Springville man's religious freedom appeal denied by appellate court in child abuse case

·3 min read

BEDFORD — An Indiana appeals court recently struck down a Springville man’s appeal of a Lawrence County Court ruling that stated he could not use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a legal defense against criminal charges of child abuse.

Scott A. Blattert is currently facing charges of strangulation, a Level 3 felony; aggravated battery, a Level 6 felony and domestic battery causing injury to a person under 14, a Level 5 felony after a 2019 investigation conducted by Indiana State Police and the Indiana Department of Child Services found that he had been punching, elbowing and strangling his children as a form of punishment, according to the probable cause affidavit.

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One child told an officer that Blattert would strike them with glue sticks to punish them because the glue sticks would cause great pain, without leaving behind marks or bruises, the affidavit stated.

In response to these charges, Blattert, a Christian, argued in Lawrence Superior Court I that the bible provides him with religious instruction on how to live his life, including disciplining and punishing his children.

He told the court that the instruction of physical punishment of one’s children is outlined in the bible in references to the Rod of Correction.

“It is described as the Rod of Correction and a rod is an abstract form. It can be exactly a rod, or it is the authority of the father to oversee the family and to administer discipline as he sees fit,” Blattert said during his testimony, according to a brief filed in appellate court by Blattert and his attorney David Smith.

Proverbs 22:15 and 23:13-14 are verses cited in Blattert’s appeal brief to support this claim.

Proverbs 22:15

  • “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 23:13-14

  • “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

Judge John Plummer III struck down Blattert’s use of this defense, concluding that protecting children is a compelling interest of the government and the requirement that force used to discipline children be reasonable is the least restrictive means of achieving that goal, meaning RFRA would not be applicable in this case.

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Blattert appealed this decision from Plummer, however on Wednesday, a Court of Appeals of Indiana ruling sided with the Lawrence County judge, affirming that RFRA was not an applicable legal defense in this case.

The opinion, written by appeals court judge and newly appointed Indiana Supreme Court Justice Derek Molter, stated that the state had effectively demonstrated it had acted to advance a compelling government interest, in protecting children, by using the least restrictive means on Blattert’s religious freedom by requiring physical discipline of children be reasonable, but not disallowing it altogether.

Lawsuit against Indiana DCS

Additionally, Blattert and his wife Cherry filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Child Services, claiming the agency violated their right to religious freedom after their 10 children were removed from their home following their previous arrest.

The Blatterts' legal filings against DCS similarly referenced sections of the book of Proverbs to substantiate their claims that their discipline of their children was influenced by the text of the bible.

The lawsuit sought "declarative and injunctive relief" against DCS, allowing them to reclaim full custody of their children.

That lawsuit was dismissed June 9 in Monroe Circuit Court by Judge Catherine Stafford, who wrote in the dismissal order that the outcome of this case would impact the ongoing termination of parental rights case between the Blatterts and DCS in Lawrence County court.

Noah Dalton is a reporter in Bedford, IN. He can be reached at ndalton@tmnews.com

This article originally appeared on The Times-Mail: Springville man's religious freedom appeal denied in child abuse case