5/14/09 – TG: Human Services responds to Alamo ministry’s lawsuit

Texarkana Gazette
May 14, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Human Services responds to Alamo ministry’s lawsuit

The Arkansas Department of Human Services says a lawsuit filed against its administrators by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries is just an attempt to involve a federal court in state custody cases.

“Ultimately this lawsuit represents nothing more than a collateral attack on the findings, determinations and orders of the circuit courts of Miller County and Sebastian County, Arkansas, in the underlying proceedings,” said an answer to the suit filed Friday.

“What they actually challenge are the state courts’ express findings in the ongoing dependency neglect proceedings, and what they actually request is a nineteen-part injunction that would prevent both the agency and the state courts from carrying out their mandates under the Arkansas Juvenile Code.”

The suit was filed by Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn on behalf of the ministry and two longtime church members whose children are in state custody, Bert Krantz and Greg Seago. It accuses DHS of using custody proceedings to harass, intimidate and disband the church and asks for an injunction preventing the agency from taking any more church members’ children.

The suit takes issue with orders from circuit judges for parents to sever residential, economic and employment ties with the church if they desire reunification with their kids. The suit alleges the orders force parents to choose between their church and their children.

“The state courts have found that the foundation espoused a doctrine and created an insular community that promoted rapes and beatings of children, including the individual plaintiffs’ children,” DHS said in a brief accompanying their answer to the suit.

Numerous blanks in the response filed by DHS bear the phrase “Filed under seal,” and presumably relate to juveniles who have been placed in foster care.

U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes recently ordered certain references to juveniles and health records be kept confidential.

DHS’ response asserts that Krantz and Seago are reluctant to leave the church not because of religious concerns but because they don’t want to leave the “security” it gives them.

“In that regard, the conundrum is the same as any mother might face in leaving an abusive partner, in order to reunify with her children: the abusive partner is a good provider, leaving is very difficult, and she just does not want to believe the abuse occurred (which is all the more reason to require her to leave),” said DHS’ response. “Parents committed to reunification with their children are frequently required to take drastic steps to overhaul their lives, and they are frequently required to choose to give up certain constitutionally protected interests—such as free association, family unity, property or even liberty—and to place the best interests of their children as paramount.”

Typically federal courts will not become involved in cases that already are pending in a state court.

The church is not a party to the custody proceedings ongoing in Miller and Sebastian counties. However, third parties are allowed to “intervene” in custody cases in Arkansas, DHS’ response said.

The ministry has suffered a decline in membership because parents who fear losing their children have left, donations have decreased and the church cannot function as it did before the FBI and Arkansas State Police raided ministry property in Fouke, Ark., Sept. 20, 2008, the suit said.

The highly publicized arrest of Tony Alamo less than a week after the raid could just as easily have led members to leave, attendance at services to wane and donations to dwindle, the DHS response said.

Alamo is accused of bringing young girls across state lines for sex. He is scheduled for a criminal trial in July.

In November, removal orders for more than 125 children were signed in Miller and Sebastian counties. Since then, 36 children have been taken into state custody.

“All parents with children under the age of 18 fled from the church and are now hiding and living like fugitives,” said the church’s complaint. “They live in constant fear that the next knock on their door will begin the tortuous ordeal of having to get their children back from the state of Arkansas.”

DHS’ response said the language of the complaint implies that the whereabouts of the missing kids and their parents are known to the plaintiffs.

“Plaintiffs allegation that church members are in hiding based on a fear of their children being snatched appears to be a tacit admission that plaintiffs are complicit in hiding the children,” the response said.

DHS’ response said the federal court should not help the plaintiffs avoid compliance with the state court’s removal orders and that the request is made with “unclean hands.”

DHS asks that the federal lawsuit be dismissed or that the request for the injunction be denied. The agency also wants the ministry, Krantz and Seago to pay court costs and attorneys’ fees.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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