Atlanta A minister jailed for ordering children in his congregation to be whipped "because the Bible allows it" has focused renewed attention on corporal punishment, an issue that is as old and as controversial as Scripture itself.
Though spanking and harsher forms of physical discipline have been part of American culture for centuries, the debate about whether adults should have the right to strike a child has created tension between those who firmly believe in its benefits and those who consider it abuse. Nowhere has the issue been more volatile than in the South, where corporal punishment is deeply rooted and is practiced openly by parents anywhere a child might become unruly, from the grocery store to the playground.
While the law says that no one has the right to physically harm another person, most states give parents latitude when it comes to discipline.
The case involving the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., pastor of House of Prayer in Atlanta, authorities said, is one in which authority was clearly abused. Allen, 68, was charged last week with cruelty to children for ordering the whippings of two young church members because they had been unruly in school.
Police testified at a hearing Wednesday that the two boys were whipped at the direction of Allen, and that children were suspended by their hands and arms and beaten with switches, sticks or belts as punishment.
Authorities removed 42 children ranging in age from 5 months to 17 years from the church and their parents' custody after investigators learned of the alleged abuse. Six church members also were charged and additional charges are pending involving other children. Allen, who authorities said has tremendous influence over his parishioners, also has come under fire for approving marriages for girls as young as 14, which is illegal in Georgia.