Note: This church is independent and not affiliated with the Church of God congregations.
St. Thomas, Ont. -- Seven children are back with their parents nearly three weeks after authorities took them from their home because they had been spanked. The courts have returned them with strict conditions. An Ontario judge ruled Thursday that the children, ages six to 14, can live with their mother and father again in Aylmer, a town in southwestern Ontario.
But the parents have been told to refrain from spanking or hitting - at least for the time being. Ontario Court Justice Michael O'Dea also ordered Child and Family Services to keep monitoring the youngsters after they're returned, and imposed travel restrictions on the family.
"Today we have moved closer toward that fragile, delicate balance between legitimate concerns of the state and the legitimate private rights of citizens," said Michael Menear, one of the defence lawyers. "The court order today is a truce only, not a complete resolution."
The case, which includes arguments about religious freedom, will be back before a judge on Sept. 6. The mother and father belong to the Church of God, and have insisted that the Bible gives them the right to spank their children.
Witnesses said the youngsters kicked and shouted when they were taken away and placed in foster homes on July 6. Authorities moved in after the parents refused to promise not to spank the children anymore with rods, belts, or other objects.
Several families belonging to the same congregation fled the country, fearing their children would be next. The family's identity is protected by a publication ban.
A few dozen parishioners sang hymns outside the courthouse as Thursday's hearing was held. They carried signs supporting the parents' right to use spanking as a form of discipline. Another crowd of roughly the same size gathered to protest against spanking. The Criminal Code of Canada permits parents to spank their children, as long as they use "reasonable force."
Thursday night, the congregation in Aylmer, about 25 kilometres east of St. Thomas, celebrated the reunion of the parents and their children. "I don't know how to express it, I am overwhelmed," hollered Rev. Henry Hildebrandt outside the courthouse. "This is an answer to prayer." "(Spanking) has to be part of bringing up children," Hildebrandt said later, when told about the prohibition against corporal punishment in the temporary custody order.
"It has to be done in a loving, in a kind way," he said. "But it has to be done, nevertheless." Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services is reviewing the case. The judge has ordered Child and Family Services workers to become more familiar with the family's religious beliefs before returning to court in September.