Saturday, October 12, 2002
Agency evidence allowed in abuse court case
By JONATHAN SHER AND JOE MATYAS, Free Press Reporters
Judge Eleanor Schnall will allow evidence collected by Family and Children Services to be used against a family with Aylmer's Church of God.
But in a ruling this week, Schnall omitted her reasons, reasons that could limit the way social workers investigate alleged abuse and neglect.
"My written reasons are not yet complete enough for release at this time," Schnall wrote in a one-page ruling.
Her ruling comes 15 months after social workers and police, confronted by church members, dragged seven children from their home as cameras
clicked, the images broadcast across the continent.
The children's parents claimed the agency trampled their constitutional rights and asked Schnall to throw out evidence they used objects such
as electrical cords and a fly-swatter to hit their children.
The children's lawyer agreed social workers infringed on constitutional rights, but argued the evidence should be admitted because the
paramount interest was that of the children.
In her ruling, Schnall doesn't indicate if she agreed with the children's' lawyer or the social agency, which maintains its actions were justified.
Schnall wrote she would soon release her reasons.
"(The ruling) doesn't tell us very much . . . We'll just have to wait until she gives her reasons before commenting," church pastor Henry
Hildebrandt said. Lawyers for the parents, children and the social agency couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
The children were returned July 26, 2001, to their parents, who promised not to strike or medically neglect them until the matter was resolved.
The agency later decided to not seek custody, asking for a protective order that would allow it to monitor the family.
Church leaders claimed the social agency abridged their religious freedom -- this case was the second against a church family. When a third
family was investigated, Aylmer churchgoers made a temporary exodus to a sister congregation in Indiana.
But the rights that took centre stage at trial were not religious, but those that safeguard criminal defendants, rights that dealt with issues like
warrants and coerced statements.
Most of the trial was conducted behind a shroud of secrecy imposed by Schnall, whose publication ban was later overturned.
The Church of God encourages followers to use objects to discipline their children, and faith, not doctors, to heal. Their practices have been
investigated in jurisdictions where children have died.