2/3/10 – TG: Judge rejects Alamo Ministries’ suit

Texarkana Gazette
February 3, 2010
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge rejects Ministries’ suit

A federal judge ruled state welfare officials did not infringe on religious freedoms in custody proceedings and dismissed a civil lawsuit Tuesday filed by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and two fathers.

U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes ruled that legal doctrine prohibiting federal court interference in state court actions made the dismissal necessary.

“Plaintiffs have shown no evidence that the Arkansas Department of Human Services or any other defendant in this case has acted in bad faith to deliberately deny plaintiffs their right to practice their religious beliefs,” Barnes wrote in a six page opinion.

The opinion states that the DHS claim that it was “acting to protect the children involved and not to improperly deny plaintiffs any constitutional rights” is supported by the evidence.

“I still think the requirements of housing and employment are unconstitutional,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Phillip Kuhn of Florida.

Last week the parental rights of six parents, including Greg Seago and Bert Krantz, the two fathers named in the civil suit, were terminated by Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin.

The biggest stumbling block for the Alamo-following parents was a requirement in family reunification plans to obtain housing and employment independent of the ministry. The loyalists argued that doing so would amount to the loss of their salvation.

“The same issues that were presented in the civil rights case in federal court have now been presented in state court and Judge Griffin considered them. They’ve now been preserved for appeal,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn said the parents are planning to appeal the termination of their parental rights.

“I told them I wouldn’t abandon them,” Kuhn said of the state custody cases. “If they want to appeal and don’t retain me, I’ll help them prepare the necessary paperwork in their own names.”

Kuhn said he has written the ministry, Krantz and Seago concerning the 30-day deadline to appeal the federal case.

The suit, filed in April last year, accused DHS of using a child abuse investigation to disband the controversial ministry. The suit complained that when DHS began seizing children, many parents fled, donations dwindled and the work the parents once performed for the ministry as volunteers ground to a halt, all to the detriment of Alamo Ministries. About 90 children named on removal orders signed by circuit judges in Miller and Sebastian counties have never surfaced.

Barnes ruled the damages alleged by the ministry aren’t protected by law, so the controversial group lacked standing to bring the suit. He also found any alleged injury suffered by the ministry wasn’t “fairly traceable” to DHS, as required by law.

Recorded conversations of Alamo visiting with his flock in jail were played during last week’s state custody hearings to demonstrate his continued control of the group.

Alamo, 75, was sentenced to 175 years in federal prison after being found guilty by a jury of all 10 counts listed in an indictment accusing him of bringing young girls across state lines for sex.

Last week Alamo, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was transferred from the jail in downtown Texarkana to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Transfer Facility in Oklahoma City.

“Nobody knows what conditions will exist in 90 days or six months from now,” Kuhn said of Alamo’s ability to control his devotees from behind prison walls.

Witnesses testified that during Alamo’s criminal trial that children could be separated at any time from their parents, forced to fast, were beaten with a board and forced to labor in lieu of school at Alamo’s bidding.

In: 2010

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