A chapter of the Mennonite Church is being sued over allegations that it subjected residents to forced labor.
The Middle District of Pennsylvania was recently hit with a federal lawsuit claiming a chapter of the Mennonite Church “violated human trafficking laws though forced labor under the guise of reforming troubled boys.” The suit was filed by two former residents of Liberty Church Farms in Juniata County. The farm is owned by Nelson Martin and both men said the farm was operated as a “reform program for the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.
The plaintiffs claim in their suit that “boys and young men considered by the church to be ‘troubled’ or to have ‘special needs’ were sent to the farm and subjected to forced labor, including farming chickens, cattle and hogs, building fences and helping with a trucking company.”
One of the plaintiffs spent about three years at the facility and the other was at the camp for about 10 months. According to the suit, the men were “required to work at least 8 hours a day every day except Sundays and school-aged children at the facility did not receive any schooling.”
On top of that, the lawsuit alleges the residents regularly faced consequences “when they acted against the Bible, including having their food and water withheld or restricted to just rice and beans or being forced to do manual labor like dragging chains or breaking boulders with a small hammer.” To make matters worse, the plaintiffs claim “residents would be physically restrained by supervisors who would hold the boys down and hogtie them using zip-ties.” Additionally, “supervisors would verbally abuse the boys by telling them that if they tried to leave the facility they would be excommunicated from the church or excommunicate them from their families,” the suit notes.
Despite the alleged manual labor, residents were never paid and the families of the residents had to fork over about $2,300 per month just to be there.
In the suit, the plaintiffs are identified by their initials. Both men are seeking financial compensation, including back pay and punitive damages for the unpaid work they were forced into while at the farm.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, when the Pennsylvania Department Human Services looked into the matter, it discovered that Liberty Ridge Farm doesn’t have any licensing on record.
Renee Franchi, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, noted that it’s possible more people who were subjected to the same abuses may join the lawsuit or file suits of their own.