Family of teen sexually solicited by youth pastor wants church to stop visits at school

Houston Chronicle/October 28, 2014

By Anita Hassan

The attorney for the family of a teenage girl who was sexually solicited by a onetime youth pastor at Second Baptist Church demanded on Tuesday that the organization temporarily stop sending youth ministers into public schools.

Cris Feldman, who is representing the parents of the girl in a lawsuit against Second Baptist and Community of Faith Church, called for Second Baptist to publicly disclose how it screens, trains and supervises its youth ministers and monitors their social media interactions with students. Until then, the church should suspend its practice of sending youth ministers into schools, Feldman said.

Parents sue churches

The girl's parents have filed a lawsuit in Harris County against the churches, saying they were careless in their supervision and hiring of 35-year-old Chad Foster, who pleaded guilty to trying to pressure the girl, now 17, into having sex using the Internet in 2011.

The suit states the girl met Foster during her lunch hour at school, where he was able to get her involved in activities with Second Baptist. The two started a relationship as one of religious guidance, the suit states.

On Monday, each church filed a response to the lawsuit, denying all claims.

Feldman also is demanding that Second Baptist publicly identify every public school where they have sent ministers in the last 10 years, and that it require signed consent from parents before allowing youth pastors to communicate with students by text or Skype.

"This is a public health, public safety and a public morality issue," Feldman said. "When you're dealing with relationships with children, you need to be concerned with who's doing that."

Foster was part of a "marketing scheme" by Second Baptist that allowed youth pastors to encourage students in public schools to attend church activities and events, enticing them with fast food, the suit states. The goal was to recruit their parents. He later went to work for Community of Faith, the suit states.

In December 2011, Foster was charged with online solicitation of a minor, a little more than a month after he was charged with sexual assault of a minor in another case. In that case, the Houston Chronicle reported, Foster had sex with a 16-year-old girl he met while working as a youth pastor at Community of Faith.

The suit claims that the churches put Foster - who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013 - in a position to manipulate and sexually exploit children.

Timeline questioned

Second Baptist issued a prepared statement earlier this month, saying that if its leaders had known about any such allegations, they immediately would have terminated that individual and notified law enforcement.

"Our hearts ache for the young lady and her family if she was subjected to the things described in the lawsuit," the statement read.

Feldman said the language used in the statement implied that church questioned whether the events had even occurred.

"That's why we are making these demands," he said.

Officials from Second Baptist declined to comment on Feldman's demands.

The church updated its statement, noting that the suit claims Foster's inappropriate relationship with the girl began in 2011 but that his employment at the church ended in 2010.

Both churches contend that they also conducted background checks on Foster.

Michael King, an attorney for Community of Faith, said leaders first learned of allegations about Foster within a couple months after he resigned in September 2011 to pursue a different career, and that they immediately contacted to law enforcement. The church notified not only their congregation, but the community, including the schools, to determine what students had contact with Foster.

Feldman said he does not know which school districts allow youth ministers on their campuses, but that his client was a student in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District when she met Foster.

In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for the district said local community youth leaders are allowed to meet with secondary students at school in a limited public forum during lunch periods.

Each youth leader must submit an application for approval to the campus principal, the spokeswoman added, and students must have signed parental permission to participate.

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