In the wake of an ABC News 20/20 investigation, a key Alabama lawmaker is pushing for a crackdown on unlicensed religious youth programs that use brutality against “troubled teens,” including gay teens.
“The display that you showed on television, I think, really brought this home to a lot of people,” said Republican state representative Steve McMillan, who has introduced legislation requiring closer supervision of such programs.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people that just did not believe the circumstances,” McMillan said of the ABC News report which detailed allegations from teens who said they were beaten and abused at programs.
Two so-called Christian pastors and a third person were sentenced to 20 years in prison last month after being found guilty of child abuse at a facility that operated in Mobile and Pritchard, Alabama.
Under the state’s Religious Freedom law, such programs had been exempt from state inspections.
Under legislation proposed by McMillan, state officials would be able to conduct unannounced inspections, and teens would have the right to speak privately to investigators and to their parents or guardians.
McMillan said he believe the law has broad support from legislators and mainstream religious groups that feel something needs to be done about unlicensed programs with records of brutality or violence in their state.
“They’ll either go out of business or shape up and do the right things,” said McMillan.
The director of the non-profit Youth Reach Gulfport in Alabama welcomed the proposed legislation.
“Juvenile facilities need accountability,” said Richard Crawford, who decried the child abuse documented in the ABC News report.
“Especially programs that are seeking money for their services,” he said. “That’s when things often get twisted here with these ministries if there is no accountability.”
The state representative praised the efforts of a retired Alabama police captain, Charles Kennedy, who has campaigned for years against the unlicensed programs.
“I guess you could call him a persistent angel, because his heart’s in the right place, he really feels strongly about this, and without his persistence it would never have come to pass,” said the legislator.