5 Ga. church members sentenced to jail for whippings of children

House of Prayer pastor supervised the beatings

October 20, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA - The outspoken Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. was noncommittal last week after a jury convicted him and four followers of cruelty to children for whippings at his church.

Asked whether he would follow a judge's order to stop advising parents to whip disobedient children, Allen said, "I'm going to follow the Ten Commandments," and would say no more.

The 70-year-old House of Prayer pastor - who has often quoted the Bible to justify the whippings - faced the possibility of up to 20 years in prison. He stood with hunched shoulders as Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford sentenced him to 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation.

Allen and four members of his 130-member congregation were convicted Thursday and sentenced to jail for the whippings in February 2001 that brought national attention to their small church in northwest Atlanta and touched off debates about corporal punishment.

Bedford said the five defendants clearly love their children, but they "crossed the line" when they badly bruised two boys.

"Sadly as it seems, I'm in the business of protecting children from their parents," Bedford said. "What happened here was not about disciplining children. It was about, for lack of a better word, beating children."

The jury took about 19 hours, starting Monday, to convict Allen for overseeing the whippings at the House of Prayer.

Allen has run the church for 35 years and is deeply involved in his followers' lives - from overseeing punishment of their children to helping parents financially. He said that his church doesn't advocate corporal punishment for every offense but that some children need a "meaningful whipping."

State child welfare officials called the House of Prayer whippings among the worst cases of child abuse they had seen - primarily because the punishments were done at the church at Allen's direction by men who held the boys by their arms and legs, suspending them in the air as they were beaten.

During the trial, Allen acknowledged that parents brought children to the plain brick church for punishment. He said men in the church restrained the youngsters to protect them before whipping their buttocks and backs with a belt.

Allen and the other four church members on trial chose to represent themselves, declining repeated efforts by the judge to persuade them to accept help from lawyers.

On Thursday, the judge also ordered Allen to pay an $8,000 fine. He sentenced Charles Ogletree, 30, convicted of wielding the belt, and Emanuel Hardeman, 37, convicted of holding a boy during a whipping, to 75 days in jail, 10 years of probation and $2,500 fines each.

Bedford sentenced Sharon Duncan, 41, to 20 days in jail, five years of probation and a $250 fine, and her 45-year-old husband, David Duncan Sr., to 40 days in jail, eight years of probation and a $500 fine. The Duncans were convicted for bringing their 10-year-old son to the church for a whipping.

The men were told to report to the Fulton County Jail this week to begin serving their sentences. Sharon Duncan is to report to jail after her husband returns home to take care of their children.

Bedford warned the defendants he could put them in prison for years if they don't follow his orders on discipline. "I do not want that," the judge said. "You do not want that. I don't think anybody in here wants that."

The judge ordered them to restrict any spanking to their own children, generally only in the presence of immediate family members, to use only an open hand on a child's buttocks during such punishment and to complete an intensive counseling program.

He banned them from bringing children to the House of Prayer for punishment and from advising or assisting other parents with punishment.

Among them, the defendants have 18 children.

District Attorney Paul Howard said the sentences would protect the children from the discipline of well-meaning but overzealous parents.

"What I want them to do is stop beating these children," Howard said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.