From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church group seeks to fund U.S. lawyer for Elian's father

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 04 Apr 2000 14:03:50

April 4, 2000      News media contact: Joretta Purdue ·(202)
546-8722·Washington     10-21-32-71B{179}

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The father of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez needed a lawyer
to receive fair treatment in U.S. courts, say church officials involved in
raising money to provide legal services.

The executive committee of the Board of Church and Society, the social
action and advocacy agency of the United Methodist Church, set up a fund to
receive contributions for that purpose.

First, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former top executive of the National
Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), and the Rev. Thom White
Wolf Fassett, staff head of the Board of Church and Society, approached
Gregory B. Craig, an established Washington lawyer. Craig has represented a
wide range of clients, including President Clinton during last year's
impeachment trial in the Senate. Campbell and Fassett asked Craig to
consider representing Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father.

During a visit to Cuba in early March, Fassett said that he, Craig and
Campbell were assured that Gonzalez and his family were free to decide on
counsel without interference from officials there. Craig has been asked by
Gonzalez to represent him in his effort to regain custody of his son.

Campbell's involvement with the Gonzalez family began late last year, before
her term in office at the NCC ended. She said the Cuban Council of Churches
contacted her after Elian was rescued off the Florida coast last November.
Elian's mother and several others had drowned when their boat capsized.

The Board of Church and Society's executive committee set up the
Humanitarian Advocacy Fund to funnel donations for the effort to provide
"fair and equal treatment for the father of Elian Gonzalez" in the U.S.
courts, Fassett said. 

"The fund is established specifically to receive voluntary contributions
from those who wish to support the legal representation of Juan Miguel
Gonzalez," Fassett explained, with emphasis on the word "voluntary." "And
people are giving to it. They are giving $10. They're giving $100. They're
giving $10,000."

No United Methodist Church dollars are being used in the fund, according to
Fassett. The effort is supported solely by voluntary contributions.  

Fassett said the agency hopes to raise $50,000 to $100,000 for this cause.
Inquiries about giving have come in from a wide range of people of various
faiths and also from Cuban Americans upset about what is going on and
wanting to help, he said.

Most of the large contributions to date have come from people who are
involved in human rights issues, Fassett said. He added that contributions
to the fund are tax deductible because they are for a humanitarian cause and
are administered by the board.

Fassett said that he is in daily contact with Craig to monitor what the
board needs to do as a humanitarian organization and "to facilitate in any
appropriate way the travel of Juan Miguel to the United States and his
presence here."

"Humanitarian groups and church groups have to come together to help lower
the volume and to establish the issues of civility in this discussion,"
Fassett said. "This child is not a trophy child. We are talking about this
child being returned to his family."

Fassett said his visit to Havana in March had included a nearly three-hour
meeting with Juan Miguel, two grandmothers, two grandfathers and a
great-grandmother of Elian. Sadness and tears characterized the meeting,
Fassett said.

"No one should be surprised that the General Board of Church and Society is
involved in such a humanitarian effort because we have a very long history
of advocacy for children in every area of the world, both in the
international and domestic forums," Fassett declared.

And, he added, "The United Methodist Church has been the leading advocate of
abolishing the embargo between the United States and Cuba."

# # #

United Methodist News Service
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