Judge restricts media in child abuse case

Note: This church is independent and not affiliated with the Church of God congregations.

June 6, 2002
By Rick Ross

Canadian Judge Eleanor Schnall in Ontario, has severely restricted media coverage regarding child abuse hearings being held in her courtroom. This has led some to characterize the hearings as "a secret proceeding." But Judge Schnall claimed unrestricted media coverage would cause the alleged victims "emotional harm." The abuse allegations concern the conduct of parents affiliated with the "Church of God Restoration."

Church of God Restoration members look like traditional Mennonites, but they are not. They also are not affiliated with the traditional mainstream Church of God. Instead, they are an apparently extreme splinter group led by Daniel Layne, a resident of California, who instructs his followers to reject modern medicine in favor of faith healing. Layne also has told his flock that severe corporal punishment should be administered to "carnal" children in order to enforce what he sees as the "rule of God." Mr. Layne also seems to believe that his interpretation of the "rule of God" should supercede any civil authority.

Alfred Mamo, who represents the St. Thomas and Elgin County agency that has investigated child abuse allegations regarding parents within the Layne led church, argued that the court proceedings should be open and reported, though the names of minor children not be disclosed per standard practice.

Church parents wanted the hearings kept closed to the media, which seems to be an effort to keep the facts of the case from being known publicly.

Ironically though, it was the church and its parents who initially "courted [and] invited the media," according to Mr. Mamo. He cited that church members have made public statements, issued press releases, staged interviews and even posted information regarding the case on a church-related website. Mr. Mamo concluded that any media "commotion" was actually "caused by the parents and the Church of God people and not by the agency," which he represents. He also stated that the public has "a right to know how decisions are made."

Valerie Wise a lawyer defending a church parent claimed, "The end cannot always justify the means." She warned that "We have to guard...against abuse of power by all state actors." Ms. Wise and Michael Menear, a lawyer who represents another accused church parent, made a concerted effort to suppress evidence gathered by the child protection agency. They said it was obtained through unreasonable search.

But Mr. Mamo countered that when social service took the children from their homes and placed them temporarily within foster care it was for their own protection. And that "the steps taken by the agency were ordinary and commonplace." He also added that it is necessary for social workers investigating abuse allegations to question suspected victims without permission from their alleged abusers. Mr. Mamo maintained that children from six to fifteen were abusively "being hit by objects" by their parents.

The hearing will ultimately determine if the children were and/or are in need of protection.

Mr. Mamo seemed to summarize his position when he said, "The autonomy of parents to parent as they see fit" is not limitless and/or somehow a religious right. He stated that if this was true children were little more than "chattel."

Notes: This article was largely based upon the following news stories

"Spanking trial starts with muzzle," By Christie Blatchford, National Post May 29, 2002

"Evidence focuses on agency's action in children's seizure Lawyers argue the rights of parents violated in corporal punishment case," By Christie Blatchford, National Post June 1, 2002


Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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