June 2018 Church & State Magazine - June 2018

Ohio Mom Seeks Criminal Charges In Forced Baptism

  Rokia Hassanein

Parents of an 11-year-old boy with special needs filed a police report after their son was allegedly forcibly baptized without their consent.

April Defibaugh, whose son has a form of autism, asked the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department to press criminal charges against the boy’s mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters and the church that baptized him.

Defibaugh said her son has been traumatized ever since the baptism.

“They held my son under water. It wasn’t like they sprinkled water on his head, it was like full immersion,” Defibaugh said. “He kicked, he screamed and told them beforehand that he was afraid. Every day since then he’s had nightmares, the same recurring dream, about being baptized over and over like he’s drowning. … If I held you underwater and you didn’t understand, wouldn’t you consider that assault? Not only that but endangering a child who really doesn’t understand what was going on.”

Tim Kehres, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties, said that the program has training for “respecting boundaries.”

The officer who filed the police report wrote that he advised Defibaugh that this case “was a civil issue” because “her son did not suffer from any physical injury and that there was no criminal intent to harm her son.” 

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