corporal punishment on their children, they'll be accused of abuse and authorities will take their children away. At the same time, they fear that if they don't use corporal punishment, their children will grow up to be punished by the authorities.

"And maybe the punishment will be 40 bullets from the police," she adds, alluding to a highly publicized incident in which New York police officers shot an unarmed black man they mistook for a criminal suspect.

Race isn't the only dividing line on corporal punishment. There's a gender difference and a regional one. And an occupational one: Blue- and white-collar workers have different attitudes, regardless of race.

"People who do manual labor believe in the importance of following orders, and they believe corporal punishment teaches that," says Straus of the University of New Hampshire. "People who do head work believe in the importance of being able to think for yourself."

These differences have evolved since the 1960s, when practically all Americans, regardless of race, endorsed capital [sic] punishment. Straus says the change has mirrored the economic trend toward more office work; the more white-collar workers, the less inclination to spank.

Beth Gartman, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, never spanks at all. Gartman, 38, says she learned from experience that corporal punishment isn't worth it.

"I used it occasionally and found it didn't work," says Gartman, who lives with her husband and children in Decatur. "I can't remember the last time I spanked either of them."

She says she realized that her mood, not so much the children' s misbehavior, determined whether she would spank. "If something else had already made me mad, I was more likely to spank," she says. "I reacted out of anger."

Gartman is middle-class and white. Across town, in a poorer, west Atlanta neighborhood, Mary Morgan has struggled with the same issue.

A former drug addict, Morgan, 44, is blunt about how she disciplined her first child, a boy born when she was 24.

"I didn't just spank him; I beat him," she says. "I beat him because that's what was done to me when I was a child, and I didn't know no other way."

Now, following some parenting guidance from Jain's New Learning Center, Morgan uses a lighter touch with her 5-year-old daughter. "With Brittiany I prefer to use timeout," she says. "When I have to spank her, I use a little light switch, never the hand, never a belt or anything like that. And I always tell her why she's being spanked."

Corporal punishment has been outlawed in at least five European countries, but it remains eminently legal in all U.S. states, and there is little sentiment for a change. Americans tend to trust parents more than their government.

At the Georgia Family Council, an advocacy group whose goal is to strengthen Georgia families, Director of Public Policy Hunter Baker says that there's no need for "a nanny government that constantly looks over our shoulders and tries to supervise the intimate details of family life."

Child abuse, of course, is illegal. Judges now say about the difference between punishment and child abuse what a U.S. Supreme Court justice once said about obscenity: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

"These are questions that are not resolved by the law," says Val Dutcher, executive director of the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation. "They have to be decided on a case-by-case basis."

Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, is similarly unspecific. "As a parent and a grandparent, I don't believe that your right as a parent is absolute," Seagraves says. "We know children die in their homes every day from abuse. The only question is your definition of abuse."

Meanwhile, the experts continue to debate the merits of corporal punishment. Straus, co-author (with Denise A. Donnelly) of "Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Children" (Transaction, $24.95), argues that corporal punishment should never be used, because of negative side effects.

"And," he says, "children of parents who don't spank are better behaved. That's the best-kept secret in child psychology."

But Edythe Denkin, a marriage and family counselor in New Canaan, Conn., and author of "Why Can't You Catch Me Being Good: 26 Principles of Raising Self-Confident, Well-Behaved Children" (Adams Business Media, 2000, $10.95), argues that there are times when spanking is appropriate. It should be one element of a discipline system that includes consistency in punishment and praise for good behavior, she says.

"I don't say there should be no corporal punishment," Denkin says. "I'm not one of those who believes it should be all or nothing."

blob Previous: 18 March 2001: Church faces abuse probe over whipping of children

blob Follow-up: 22 May 2001: Removal of children is defended

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