Ford says that his treatment is designed "to reach the unwanted with the love of God," but even the local Deputy Sheriff of Bievnville Parish, where Ford's compound is located, refers to the place as a "private jail." It looks it too, surrounded by barbed-wire fencing and out of sight for observers. Sheriff Stewart told the Rocky Mountain News that Ford gets kids "down here and works the heck out of them and spanks the heck out of them and does what he wants to do..."
A 1984 report in the New York Times discussed a similar religious compound that Ford was operating in South Carolina. Along with the heavy regimen of corporal punishment and bible verse indoctrination, youngsters were divided into levels. At the bottom were boys described as "in bondage." According to newspaper reports, they were "marched into the fields to work while tied together with rope," and prohibited from even talking or laughing. Above them, the "bonded servants" enjoyed the privilege of conversation, but still were in forced labor. At the top were the "sojourner." South Carolina authorities raided Ford's work camp, and the county prosecutor declared "Most of the boys were brainwashed, just like Hitler did with kids."
How does Ford continue to get away with such abuses?
For starters, the whole subject of rights for children and youngsters is a volatile one, especially in these high-handed days of "parental rights" rhetoric. Most people instinctively believe that it is up to parents to raise their children as they see fit rather than have that responsibility turned over to the state. But either state or parents can abuse, oppress and terrorize youngsters. What then?
Rev. Ford also cites his religious freedom. Louisiana officials have tried unsuccessfully to shut down the youth-abuse compound, but state courts have ruled that the operation is beyond the reach of authorities and protected by religious freedom. "Ford repeatedly has rebuffed the attempts of state regulators to inspect the facility," notes the News. "Even the state fire marshal is not allowed on site to assure the safety of the approximately 50 children housed there..."
One of Rev. Ford's Louisiana operations was shut down 1981 amidst charges of child abuse. And the South Carolina raid produced evidence of children being struck with a "rod of correction," reports that they were confined in cells with ropes and handcuffs, and evidence of physical bruising.
As bad as this is, Rev. Ford can count on churches and government to actually help him in the future. A state Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been proposed, and in Washington congress will take up a similar measure, the federal Religious Liberty Protection Act when it returns from winter recess in January. These measures require that government use a cumbersome "compelling interest/least restrictive means" test before placing any "burden" on religious groups. Child advocates warn that this will make it even harder to investigate and stop the rampant persecution of youngsters that is taking place inside of authoritarian religious cults, including Rev. Ford's.
You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. Edited by Conrad Goeringer, firstname.lastname@example.org. Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, email@example.com.