Boston Herald , April 29, 1999

State's high court to rule on minister father's use of belt
By Jack Sullivan

The state's highest court has agreed to decide if a Woburn minister has the right to mete out his own brand of discipline with a belt to his preteen son.

The Rev. Donald Cobble, associate pastor of the Christian Teaching and Worship Center, had appealed a Superior Court ruling upholding abuse charges by the state Department of Social Services. Cobble was charged after DSS was alerted he spanked his son, Judah, with a belt for acting out in school.

Cobble was charged two years ago after Judah pleaded with a teacher not to send a note home to his father or he would receive another spanking. The teacher called DSS, who determined that Cobble's parental discipline was actually abuse, a charge Cobble heatedly denies.

Cobble appealed and the Supreme Judicial Court took the case from the Appeals Court. Chester Darling, Cobble's attorney for the appeal, could not be reached for comment.

Cobble has claimed using his belt to spank his son is a right found in the Scriptures. DSS had offered to drop the charges if Cobble stopped spanking his son with a belt, but he refused.

DSS spokeswoman Lorraine Carli said that while child abuse is a serious matter, there is a gray area caseworkers are always confronting.

``These cases are somewhat more difficult to DSS because they are not the black and white abuse cases,'' she said. ``We're always walking that balance between state intervention and a parent's right to raise their children the way they see fit.''

While Carli said she is confident the SJC will uphold the Superior Court finding, she said the agency is looking forward to clarification from the high court.

``We're always trying to determine whether or not the (parental) discipline has crossed over the line,'' she said.

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