div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Trip Home to Stand Up for Their Community"

by Amy Toensing ("The New York Times," June 19, 2000)

ISLAND POND, Vt., June 18 -- Sixteen years after a swarm of Vermont troopers rousted 112 children from their beds in an effort to examine them for signs of abuse, some of those same children, now adults, returned today to this tiny community to swear publicly that they had felt happy and loved, not abused.
The event fell near the 16th anniversary of the 1984 raid on a religious group then known as the Northeast Kingdom Community Church. The group has changed its name to the Twelve Tribes Community and has established 25 communities around the world.
At the time of the raid, the State of Vermont, frustrated in its effort to verify reports that church members were beating their children in the name of religion, sent 90 state troopers and 50 social workers into the compound in the early hours of June 22 to round up the children, who ranged in age from 9 days to 17 years old, and put them on a Greyhound bus for the courthouse in the nearby town of Newport.
Today, about 80 of the children rode a Greyhound bus back to Island Pond. To a standing ovation from their friends and parents, they got off the bus and gathered behind a lectern beside Island Pond, for which the town was named.
The oldest child involved in the raid, Lisa Campbell, who was 17 at the time, was the first to speak.
"I remember that several police officers gathered us into the living room to ask us our names and dates of birth," Ms. Campbell said. "As evidence of the supposed child abuse, the police were picking up knitting needles and pieces of wood used to prop the windows open. I remember thinking that this was all ridiculous because I knew the truth: there was no abuse in our household."
"Now I am the mother of four," she said, "and only now can I realize what our parents went through for us on that day."
Still, the atmosphere today was more one of celebration than of recrimination.
The children, as they are still called, performed a circle dance in honor of what they referred to as their Day of Deliverance by a Vermont district judge, Frank G. Mahady, who held 40 hearings that day, then released the children after ruling that the state did not have enough evidence to hold them for examination for signs of abuse.
Church members did not dispute that they were using corporal punishment, but said they disciplined their children, usually with thin rods, in the spirit of love.
Ed Wiseman, one of the founding members of the community, said, "Freedom of speech and freedom of religion were both at risk." Children of the community performed a dance as part of Sunday's event marking the anniversary of the raid, and of a judge's decision that same day to free the children seized by the state.
Mr. Wiseman said: "The issue of religious persecution and discrimination against new religions is an issue all over the world today. We see a great need for government leaders to make sure that the information they're receiving about these new minority groups is reliable. Not doing that was what created the atmosphere of moral panic in the state of Vermont in 1984."
The community was founded in the 1970's in the forests of Vermont, about 20 miles from Canada. Church members live in communal houses and work in businesses run by the commune like a shoe store, a candle shop and a dairy farm.
The group tries to follow the Bible closely and create a "Kingdom of God." Mr. Wiseman and others said that discipline was essential to a developing a sense of self-worth and that a lack of it was destroying the nation at large.
Another child involved in the raid, Stacy Sage, now 26, is a mother of three. Like the others who returned to Island Pond today, she is still a member of the church. Mrs. Sage said it was "a God-given right" to discipline children.
"Many people have a hard time with discipline," she told the gathering of 300 to 400 people, many of them community members.
"But discipline comes from love," she said "Without discipline, children will not have any respect for God or for authority. They have no sense that there are consequences for disobedience. Discipline is not a joyful experience, it hurts, but I never felt unwanted or unloved."
Wayne Dyer, now a retired Vermont state trooper, was a participant in the raid and in today's event. In a statement that he wrote for the gathering, Mr. Dyer called the raid "a terrible thing."
"Individuals who were responsible for the raid were not brought to justice, and the state got off the hook with a small lawsuit from the family of a child who happened to be visiting that day and was scooped up," Mr. Dyer wrote.
Some other social service and law enforcement officials were invited, but did not attend.
One of them, Philip White, who was the state prosecutor on the case, told The Burlington Free Press, "The first lesson is that it is still O.K. to beat their children, especially if they have a religious justification for it."
"The second lesson," Mr. White, said, "is that we still have not found a satisfactory approach to preventing and addressing child abuse issues when they occur in closed religious communities."
Andrew Crane, the former defender general who represented the parents in the case, came from Boston for the day. "I had to be here," said Mr. Crane, who now runs an athletic and academic program for inner-city children. "What I worried about most was the impact of the raid on those kids, so it was a real thrill to see them come running out of that bus."

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