SAN BERNARDINO - A local minister and high school psychologist will be in court today, presumably to begin his 120-day sentence for whipping his teenage son with a leather belt for five minutes. Craig Luke was convicted in December 2004 of injuring his 17-year-old son, Robert. With his appeals exhausted, Luke was in San Bernardino Superior Court on Monday and Thursday to request serving his time under house arrest and on weekends.
"I've got to say, the judge is still saying you're going to serve the 120 days. He's not budging," Luke's public defender, Samuel Knudsen, told him Thursday.
Luke's case has been a cause celebre for some conservative area ministers. They claim the state is denying a Christian's constitutional right to discipline in accordance with their faith.
"The Bible teaches us if we spare the rod we spoil the child; if we spare the rod, we hate the child," said Oliver Lambert, pastor of Missions for Jesus Christ in San Bernardino.
That paraphrase of Proverbs 13 is commonly referenced by defenders of corporal punishment.
No one ever mentions Deuteronomy 21:
"If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son . . . then his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town. . . . Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death."
Still, Luke's case has called into question the effectiveness of spanking or belting a disobedient child. Corporal punishment that does not leave injury is legal at home in all 50 states. It is permitted in schools in 22 states, though some only in private schools; California prohibits it in both school systems.
"That is caveman stuff really," said Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio. "If you can't hit your neighbors, your dog, your spouse, why is it OK to hit children?"
Some experts, however, say a light spanking, followed by verbal instructions about why the child was punished, is beneficial for youngsters ages 2 to 6.
"Many if not most parents use spanking inappropriately today," said Den Trumbull, a Montgomery, Ala., pediatrician who speaks for Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group, regarding child discipline. "They use spanking in a reactive way, not a proactive way."
A child older than 10 can gain nothing from being struck by a hand, a belt or a switch, Trumbull said.
In January 2004, Luke returned home to find his two infants alone. Robert, then 17, had abandoned his baby-sitting post. It was another transgression for the minister's son, who had been skipping school, staying out late and smoking dope, Luke said.
So when Robert returned, Luke, who preaches at retirement homes and is a psychologist at Arroyo Valley High School, decided to teach his son a lesson. Luke handcuffed Robert's hands behind his back and proceeded to lash him with a belt for five minutes.
The belt left imprints across the teens forearms for days, according to the Department of Protective Services.
"That wasn't discipline. I don't know what you would call that. The closest thing . . . is what we have with slaves who tried to escape," said Marc Guillory, who prosecuted the case. "It wasn't Christian. It wasn't ethical. It wasn't moral. It was appalling. What kind of hope does a kid have who is already struggling in life getting that kind of treatment in his home?
"If you have to do this to a 17-year-old, not only are you committing a crime, but you're late," Guillory added. "You've already failed."
Luke's five children, then living at home - he has eight - were removed from his care. They were returned one by one over the following nine months. Robert Luke, now 19, didn't finish high school and is living with his girlfriend and 6-month-old daughter in San Bernardino.
"If you really say this is for the better of the family, it doesn't appear that way," said Luke, 39, who maintains his form of discipline was appropriate.
Robert Luke appeared in court with his father Thursday. He doesn't agree with the whipping he received, but he and his father have reconciled.
"He's supposed to be locked up today - I'm trying to prevent that," Robert Luke said in the hallway outside Judge J. Michael Welch's courtroom. "He's been helping me, supporting me, helping me get a job - all that."
See Spankers' reference to Proverbs is a ruse, Letter to the San Bernardino County Sun By The Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf , December 19, 2005