(CN) – An Ohio couple claims in court that the Big Brothers mentor of their disabled 11-year-old son baptized him as a Christian without their permission.
April and Gregg DeFibaugh filed a federal lawsuit in Cleveland on Monday against the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio, Morning Star Friends Church, CASA for Kids of Geauga County and three individual defendants.
The DeFibaughs’ 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son were each found by Geauga County juvenile court to be in need of county services and a guardian ad litem. Defendant Margaret Vaughan was assigned as the guardian for the couple’s disabled son, V.
“Defendant Vaughan was a member of defendant Morning Star and as such, supported Morning Star’s mission of proselytizing and attempting to persuade people to love Jesus Christ,” the parents says in the lawsuit.
They claim Vaughan preached to them and left them books and CDs containing religious content, telling them repeatedly that “families need God to raise children.”
Vaughan also recruited a member of her church, defendant David Guarnera, to spend time with V because of the boy’s “social awkwardness,” according to the complaint.
The DeFibaughs claim Vaughan asked Guarnera to volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters “so that his social contacts with V could be provided under the auspices of an officially non-sectarian organization.”
According to the lawsuit, the parents agreed to the Big Brother involvement as long as no religious indoctrination took place.
Guarnera allegedly took V to Lake County Captains baseball games, to his home to play with his nephew, and to social events at Morning Star. He would also play religious songs on the car radio, according to the complaint.
At a church picnic, Guarnera allegedly arranged with the church pastor, defendant Matthew Chesnes, to have V baptized. The DeFibaughs were not in attendance.
“Defendant Guarnera threatened V that if he did not go through with the baptism, defendant Guarnero would not take him to any more Lake County Captains games,” the lawsuit states.
The DeFibaughs allege V’s head was held under water “to the point where V felt like he was choking and could not breathe.”
The parents say they were filled with “shock and anger” when Guarnera told them about the baptism, and immediately cut ties with him and the Big Brother organization.
They sued for claims of assault and battery, negligence, infliction of emotional distress and violations of their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
Cleveland attorney Kenneth D. Myers is representing the DiFibaughs in the lawsuit, along with Geoffrey T. Blackwell of the American Atheists Legal Center.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio did not immediately respond Thursday to an email request for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.