Judge allows state to take more children in House of Prayer case

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/May 7, 2001
By Alan Judd

A judge today allowed the state to take custody of more children from House of Prayer members after they refused to renounce the disciplinary practices of their church.

Their defiance, state officials told a judge, justifies taking as many as 19 additional children from the church into protective custody because of alleged abuse. "Y'all trying to dictate to me what to do with my children," church member Charles Ogletree told a lawyer for the state. "I'm not going to let you dictate."

Judge George Blau of Fulton County Juvenile Court quickly ruled that the state could take seven of Ogletree's children into custody. He was expected to rule later on the state's request to take 12 other children from church members, including those of the pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr.

"Our country was founded basically on freedom of religion," Blau said. "Freedom of religion is freedom of belief --- not necessarily freedom of practice. The overdiscipline of children is not allowed."

One of Ogletree's children, 7-year-old Caleb, is among 42 House of Prayer children already seized by the state Division of Family and Children Services. In court today, Charles Ogletree and his wife, Kim, refused to accept several conditions for caring for their children. Those conditions included not spanking with belts or switches, not allowing other church members to spank their children and not allowing their daughters to marry as young as 14 years old.

An investigator for DFACS testified that Caleb Ogletree suffered "very bad" injuries last week that led officials to take him into custody. Initially, said investigator Glenda Culpepper, a doctor believed the boy had been burned on his chest. Now, however, the doctor says the wound may have occurred in a bicycle accident, Culpepper said. Still, she testified, the wound was infected and the parents had failed to provide proper medical treatment.

Additionally, Culpepper said, a medical examination found marks on the boy's back that may have come from a whipping. The Ogletrees denied abusing Caleb or his siblings.

Under questioning by Kim Ogletree, their pastor supported the couple's story. Caleb, Allen said, is "a he-boy, not a sissy boy." "No one abused him," Allen said. "What he had on him came from his fall off of his bicycle."

However, Allen told Kim Ogletree: "We believe in corporal punishment if needed, and if other punishment doesn't work. This is the teaching of our church, and this is the way your husband and you have raised them."

As the hearing began today, church members and a few supporters rallied outside the Fulton County Courthouse. As they did during a vigil at the Governor's Mansion on Sunday, protesters said it is DFACS, not the House of Prayer, that should be investigated.

A sign that one protester carried said: "Stop reign of terror against the House of Prayer. DFACS lies."

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