"We have also endeavored to work with the victim’s family, offering counseling and any other assistance they might find helpful. They have chosen, instead, to file a lawsuit."
On August 24, 2014, a horrific criminal act against a three year old occurred at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. Over fifteen months have passed, and it appears the church and the child's parents are at an impasse. Apparently, the parents believe their only recourse is to take legal action against Fellowship Bible Church. According to a press release by the law firm representing the three year old and his family:
The complaint states that the church was negligent in providing a safe environment for a child in its care and failure to respond adequately to allegations of impropriety under its watch.
The complaint details that on August 24, 2014, the family went to worship at the church and left their three-year-old son at the Children's Ministry for care. The church assumed sole and exclusive care for the son during the church service. While in the care of the church, the boy was sexually assaulted in a bathroom by a male teenage worker selected by the Church to watch the children. The perpetrator has pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery.
In our previous post we linked to an Important Church Communication and shared its contents with our readers. In that statement, Pastor Bill Wellons, on behalf of the church elders, accurately described what occurred as a 'heinous crime'. However, there are a couple of things in that communication we would like to address in this post.
First, it was interesting to read how the church notified the authorities about the crime that had taken place. Here is the pertinent portion of that communication: (see screen shot below)
The church elders claim that as soon as the staff was 'advised' by the family, they immediately reported the crime to the Tennessee Department of Child Services. What did they mean by 'advised'? Later that morning, the Brentwood Police Department was contacted.
Meanwhile, the press release by the parents' attorneys reveals the following:
According to the lawsuit, when the parents found out about the sexual assault, the church allegedly took no steps to ensure that the perpetrator was prevented from attending services where the family would be present. Instead, the church urged the family to not pursue charges, and asked them to attend another church campus.
Perhaps both versions could be true… Allow us to speculate on what may have occurred. Here is what we believe to be a plausible scenario… the three year old's parents tell the pastors what happened to their little boy, and the pastors initially suggest handling this matter in house. Perhaps the pastors/elders recommend that the victim and his family worship at a different church campus while they sort all this out. The parents quickly inform the pastors that they are going to the authorities to report the sexual assault. The church leaders are left with no choice but to notify the authorities themselves.
As stated above, the lawsuit contends that when the three year old's parents found out about the sexual assault, the pastors allegedly took no steps to bar the perpetrator from attending services where the family would be present. Instead, the church leadership purportedly urged the family not to pursue charges, and allegedly had the audacity to ask them to attend another church campus. 🙁
Something else in the above screen shot caught our attention. Did you notice the descriptor 'alleged' in front of the word 'perpetrator'? So did the perpetrator plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery or not??? Is the church playing word games? Surely, their attorneys approved this communication before it was released. We honestly don't know what to make of this statement.
We also want to call attention to the following portion of the communication (see screen shot below):
We look forward to seeing how all of this plays out in a court of law. We are fairly certain that the parents of this three year old, who were long-time members of the 6,000 member church, never thought they would be at odds with their pastors. After all, they had done their premarital counseling at the church and were baptized and married there. When their infant son arrived, he was dedicated at the church, and his mom has been a frequent volunteer.
The press release concludes as follows:
"We want justice for this family and we hope to raise awareness about child safety – not just at this church but at all churches and childcare facilities." said Kathryn Barnett, managing partner of the Nashville office of Morgan & Morgan. "What happened to this family should never happen to anyone else. Churches and others who care for children can't ignore the very real but very preventable risk of child molestation and sexual abuse by turning a blind eye and assuming it can't happen to them."
According to the complaint filed, Morgan & Morgan and Hollins, Raybin and Weissman are pursing the lawsuit* against the church for its alleged negligence in failing to ensure adequate screening and supervision for all staff and volunteers and for failing to install adequate security measures in its classrooms. The lawsuit explains that the classrooms in the Church Youth Ministry building did not have locks to prevent predators from entering empty classrooms. There were no windows or partial doors to prevent nefarious activity in the bathrooms. The facilities also lacked surveillance cameras, sharply reducing the likelihood of a predator's activities being discovered.
Moreover, the lawsuit states that the training provided by the church to its childcare volunteers focuses almost entirely on trivial issues like finding substitutes, skirt lengths, snacks, and timeliness. Less than one minute of the training video for all volunteers touched on the essential issue of protecting and safeguarding the children entrusted to the church from sexual molestation. The lawsuit requests relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages.
*John and Jane Doe, individually, and on behalf of their minor children Johnny and Janie Doe, v. Fellowship Bible Church of Williamson County., Case No. 2015-538, in the Circuit Court for Williamson County, Tennessee.
FYI – Morgan & Morgan (link) is one of the largest exclusively plaintiffs' law firms in the US, with 25 offices throughout Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New York. The firm handles cases nationally involving discrimination, personal injury, medical malpractice, consumer class action, and securities fraud–as well as complex litigation against drug and medical device manufacturers.
We will continue to follow this case. In the meantime, please join with us in praying that the truth prevails.