ATLANTA, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A Georgia pastor and four members of his congregation were convicted Thursday of felony charges of child abuse and aggravated assault for disciplining two young boys by cruelly whipping them in church.
Jurors deliberated for 18 hours over four days before convicting the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., pastor of the House of Prayer, of cruelty to children and aggravated assault.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford sentenced Allen to 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation. He also ordered Allen to pay an $8,000 fine, saying the beatings "crossed the line."
Allen and four church members represented themselves during the trial on charges they held two boys, aged 7 and 10, off the ground and whipped them with a belt.
Allen argued that the Bible supports the use of corporal punishment. One of the passages he cited was Proverbs 23:13, which says: "Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
Fulton County prosecutor Phyllis Clerk contended that the painful beatings were excessive. "It was an assault. It was organized. It was brutal," she said.
Emanuel Hardeman, Charles Ogletree, David Duncan Sr. and Sharon Duncan were also convicted of charges related to the beatings. Hardeman and Ogletree were given 75-day jail terms with 10 years' probation and fines of $2,500. The Duncans were given lesser sentences and small fines.
All five defendants were ordered to undergo counseling on child care.
"I'm not going to change my religion," Allen said after he was sentenced. "I feel that God's will has been done today."
The two young boys, Ricky Wilson Jr. and David Duncan Jr., showed teachers their injuries after they were whipped in February 2001.
The boys' claims led officials to take custody of 49 children of House of Prayer members. Of those, 43 have been returned to their parents.
Allen and six other church members were convicted of battery and other charges in 1993 in connection with the beating of a 16-year-old girl who said church members taunted her as they beat her with belts.