4/10/09 – Alamo suit: DHS violating civil rights; Lawsuit alleges church can no longer serve the poor
April 10, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe
Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn makes a statement Thursday outside the Federal courthouse in Texarkana. Kuhn filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the church and two fathers whose children are in foster care.
Tony Alamo Christian Ministries filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday accusing the Arkansas Department of Human Services of harassment and civil rights violations.
“I think they intend to destroy the church,” said Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn as he stood on the steps of Texarkana’s Downtown Courthouse moments after filing the suit and a motion for an injunction. “I have no idea why.”
The suit alleges the church can no longer serve the poor, help prison inmates or spread its message the way it once did because of DHS.
“All the workers who have underage children have left the church and are now in hiding,” said an affidavit from Sharon Alamo, Tony Alamo’s legal wife. Donations are down, services are no longer being held in Fort Smith, home schooling has ended and the flyers once distributed by the thousands aren’t being sent around the world and placed on windshields, the suit said.
“The state’s policies and practices have effectively disbanded an entire church by using the pretext of a child abuse investigation,” the complaint states. “The church suffers and continues to suffer loss of income, loss of employee services, school closings, loss of spiritual influence, loss of choice, privacy and associational rights as well as declining membership and ministries.”
They named plaintiffs in the suit, the church and two fathers with kids in foster care, Bert Krantz and Greg Seago, are asking U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes of the Western District of Arkansas to issue an order preventing DHS from taking more children from church members.
“There’s a manhunt going on for the children,” Kuhn said. “DHS has told the parents they will remove children at the moment of birth.”
Beginning with a raid on church property in Fouke, Ark., in Sept. 2008, 36 children have been placed in state care. The whereabouts of more than 90 children listed on removal orders signed by judges in Miller and Sebastian counties remain unknown.
“We’ve got more business than we know what to do with on a day to day to day basis,” said DHS Communications Director Julie Munsell. “The environmental factors about how parents rear their children are completely extraneous until they impact the child’s safety. That’s the point at which, the only point at which, we get involved. To protect children from abuse and neglect is our driving force.”
Miller County Circuit Judges Jim Hudson and Joe Griffin ruled at custody hearings which began last year the parents would have to sever residential, employment and economic ties with the church to get their children back. The suit asks that the defendants, DHS Director John Selig, Miller County DHS administrator Steve Mason and Fort Smith DHS division director Gwen Lovelace, be ordered to petition the courts to remove those conditions from reunification plans.
“The court is not in the business of determining someone’s religious preference in terms of which church they attend or don’t attend,” Griffin said. “The case that was presented to us concerned allegations of abuse and neglect and any rulings the court would’ve entered would have been pursuant to the facts and applicable law.”
Griffin and Hudson previously said the courts are not telling the parents they can no longer attend services. Kuhn said DHS workers have told some parents not to attend the church if they want their children
Krantz and Seago claim that getting “secular jobs” and moving away from ministry properties violates their civil rights, including that to freedom of religion. Both have followed Alamo for years and “volunteer” all of their time to the church. The ministry in turn provides housing, food, clothing
“…In having him (Krantz) sever all associational ties with the church in order to regain the custody and companionship of his children places him in a significant quandary: Does he choose his family or his God?” the complaint said of the father of six. Kuhn said the communal life of ministry members is essential to their
“The members and the church believe that to disobey any biblical commandment would cause them to lose their eternal salvation, and, thus, jeopardize their souls to everlasting punishment,” the complaint said.
If Krantz’ wife decides to leave the church to be with her children, Krantz may lose his partner as well, the suit said. Krantz’ affidavit stated he will not allow his own children to marry before the legal age though in a previous interview he said marriage at puberty is condoned by the Bible.
“You can’t take children based on thought,” said CPSWatch founder Cheryl Barnes. “If he holds a belief it is not sufficient to prove that his child is in danger.”
Kuhn said the decision not to include mothers in the suit was made by him and that Krantz and Seago were named as plaintiffs because they are willing to “accept the consequences.”
Seago’s affidavit denies that he supports underage marriages though Seago’s former wife was just 15 when she married him. Seago’s teen daughter is in DHS custody. “Greg Seago likewise failed to protect this child against the risk of improper sexual contact and sexual abuse by knowingly placing her in the residence of Tony Alamo, known by him to be a polygamist,” said the adjudication order finding Seago’s daughter would remain in state care. “Further, he endorsed and facilitated and attempted illegal marriages of underage females to adult males, including this daughter, the child that is the subject of this suit.”
The complaint alleges the children are being subjected to “deprogramming” that is eroding the bonds between the parents and kids because DHS has mistakenly assumed the ministry is a “cult.”
“The children are exposed daily to all the trash that is spewed endlessly over the airwaves of a modern television and radio America,” the complaint said of the childrens’ lives in foster care.
Accompanying Kuhn Thursday to the courthouse were Cheryl Barnes and Desere’ Howard, coordinator of the CPSWatch legal team and director of Families Best Interest. “The state is required to show there is a danger of immediate harm. To remove children because of a perceived culture of abuse is hypothetical,” Cheryl Barnes said. “It’s hard to show a 2-year-old will be married at 14.”