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Nonreligious Parents Settle Lawsuit Against Volunteer Mentor and Evangelical Church over Forced Baptism of Special Needs Son

Painesville, OH—Today, the civil rights organization American Atheists announced that clients April and Gregg DeFibaugh have successfully settled their lawsuit against a local church, pastor, youth mentoring organization, and former volunteer mentor. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The lawsuit, filed in the Lake County Ohio Court of Common Pleas, alleged that the defendants were responsible for the forced baptism of the DeFibaughs’ son, who is disabled. As alleged, the full immersion baptism, which occurred on August 28, 2016, left the boy traumatized with severe anxiety and recurring nightmares of drowning, preventing him from sleeping by himself.

“Although no settlement or verdict could undo the anguish their son suffered, the DeFibaughs are pleased with the outcome,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, American Atheists’ Litigation Counsel. “They are glad that he will not have to go through the ordeal of a trial.”

“We applaud the defendants’ decision to settle this case and allow the family to move forward,” said Cleveland-based attorney Kenneth D. Myers, who collaborated with American Atheists in representing the DeFibaughs. “Everyone, whether a pastor or a volunteer mentor, must respect the family’s values.”

Stigma and discrimination against nonreligious people is widespread in the United States, and Ohio nonbelievers are no different. American Atheists’ U.S. Secular Survey, the largest ever data collection project on secular Americans, found that nonreligious Ohioans face a significant amount of stigma.

“Unfortunately, nonreligious families like the DeFibaughs too often face discrimination and disapproval because of the choices they make in raising their children,” said American Atheists’ President Nick Fish.

For example, nearly one third (29.4%) of U.S. Secular Survey participants or their children had negative experiences at school due to their nonreligious identity. Of those who experienced this discrimination in education, there was a 21.5% higher rate of likely depression.

“While we hope the settlement brings a sense of closure to the family, the fight to ensure the most basic rights for our community continues with the mental health of millions of Americans at stake,” added Fish.