Parents' Lawsuit: Disabled Child Was Forcibly Baptized

The American Atheists organization announced on March 27 that an Ohio couple, April and Gregg DeFibaugh, filed a federal lawsuit because their developmentally disabled son was allegedly baptized without their permission.

According to the American Atheists website, the 11-year-old child's mentor from Big Brothers, David Guarnera, took the child to a picnic on Aug. 28, 2016, where Guarnera and Pastor Matthew Chesnes fully immersed the child under water in a baptism.

The DeFibaughs assert their son suffered anxiety and extreme emotional distress after the baptism.

Their lawsuit says the child's court-appointed guardian ad litem, Margaret Vaughan, told the parents that "families need God to raise children," and often tried to convert the couple.

The couple asserts in their lawsuit that Vaughan had recruited Guarnera to be a mentor to their son via the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio; Guarnera was reportedly a member of Vaughan's evangelical church.

The DeFibaughs say in their lawsuit they repeatedly told Guarnero to refrain from religious activities.

The American Atheists notes that the DeFibaughs reported the baptism to the police and the BBBS before choosing to pursue legal action.

April told the baptism story to WKYC in September 2016:

They held my son under water. It wasn't even like they sprinkled water on his head, it was full immersion. He kicked, he screamed. He has the same recurring dream, over and over, constantly being baptized over and over and he feels like he's drowning...

To be honest, if I held you underwater and you didn't understand, wouldn't you consider that an assault?

April filed a police report with the Geauga County Sheriff's Department that called for criminal charges against Guarnero, Chesnes, the Morning Star Friends Church and the BBBS.

"I want a law put in place that will prevent anyone from baptizing a child without the parents' permission, and proof that the person is their parent," April told WKYC.

The officer who took the police report wrote: "I advised [April], since her son did not suffer from any physical injury and that there was no criminal intent to harm her son, that this most likely was a civil issue."

The case has moved into civil court where the American Atheists retained Kenneth D. Myers, a Cleveland lawyer, to represent the DeFibaughs, who are suing for the actions of the defendants to be declared unconstitutional, damages, and lawyer fees and costs.

"No family should have to go through what the DeFibaughs did," Myers stated in the American Atheists' press release. "Families have the right to determine their own religious practices and choose what religion, if any, to teach their children, without government employees interfering or, as in this case, literally forcing religion on them."

Sources: American Atheists, WKYC / Photo credit: The Gospel Coalition

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