The Orange County Register/December 18, 1989, by Carol Lachnit
To 16-year-old Cori Collin, Potter’s House is a place of joyful noise and the love of God. To her father, it’s a mind-controlling cult.
Can the Juvenile Court, which has legal custody of the girl, stop her from going there?
Her father said it should. The court said it won’t.
After Paul Collin complained to numerous county authorities about the church in Orange, Cori’s social workers stopped her from going.
In the month she was kept from the church, Cori said, she slipped into old habits – venting her quick temper and “cussing.” She continued praying to God, but felt far away from him, she said.
“Nothing meant more to me than my church,” she said.
But in a Juvenile Court hearing in October, a commissioner ruled that she could go unless her father or the county could show how she was being harmed by the religion.
Collin has not given up. He goes back to court Tuesday.
“I have been presented with evidence that it’s a destructive cult church… I don’t want her to be hurt,” he said. “I’m not trying to be the bad guy. I’m not trying to bust up her whole world. I love her very much.”
Cori, who said she is furious with her father for his actions, agrees that Potter’s House changed her – but for the better.
County officials say they legally are barred from taking sides in the dispute over where Cori should go to church.
Children under county custody because of alleged parental abuse or neglect have a constitutional right to freedom of religion – regardless of their age or their parents’ wishes.
That extends to cases more extreme than Potter’s House, they said.
If children wanted to attend the Church of Satan, “You’ve got to let them go, unless there is a showing that it’s detrimental,” said Harold LaFlamme, Cori’s court-appointed attorney.
“If they’re going to drink the blood of Christian children, we’re going to draw the line on that,” he said.
The only time the county can intervene is if the religion is harmful to the child, officials said.
By contrast, parents whose children are in their care, have tremendous power over them. Even teen-agers are “wholly-owned subsidiaries” of their parents in matters of religion, said Franklin Zimring, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley’s bolt Hall and author of “The Changing Legal World of Adolescence.”
Courts have recognized a parent’s right to kidnap a child from a cult and deprogram them, he said. But that is only the case when a parent has legal custody, as Collin found out in August.
Collin, 38, was released this year from federal prison after completing a term for mailing counterfeit $100 bills into the country. He wanted to re-establish a relationship with his daughter, who had been living with Collin’s ex-wife. He had not seen the girl since 1981, he said.
But Collin learned that Cori no longer lived with her mother.
She was in a group home for teen-age girls, and a dependent of the Juvenile Court.
When Collin began visiting has daughter in the group home, he was shocked to find she no longer was attending Catholic services. Instead, she worshipped at Potter’s House.
She said her first visit to the church march 24 was a revelation to her.
“At Catholic church, I used to just fall asleep. It was really boring,” she said. “Potter’s House, they get really excited about it, and like, they’re really praising God.”
The Christian fundamentalist church stresses evangelism to young people, frequent attendance at services during the week and the exclusion of such influences as television, which the church views as harmful. It has about 50 members, said its pastor, Anthony Luttrull.
Its services feature hymn-singing, Bible teaching and a practice called “speaking in tongues,” in which church members pray in rapid, unintelligible phrases.
Collin said he went with Cori to a service, and at first he had no objections to the church.
He later changed his mind.
Collin said he strongly opposes interracial dating, while the church permits it.
He objected to the number of services the church encouraged its members to attend.
He also said the church was turning Cori against him. He would try to guide her on such matters as dating and religion, only to have her question his authority, he said.
In recent months, such TV programs as “48 Hours” and “Geraldo” have raised questions about the Arizona-based group, which has more than 600 churches worldwide. On the programs, anti-cult groups have alleged that Potter’s House is a cult that practices mind control. Luttrull and the church’s national leaders deny those charges.
Collin began to amass information about Potter’s House, sending it to Cori’s social worker, the county juvenile Justice Commission, the Cult Awareness Network and others.
After a preliminary investigation of the church by Bruce Malloy, the administrative officer of the Juvenile Justice Commission; Cori’s social worker stopped her from going, pending further investigation, Malloy said.
“It really upset me,” Cori said. She asked LaFlamme to intervene.
He did, although he does not necessarily approve of the church.
“It’s not something I’d choose for my own child,” LaFlamme said. “But “I’m not making the choice – she is.”
In a hearing Oct. 27, Juvenile Court Commissioner Gale Hickman ruled that Cori could go back to Potter’s House, unless Collin or the county could show some harm to Cori.
Hickman also ordered Collin to stay away from his daughter. The girl had told her social worker she wanted nothing to do with him.
Cori’s mother, Renee Collin, 37, said she has no objection to her daughter going to Potter’s House.
“There’s no evidence there’s anything wrong,” she said. “If the church makes her happy – even though I’d rather she be Catholic – it makes me happy,” she said.
Luttrull said his church does not encourage children to defy their parents.
“It troubles me, because I’d like to see the kids come serve God,” Luttrull, 25, said.
“But when it creates problems at home, it’s an uncomfortable situation.”
The situation raised by Collin has not come up often, said Gene Howard, director of children’s services for the county Social Services Agency. Most often, religion is an issue only when the county tries to match a child’s religious background for purposes of foster home or adoptive placement.
When children awaiting foster homes are staying at Orangewood, the county’s home for abused and neglected children, they can attend religious services if they want to. The institution will not force them to go, even if the parents request it, Howard said.
State regulations say children who live in group homes must be permitted to attend whatever religious service they wish, he said.
Group homes typically have six children of similar age in a setting more like a home than Orangewood can offer. They are run by private organizations that contract with the county, and social workers are assigned to supervise the children’s progress, Howard said.
At one time, a teen-ager in a San Bernadino County group home run by Olive Crest, a non-profit organization, wanted to go to a gay church.
“That was his decision. One of the staff visited it, but we couldn’t counter his decision,” said Don Velour, Olive Crest’s president. The organization runs 13 homes in Orange County, including the home in which Cori lives.
Meanwhile, Collin is continuing his campaign against Potter’s House and the court’s decision. He has started a clearinghouse for parental complaints against Potter’s House in Orange County.
All he wants to do “is just have a relationship with my daughter, and some form of communication,” he said.
Cori said her father’s actions have alienated her.
“It upsets me a lot. I just want to let him know how much he’s messed up my life,” she said.
LaFlamme said Collin has chosen the tactics because he has no legal ground to stand on.
“He’s trying to do through public pressure what he can’t do through law,” he said.