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American Atheists sue over forced baptism of Ohio boy

American Atheists sue over forced baptism of Ohio boy

Pam Iorio, above, heads an organisation called Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. It was established to team youngsters up with adult role models and says on its website:

When children and teens have the influence of a caring adult, they are more likely to avoid risky behaviors and to focus on academics. Today’s youth face a variety of challenges, and being matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister can help them navigate these challenges and reach their potential.

There is no indication on its site that it has a religious ethos, but the Cleveland branch of BBBSA has become the subject of a lawsuit instigated by American Atheists which claims that a child with autistic tendencies enrolled in one of its programmes underwent a forced baptism that left him traumatised.

Identified only as “V”, the son of April and Gregg DeFibaugh was taken to a church picnic in August 2016 by the child’s mentor. During the picnic, the mentor and the church’s pastor subjected him to a full-immersion baptism, against the wishes of his parents.

The forced baptism was the culmination of more than a year of religious harassment by the boy’s guardian ad litem and mentor, Margaret Vaughan who repeatedly proselytised to the boy’s parents, telling them and their children that:

Families need God to raise children.

Despite complaining multiple times to Vaughan’s supervisors, no corrective action was taken by the agency. In 2015, Vaughan recruited David Guarnera, a member of her church, to act as a mentor for the boy through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio.

According to the suit, despite explicit instructions from the DeFibaughs to refrain from religious activities with the boy, Guarnero would frequently discuss religion with him.

On August 28, 2016, Guarnero took the boy to a picnic at his church, the Morning Star Friends Church in Chardon, and, along with the church pastor, Matthew Chesnes, forcibly baptised him, pushing him under the water. Since the incident, he has suffered anxiety and extreme emotional distress.

Pastor Matthew Chesnes

April DeFibaugh reported the incident to the local police and to BBBSA. She said:

They held my son under water. It wasn’t like they sprinkled water on his head, it was like full immersion. He kicked, he screamed and told them beforehand that he was afraid. Every day since then he’s had nightmares, the same recurring dream, about being baptised over and over like he’s drowning.

The officer filing the police report wrote:

I advised her, since her son did not suffer from any physical injury and that there was no criminal intent to harm her son, that this most likely was a civil issue.

Said Amanda Knief, American Atheists’ National Legal Director.

We are horrified by Pastor Chesnes’ and Mr Guanera’s actions. The people that the DeFibaughs relied on to protect their child violated their trust and their constitutional rights.

American Atheists has retained attorney Kenneth D Myers of Cleveland to serve as local counsel.

Myers said:

No family should have to go through what the DeFibaughs did. Families have the right to determine their own religious practices and choose what religion, if any, to teach their children, without government employees interfering or, as in this case, literally forcing religion on them.

The family is seeking declaratory judgment that the conduct of the named defendants was unconstitutional, compensatory and punitive damages, and counsel fees and costs.

Back in  2002, BBBSA came under fire from Focus on the Family because of its anti-discrimination policies regarding homosexual volunteers.

17 responses to “American Atheists sue over forced baptism of Ohio boy”

  1. remigius says:

    What makes me angry, even more so than the thought of the trauma inflicted upon a child who couldn’t possibly have known what was going on, is the fact that they believed they had a right to do it.

  2. barriejohn says:

    This isn’t a lot different to what goes on quite regularly at Christian camps in America and Great Britain (I have witnessed it myself, and stopped assisting with such efforts, much to the annoyance of some), where children are taken on a “holiday” and force-fed the Gospel, with great pressure via camp meetings of various kinds to “accept Jesus as their Saviour” and make a public testimony to the fact, often in an emotionally charged situation. This often leads to great embarrassment and ill-feeling afterwards, and I knew parents who were most upset about what they considered to be the manipulation of their children, but when “the salvation of souls” is your supreme aim you are not listening to the voice of reason.

  3. Alan Crowe says:

    Some cults do the sprinkling of the water stuff (why?) Other cults do the full immersion thing, (why?) One of them (both)? must be wrong.

