March 28th, 2012
10:43 PM ET

Ungodly Discipline: No state oversight at religious school

This week AC360° presents a three-part series investigating allegations of abuse at the Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. The founder, Preacher Bob Larsson, asks new students to sign a document stating they understand the religious nature of the school and believe the bible to be the word of God. Because the Montana boarding school is a faith-based institution, the state has no authority to oversee or regulate it.

It’s an important factor to consider with former students and employees claiming abusive forms of punishment are common practice at the school. One former staff member told CNN’s Gary Tuchman, “... when I saw the kids they were wrenching and screaming because of the pain of what had happened.” Larsson believes Satan is behind that allegation and the others from more than a dozen people who told CNN they witnessed or experienced abuse.

Larsson, the owner for almost four decades, admits the school enforces a policy of “tough love.” House parent Ned Kent says he used pressure points on the children’s necks as a means to control their behavior. It’s a practice Pinehaven says is no longer permitted, but there is no government authority checking that claim. Teachers aren’t required to have certifications like instructors at public and private schools in Montana, and Pinehaven has free reign to employ anyone they choose regardless of qualifications or background.

In addition to the abuse allegations, at least one former student says he was raped by a peer. He began cutting himself as a way to cope with the pain. A former employee pleaded guilty to raping two students and subsequently went to prison. Larsson acknowledges past troubles, but he doesn’t welcome any changes to the law preventing state oversight of his school.

The Ungodly Discipline investigation continues tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.

Watch the first report in the series:

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