Pastor vetoes home monitoring as condition to get kids back

Ministers and lawmakers are seeking a compromise that would return 49 children from Atlanta's House of Prayer to their families.

But the church's pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., remains steadfast in his response: no deal.

As word of efforts to broker a compromise in the high-profile case emerged during a court hearing Wednesday, Allen said he expects no quick resolution to an investigation that has sent most of the children of his 130-member congregation into state protective custody. Any compromise, he said, would infringe on church members' religious practices.

"That's about to come to an end now," Allen said of the negotiations. "I think we've about milked that for all we can get."

In court, Allen rejected a proposal that included the appointment of independent monitors to supervise church members' homes if the seized children are returned.

The proposal would have required the parents to accept conditions they have already rejected, including a ban on spanking except by hand, a prohibition on spanking by other church members and an end to the congregation's practice of arranging marriages out of state for girls as young as 14.

"It's the same thing, just disguised," Allen said later at his home. "They're just playing with words. I'm really more determined not to accept any of it. It's an insult to my intelligence. They take me as an illiterate child."

Chief Judge Sanford Jones of Fulton County Juvenile Court presented the proposal --- which originated with the Concerned Black Clergy and state legislators, including Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta) --- after delaying by two weeks a hearing into whether Allen's own six children should be taken into protective custody.

"Any of your folks who want their children back, under those conditions, can get them at any time," Jones told Allen. "I personally don't want the children to be left in custody any longer than they have to be."

The state Division of Family and Children Services, which has investigated allegations of systematic abuse at the church, supported the compromise. Although the proposal affected six other church families, it was presented to the pastor because he exerts so much influence over his congregation, said Renee Huie, a DFCS spokeswoman.

"They will not do anything without his approval," Huie said. "You come back to one man who's controlling an entire group of people. There might be some folks who, if left on their own, for the sake of having their children back, would do it. But they're not going to as long as he's in control."

The Rev. Gerald Durley of Providence Missionary Baptist Church, who helped draft the proposal, said it was not intended to diminish Allen's position as his congregation's spiritual leader.

"We all believe --- we do, as well as Reverend Allen --- that God does have an answer to this," Durley said. "In the interim, different people are trying to be as cooperative as possible. That's the atmosphere this is all working in."

McKinney sounded less hopeful. "He's firm in his beliefs," the lawmaker said of Allen. "There's no compromising him."

Negotiations have been difficult because Allen doesn't trust the state officials who are investigating his family.

In court Wednesday, a lawyer for DFCS, Ted Hall, said officials had gathered evidence that includes "some observations of what appeared to be switch marks on one of the children."

But Allen interjected, "I hear him telling lies."

Outside the courtroom, Allen said DFCS is waiting for one of his children to accidentally suffer "a bruise or a scratch or something."

"They have no evidence," he said. "They're postponing it because they don't have any evidence and they have to manufacture some false evidence."

"Unless God intervenes," he said later at home, "I believe it's just a matter of time before they're going to take our children."