By Seth Richardson
Gazette reporters Mark Barna and Sue McMillin reported that representatives of the Cornerstone Baptist Church appear to have attempted to lure a seventh grade student into a church van near Russell Middle School last Thursday.
Cornerstone has been actively proselytizing children for some time and has baptized some children without their parents permission. Church members have been told not to trespass on school property in Colorado Springs District 11, particularly at Russel, Keller and Fremont elementary schools.
While church members have a First Amendment right to stand on public sidewalks and preach, even to school children, they do not have a right to lure children into vehicles or move them anywhere at all without parental permission.
Colorado statutes make such actions a felony. Here’s the statute:
18-3-304. Violation of custody order or order relating to parental responsibilities.
(1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2.5) of this section, any person, including a natural or foster parent, who, knowing that he or she has no privilege to do so or heedless in that regard, takes or entices any child under the age of eighteen years from the custody or care of the child’s parents, guardian, or other lawful custodian or person with parental responsibilities with respect to the child commits a class 5 felony.
(2) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2.5) of this section, any parent or other person who violates an order of any district or juvenile court of this state, granting the custody of a child or parental responsibilities with respect to a child under the age of eighteen years to any person, agency, or institution, with the intent to deprive the lawful custodian or person with parental responsibilities of the custody or care of a child under the age of eighteen years, commits a class 5 felony.
(2.5) Any person who, in the course of committing the offenses described in subsections (1) and (2) of this section, removes a child under the age of eighteen years from this country commits a class 4 felony.
(3) It shall be an affirmative defense either that the offender reasonably believed that his conduct was necessary to preserve the child from danger to his welfare, or that the child, being at the time more than fourteen years old, was taken away at his own instigation without enticement and without purpose to commit a criminal offense with or against the child.
(4) Any criminal action charged pursuant to this section may be tried in either the county where the act is committed or in which the court issuing the orders granting custody or allocating parental responsibilities is located, if such court is within this state.
It’s important to note that while the statute title refers to “custody order” the statute itself is more expansive and includes simply taking a child under eighteen from the “custody or care” of the person legally responsible for the child.
When a child is in school, the school is the custodian of the child under a legal concept known as “in loco parentis”, which means “in the place of the parent.” Luring a child from school grounds, regardless of the reason for doing so, without the permission of the school authorities is a crime.
Once released from school, children are in the custody of the parent, whether or not they are in the physical presence of the parent. This custody extends to standing orders for the child to return home promptly and directly from school, and by interfering with that journey, anyone enticing or taking a child from that parentaly-approved route is violating the custody of the parent.
The Colorado Springs Police Department and the District Attorney should at a minimum warn the members of the church that while they are free to preach to or speak with children in public spaces, any attempt to physically interfere with or even delay that child’s journey home, or to lure the child into a vehicle and move them somewhere without the express permission of the parents is a felony. If the church members persist in such actions, they should be arrested.
In the meantime, parents should monitor the church members, using video cameras to document their activities, and if any child is lured into a vehicle, parents should use reasonable and appropriate physical force to arrest the individuals involved, as authorized by Colorado statute 16-3-201, which says “A person who is not a peace officer may arrest another person when any crime has been or is being committed by the arrested person in the presence of the person making the arrest.”
Citizens have both the power of arrest and the right to use reasonable and appropriate physical force when making that arrest under Colorado statute 18-1-707 (7), which says, “A private person acting on his own account is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to effect an arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person who has committed an offense in his presence; but he is justified in using deadly physical force for the purpose only when he reasonably believes it necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”
UPDATE: Channel 13 News reported Friday night that the church issued a statement denying knowledge of the van or who the woman driving the van was.
This is of concern, and police should be searching for the van and its driver because if it’s not associated with the church, it might have been an abduction attempt utilizing the church’s proselytizing as a cover.