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Atheists File Answer to Motions to Dismiss in Forced Baptism Lawsuit

Cleveland, OH—American Atheists Monday filed a response to the defendants’ motions to dismiss in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that alleges a developmentally disabled child was forcibly baptized against the expressed wishes of his parents by a minister and a court-approved mentor.

The child, referred to as “V” in the court filing, 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 V to a full-immersion baptism, against the wishes of V’s parents. The forced baptism was the culmination of more than a year of religious harassment by a court-appointed guardian ad litem and V’s court-approved mentor.

The lawsuit alleges that a court-appointed guardian ad litem repeatedly proselytized to V’s parents, April and Gregg DeFibaugh, and their children and told them that “families need God to raise children.” Despite complaining multiple times to the guardian’s supervisors, no corrective action was taken by her supervising agency.

In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the church at which the baptism occurred, Morning Star Friends Church in Chardon, Ohio, and its pastor, Matthew Chesnes, claim that their status as a church means that they cannot be sued for the assault. American Atheists’ response refutes this claim.

“The church and pastor are not beyond the reach of the courts,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, American Atheists’ staff attorney who is overseeing this case. “When a child is subjected to a full-immersion baptism against his will and against his parents’ wishes, you are going to be held accountable.”

Blackwell added, “The DeFibaughs deserve their day in court. No family should have to worry about the government punishing them for teaching their children the ‘wrong’ religion—or no religion at all. And no family should be forced to experience such a betrayal of trust by a person approved by the courts to protect the best interests of their child.”

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

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

You can read the filing opposing the defendants’ motions to dismiss here and the amended complaint here.

All media inquiries should be directed to American Atheists.