Members of the Ecclesia Athletic Assn. declared Tuesday that they will no longer visit their children, who for the last three months have been in protective custody in Oregon amid an intense child-abuse investigation into the Los Angeles-based religious and athletic group.
Oregon officials said the move will make it that much more difficult for the parents and children--who have been seeing one another once or twice a month--to be reunited.
"I don't understand why they are doing this," said Alice Galloway, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Children's Services Division.
The parents' announcement came in a letter to the Children's Services Division, which took custody of 53 Ecclesia children in October, following the beating death of the daughter of the group's controversial founder, Eldridge Broussard Jr.
Four Await Trial
Four Ecclesia members await trial in Oregon on manslaughter charges in the girl's death.
"After much deliberation and soul-searching," the parents' letter read, "upon the grounds that your agency has unconstitutionally seized 53 children from the auspices of the church and continues to blatantly impose numerous First Amendment and other constitutional violations, the parents of said children do hereby inform you of their intent to discontinue visitation schedules with their offspring."
The parents also promised to air an "enumeration of grievances" against the Children's Services Division on a Portland-area cable television program, and said an open letter to President Bush "concerning our plight" will be read on the Jan. 31 show.
The letter was signed by a woman who is not a parent of a child in custody, but was witnessed by 19 Ecclesia parents, including Broussard's wife, Dayna, and his brother, Alvin, who faces misdemeanor child abuse charges in Los Angeles. Broussard did not sign the letter.
The parents' announcement comes three weeks after Broussard declared that he was suspending the activities of Ecclesia, which he founded to help teach ghetto children discipline through religion and athletics. Broussard said then that he wanted his followers to "distance themselves from me."
At that time, Galloway said she hoped that Broussard's followers would do just that. She said efforts to reunite the parents with their children--who authorities allege were subjected to ritualized beatings by Ecclesia members--were at an impasse because the parents had refused to renounce Broussard's philosophy of discipline through corporal punishment.
"The bottom line is the family members continue to believe very strongly in their philosophy and that form of discipline," Galloway said, "and as long as we cannot get from them any kind of assurance that things will be different . . . we cannot make any progress."