House of Prayer on offense

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/July 14, 2001
By Alan Judd

Public relations war heating up as church takes aim at DFCS The coffins were child-sized. Their sheets and pillows were made of shiny satin. And the baby dolls inside were stark symbols from a public relations battle.

"Another victim of DFCS," read a cardboard sign that accompanied one coffin, which members of the House of Prayer placed Friday on the front steps of the downtown office building that houses the state Division of Family and Children Services. It was the latest blow in a four-month battle between state child welfare officials and members of the small northwest Atlanta church, from which 49 children were seized this spring in an abuse investigation.

In a protest that lasted much of Friday morning, church members demanded that officials release the 15 children who remain in protective custody. And they blamed DFCS for the deaths of hundreds of children in state care. Among them, church members said, are a 20-month-old who recently died in a foster home and a 14-month-old killed despite a report to DFCS that she was at risk of being abused.

"This is for the parents who don't have news media coverage and have suffered the deaths of their children," the House of Prayer's pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., told a gaggle of reporters and photographers outside the state office building on Peachtree Street near Five Points. "This is representing all those deaths that have occurred at DFCS," Allen said. "We don't want our children to end up in a casket in the near future. I don't want to preach any funerals for our kids. We know they are safe at home with us."

Several DFCS officials watched the protest from near the lobby door, but they declined to comment. Officials previously have said House of Prayer members could get their children back if they agree to several conditions, including limits on using corporal punishment.

About 100 protesters lined both sides of Peachtree Street outside the DFCS offices, and church members fired up a generator to power a television set and video machine that played a tape of a police raid on one church family's home. Several children carried one of the two small coffins up and down Peachtree Street in a mock funeral procession.

Allen vowed to continue protesting until the 15 children come home. "We hope to continue to stir up public opinion," he said. "I'm going to continue to publicize the state of Georgia and continue to publicize DFCS in every way I can."

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