It’s well and good to let members of churches and philanthropic organizations solicit funds from passengers as they climb onto BART trains. But if they’re children, and they’re being coerced into raising money for pastors who only have their bottom lines in mind, that’s another story.
That’s the issue that confronted BART directors this summer, when reporters with the Bay Citizen disclosed that children with West Oakland’s St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church — some of whom may have been as young as 7 years old — were allegedly conscripted into begging for money.
Robert Lacy, the pastor of St. Andrew, has a long history of alleged financial misconduct, including accusations that he overbilled Alameda County officials by pumping up the number of students enrolled in his church’s school.
More disturbingly, parents have accused school officials of abusing students, both physically and emotionally, and forcing them to wait for West Oakland BART passengers to get off trains, then confronting them with their sad plights and asking them for money.
“Three hours they were out there, running back and forth, hollering at cars,” the Bay Citizen quoted Oakland parent Linda Haynes as saying. “And that area is not a safe area.”
Thankfully, BART officials have listened to these complaints. And while they aren’t responsible for determining whether Lacy or the rest of St. Andrew’s staff are guilty of coercing children into raising money for them, they have taken steps to make sure that such exploitation will never happen again at BART stations.
Under rules that are scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, children soliciting funds under a BART permit must be accompanied by adults at all times. And they may not solicit funds for any reason, at any place, after dark or while school is in session. In addition, BART officials are considering further rules that keep children who solicit funds behind tables or within spaces designated by the BART board.
Children must not be allowed to beg for money. They do not do this of their own accord. Any time they solicit funds during the day, someone with power over them is forcing them to leave school, where they belong.
BART’s directors should be applauded for recognizing this, and for taking steps to stop this from ever happening again. Oakland authorities should investigate St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church, and this investigation should proceed with all the constitutional protections Lacy deserves.
In the meantime, BART officials must crack down on any church or school that sends kids out to raise money on its platforms. Thanks to the BART board’s new rules, it’s against the law. As it should be.