Sect Children Freed 'In Their Best Interests'
Sydney Morning Herald/1992-05-22
By COL ALLISON
Sixty-five children seized in raids a week ago by the NSW Department of Community Services were returned to the care of their families by a Sydney magistrate yesterday amid tears of joy from their parents.
"I believe it is in the best interests of all the children to be allowed to go home," the magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth, a grandfather, told Cobham Children's Court.
Mr Forsyth's order was conditional on the parents handing in the children's passports and giving an undertaking that no-one would leave the State.
In Melbourne, a Supreme Court judge freed another 56 children from protective custody yesterday, six days after they were seized in similar circumstances.
Mr Forsyth did not refer to the main allegations of the department, that all the children were at risk of emotional, physical and sexual abuse by their parents.
These were the reasons given for the 6 am swoop by police and departmental officers last Friday on three houses in the Hills district of Sydney, where the children - aged from 22 months to 16 years - and their parents, who are members of the Christian fundamentalist sect known as "The Family", live communally.
The sect leader, who lives at Glenhaven with his wife and an extended family of two other adult couples and 19 children, told the Herald: "There'll be a party tonight. This is great, I honestly didn't expect it. Having the kids home is just so exciting.
"We're all absolutely thrilled, we've missed them so terribly.
"It gives us heart to face the trials ahead."
The forthcoming custody hearing is expected to last from two to three months at least.
Dr Greg Woods, QC, for the Glenhaven family, attacked the Department of Community Service's action, saying: "We are witnessing a department of State, for the first time in decades, using its processes and powers for direct religious persecution."
Dr Woods said he had to wonder if the department had really thought through its position.
"If it has not done so it stands condemned of being guilty of stupidity,"he said. "If it has done so, it stands condemned to an even worst degree as being guilty of a great wickedness."
A barrister for another family group, Mr Barry Larbalestier, QC, told the court: "The department will come out of this in a very bad light ... they couldn't do this to any other community in Australia. But they can do it here because they can always say the Children of God are bad people."
A barrister for a third sect group, Mr Robert Cavanagh, said the children lived in a beautiful situation in a Christian environment where people were held together by their faith.
Throughout the proceedings the sect leader has maintained that "The Family"is a non-denominational missionary group, though some members once belonged to the reviled Children of God cult.
The department's barrister, Ms Robyn Tupman, said the raids last week uncovered large quantities of Children of God literature and found evidence of the lifestyle of that cult in each of three homes.
She warned Mr Forsyth that he could not ignore some specific allegations. She referred the magistrate to a statement from one 15-year-old girl. The girl lived in a house "18 months to 5 years ago" containing some of the children now before the court.
"She says while in that community it was a practice in the household for one of the men to take four or five girls into a room and masturbate in front of them," Ms Tupman said. "One of the men made love to her ... an innocent 15-year-old girl".
When she raised fresh evidence from people she said had come forward after seeing the case in the media, Dr Woods objected, saying it was obvious and outrageous that "the department was making up its weak case on the run".
In Melbourne, Justice Gray, releasing the children, aged between two and 14, said that any risk to them was outweighed by the desirability of releasing them to their parents.