ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- The pastor and 10 members of an Atlanta church that backs the corporal punishment of children have been charged with child abuse for allegedly beating two boys during services last year.
The aggravated assault and child-cruelty charges filed Friday are the latest development in the highly publicized investigation of the 130-member House of Prayer church.
Those indicted include Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., 69, and 10 parents of children who were taken into protective custody during the investigation.
Allen said he and members of his congregation will plead not guilty.
"I will call for a trial by jury," Allen said at his church Friday. "I'm delighted for the opportunity to face these charges, to resolve everything one way or another."
The indictment charges that church members twice beat the boys, then 7 and 10, during services in February, causing "cruel and excessive mental pain." According to prosecutors, Allen directed the beating in which the children, 7 and 10, were held in the air by congregants while being struck.
Prosecutor Paul Howard said the spankings left both boys with open wounds near vital organs. He said the boys were beaten after refusing to cooperate and just "being kids."
Allen has acknowledged directing the spanking of children during church services, but calls them necessary to maintain discipline. He has accused authorities of violating his congregation's religious freedoms.