Pastor rejects deal in custody dispute

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/May 16, 2001
By Alan Judd

The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. today rejected a state proposal that would return 49 children to their families in his northwest Atlanta church, the House of Prayer.

State officials told Allen in court that if he would accept several conditions --- including the appointment of independent monitors who would supervise the children's discipline --- the six church families would quickly be reunited. But Allen turned the deal down.

"The way things stand now, my mind stays the same," the 68-year-old pastor told Chief Judge Sanford Jones in Fulton County Juvenile Court. "I'm just as firm now on my convictions as I ever was, and probably more so." However, Allen told the judge he would continue to consider the proposal. He also said he would continue talking with intermediaries who have tried to broker a compromise between the church members and the state Division of Family and Children Services. Those intermediaries include members of the Concerned Black Clergy and several state legislators, including Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta), who appeared in court today.

Allen rejected the offer shortly after lawyers for DFCS won a two-week delay of a hearing to determine whether the pastor's six children should be taken into protective custody. In granting the delay, Jones extended the latest skirmish between DFCS and the House of Prayer stemming from a two-month investigation of alleged systematic child abuse at the small nondenominational church.

Ted Hall, a lawyer for DFCS, said officials needed more time to investigate Allen's family. The evidence gathered so far, Hall said, included "some observations of what appeared to be switch marks on one of the children." "Switch marks are different from what we've seen in this case so far," Jones told Hall, referring to earlier testimony of whippings during church services that left children with welts and bruises. Allen interjected, "I hear him telling lies."

Later, outside the courtroom, Allen said DFCS is waiting for one of his children to accidentally suffer "a bruise or a scratch or something." "They have no evidence," he said. "They're postponing it because they don't have any evidence and they have to manufacture some false evidence."

Jones indicated he wants to reunite the families --- but only if the parents will agree to limits he set on how they raise their children. Among the judge's conditions, which all the parents have rejected: spanking only by hand, no spanking by other church members, and no marriages for girls younger than 16, the legal age to wed in Georgia.

"Any of your folks who want their children back, under those conditions, can get them at any time," Jones told Allen. "I personally don't want the children to be left in custody any longer than they have to be."

For now, Allen's children remain in his home, even though the pastor urged the judge to decide today whether they go into protective custody. "I'd rather get it over with," Allen said. "If he takes them, all right. If he don't take them, that's up to the Lord."

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