The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 21, 2001

Pastor, 5 followers arrested in child beatings
By Joshua B. Good and Ron Martz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers

Atlanta police on Tuesday arrested a pastor and five members of his church while social workers took custody of 22 more children, alleging they ran the risk of being abused.

The Rev. Arthur Allen

The pastor and four members of the House of Prayer were charged with cruelty to children for the beating of two boys, ages 7 and 10. Another church member was charged with battery and reckless conduct.

The older boy had open wounds on his stomach and right side, said Atlanta police Lt. Elizabeth Propes, commander of the youth crimes unit. The younger boy had welts on his stomach and back. The boys told police they were held down at church and beaten with sticks, switches and a belt.

Church members say they will continue to whip unruly children even if it means defying police and the courts. During the past two weeks, state social workers have taken 41 children from parents who belong to the House of Prayer on Hollywood Road in northwest Atlanta.

"No matter what the court says, we're going to obey God," said Charlie Ruth, a member of the church. "It's better to obey God than to obey man."

Backed by a court order and uniformed police, the state Department of Family and Children Services picked up 22 children late Monday and early Tuesday.

Of the children taken into state custody, investigators have found injuries from beatings on only the two boys, Propes said. The police lieutenant said her team of investigators decided to seek charges because of those injuries.

The other 39 children, from five families, were removed from their homes because of the risk of abuse, said Department of Human Resources spokesman Renee Huie.

House of Prayer Pastor Arthur Allen Jr. admitted he condones corporal punishment for children who misbehave. He said he is following biblical teachings but denies he or any parishioners abuse their children.

Allen and church members staged a protest rally in downtown Atlanta on Monday afternoon claiming the Department of Family and Children Services is conducting a "witch hunt."
Some religious groups who advocate harsh corporal punishment of children cite a passage in the Bible, Proverbs 13:24, to justify their actions. The passage has various translations, but the New King James version reads: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."
On Tuesday, when police went to arrest the church's pastor, "All he said to me was 'Jesus is Lord,' " Lt. Propes said.

She said Allen did not beat the two boys whose injuries were cited. "He directed the members to strike the children and told them when they had enough," Propes said.

Allen was being held in the Atlanta jail Tuesday night without a bond, as were the other five church members. Their first court appearance is scheduled for this morning.

Allen, 68, is charged with cruelty to children, as are David Duncan Sr., 43, Emanuel Hardeman, 35, James Smith, 43, and Yolanda E. Wilson, 27. Wilson's husband, Ricky A. Wilson, 31, was charged with battery and reckless conduct.

Duncan is the father of the 10-year-old injured boy. The Wilsons are the parents of the 7-year-old injured boy.

The House of Prayer case has Fulton County's foster care resources stretched thin.

Huie said homes have been found for 19 children from three families, but the 22 children ordered removed from their homes late Monday and early Tuesday by a juvenile court judge still have not been placed. They are being held at an undisclosed location until foster homes can be found for them.

"We're putting them in individual homes, not group homes, so our resources are really being strained," Huie said.

State social workers took 11 children from one family and 10 from another. "I don't know of a foster home that could handle 10 or 11 new foster kids," Huie said.

During the next three days, a juvenile court judge will decide whether the children should remain in foster care. In the meantime, DFCS workers continue their investigation, Huie said.

One neighbor said House of Prayer members stay to themselves, but their actions are common knowledge in the neighborhood.

"I believe in spanking a child, but not like they do - holding down a child," said Dwight Bonner, 54. "I wouldn't go to that kind of church."

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