  4. barriejohn says:

    Alan Crowe: Baptism is a development of the Jewish rite of purification, which involved total immersion in water. The “sprinkling” came later, and is symbolic of whole body immersion. There is a very full Wikipedia article about it, though it does seem to have a Christian bias:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism

  5. StephenJP says:

    Maybe I have missed something. Why has this “guardian ad litem” assumed the authority to proselytise this poor kid despite the repeated instructions to the contrary by his parents – for more than a year? Why couldn’t the parents have pulled him out and found a more sympathetic organisation to “mentor” him? Something’s missing from this story.

  6. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    I’m angry that the police decided that this wasn’t criminal. It was assault & they should be charged.

  7. Marcus says:

    My sympathies lie with the BBBSA. The fact that it has positive attitude towards the LGBT community suggests it’s a progressive secular body doing good work but hadn’t quite realised how determined Christians are to infiltrate any organisation in order to impose their filthy superstitions on impressionable young minds. This lawsuit should serve as a warning to them to vet their volunteers much more closely in the future.

  8. Paul says:

    Prince George was baptised with water from the river Jordan / as if that means anything. How we subject children to this utter nonsense escapes me as according to this report it’s like being bathed in shitty water.
    But then again isn’t all religion and the nonsensical tiresome rites all shit?
    http://www.timesofisrael.com/baptism-by-mire-in-jordan-river-sewage-mucks-up-christian-rite/

  9. 1859 says:

    What a wholly corrupt way of thinking about humanity – that it – that we – all need to be ‘purified’. The implication being we are all inherently ‘dirty’, ‘corrupt’,’worthless bags of shit’ and only through some idiotic mumbo jumbo with water will we be ‘cleansed’ and ‘ready’ to march towards the true light. Bilge and bollocks to all religious rites and rituals! I was born a dirty dog and I love it!

  10. Robster says:

    These purveyors of religious tripe seem to have finally realised that what they’re selling is so stupid, the only way to get takers is to force their preferred nonsense down their potential victims throats.

  11. barriejohn says:

    Robster: And vulnerable young victims at that.

    1859: Good point. It’s drummed into you in some circles, as well:

    O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God: have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

    Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.

    https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/psalter,-collects-and-other-resources/litprayr/litanybcp.aspx

  12. Brian Jordan says:

    So the lad was forcibly “converted” to Christianity.
    Imagine the fuss if the “conversion” had been the other way.

  13. remigius says:

    “Imagine the fuss if the “conversion” had been the other way.

    Do you mean if the Christians had been converted into frightened children with mental/behavioural problems?

    I don’t think anyone would have noticed the difference.

  14. Edwin Salter says:

    Perhaps what’s needed is a way to formally experience abandoning religious faith and/or embracing humanism.
    Even a self-certifying and private ceremony (for those who would be endangered by a recorded public act) might give some sense of satisfaction and identity.

  15. sailor1031 says:

    While I agree that it was an assault the officer was correct in his statement AFAICS. Ohio revised code says:

    2903.13 Assault.

    (A) No person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to another or to another’s unborn.

    (B) No person shall recklessly cause serious physical harm to another or to another’s unborn.

    Physical harm (not mental or psychological) is required plus intent. Seems like the revised statutes could use a little more revising.

  16. Peter Sykes says:

    “O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
    gimme a break before I die:
    grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
    purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
    Trustworthy, helpful, friendly, kind,
    gimme great abs and a steel-trap mind,
    and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice —
    these little blessings would suffice
    to beget an earthly paradise:
    make the bad people good —
    and the good people nice;
    and before our world goes over the brink,
    teach the believers how to think.” – Philip Appleman

  17. Stuart H. says:

    StephenJP – I might be wrong, but some years ago an American whose brother (actually an advocate who worked on a lot of welfare cases) had volunteered with it told me about BBBSA and I got the impression that in some places courts use it as a way to appoint some sort of guardian/mentor for a kid where there are family issues, and the family goes along with it not entirely voluntarily rather than the kid going into care.

    If that’s the case, you can see how in some places religiots would see this as a way to gain influence, and be well placed with the local law or welfare systems to put their ‘volunteers’ in place. Certainly, evangelicals in my area are thick as thieves with the family courts – in fact some of their congregation run them and act as social workers to the families of prisoners. The results, I don’t have to tell you, are disastrous.