The Aylmer Church of God's pastor fires another salvo in advance of Thursday's court hearing.
'I'd go to jail for the children'
The pastor of Aylmer's Church of God vowed yesterday to go to jail if necessary to fight for a family's religious right to strike its children.
Henry Hildebrandt accused the Children's Aid Society of St. Thomas and Elgin of infringing on the family's religious freedoms, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"I'd be glad to go to jail for the children," Hildebrandt said.
"To me, there is no limit. If I want to be true to my calling, I will stand up regardless of the consequences, however far it goes."
Supported by about 30 members of his congregation, including children, Hildebrandt lobbed the latest salvo in what's becoming a public relations war as a court hearing Thursday approaches.
"The CAS is effectively endeavouring to sever the bond of fellowship between the family and the church," Hildebrandt said, reading first from a prepared statement.
"... it violates the family's obvious wishes and legal right to associate freely with the church and its members."
The CAS is forcing the family to listen to "ungodly counsel" for hours on end in an attempt to break their religious spirit, Hildebrandt charged.
"The family has been used and abused," he said.
He called for an overhaul of the local CAS, saying the agency was abusing its power.
CAS executive director Steve Bailey said yesterday he would not get into a public dispute over Thursday's hearing.
"We filed the motion and the court will have to make their decision."
But Bailey blamed Hildebrandt for sparking tension within the Aylmer family at the centre of the battle.
"You can see the tension starting to resurface with the public presentation of this case," Bailey said. "Mr. Hildebrandt raised it. I hold him responsible for that."
Hildebrandt accused the CAS of alarming the family.
"The children are bracing themselves for the worst and hoping it won't happen," Hildebrandt said.
The CAS is heading to court in an attempt to force the parents to reaffirm their commitment to an earlier court order they not strike their seven children.
The CAS also wants the court to prohibit Hildebrandt from counselling the parents on matters of discipline.
The Aylmer Church of God believes parents must use a switch, rod, belt or other objects on their children if other discipline fails.
The parents are members of the church.
In July, police dragged the parents' seven children from their Aylmer bungalow because the couple refused a CAS order they not strike the children.
The children were returned after the parents agreed to an interim court order forbidding them from using physical discipline.
Hildebrandt announced two weeks ago the church no longer could encourage the parents to obey that interim order.
Several days later, the parents announced they would violate the interim order.
Hildebrandt said yesterday he was forced to change his mind because the court proceedings were dragging on and the CAS showed no signs of trying to understand church teachings, part of the interim court order.
Bailey disputed Hildebrandt's claim.
"We have a pretty good understanding," Bailey said.
Hildebrandt also said yesterday the CAS wants the court to stop him talking to the media and to stop the children receiving messages from anyone about the case.
Bailey confirmed the CAS had filed those motions with the court, but wouldn't elaborate.