4/15/10 – TG: Seizure of children from Alamo compound is affirmed by Appeals court

Texarkana Gazette
April 15, 2010
By: Lynn LaRowe

Appeals court affirms custody rulings
Alamo followers had contested termination of parental rights

A Miller County circuit judge’s rulings concerning 17 children whose parents are members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries were affirmed by the Arkansas Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The appeals of four families argued that Circuit Judge Joe Griffin erred when he found the children of Don Thorne, Carlos and Sophia Parrish, Bethany Meyers and Bert and Miriam Krantz were in need of state care.

Each complained there wasn’t enough evidence for the court to find the children in need of removal and that the plans for family reunification violated laws protecting religious freedom.

The four opinions issued Wednesday concern adjudication hearings held last year to determine if the youngsters were in such danger that they needed to be taken by the state.

Since then, the parental rights of some of the parents have been permanently terminated.

The appellate opinions point to the testimony of numerous witnesses concerning beatings, forced fasts, underage marriages, Tony Alamo’s polygamous lifestyle and a lack of medical care as commonplace in Alamo ministries.

Educational neglect is also mentioned. Girls tend to leave the ministry’s home school environment to marry and boys typically are not educated to the level of a high school graduate.

“In the ministry, getting a high school diploma is the exception, not the rule,” wrote Justice Rita Gruber in the opinion concerning Don Thorne’s children.

The Thorne opinion is 17 pages. Those of the other three families are each two pages and refer to the reasoning detailed in the Thorne opinion.

Relationships between the parents who filed the appeals decided Wednesday are apparent in Gruber’s opinion.

“After obviously lying under oath and being threatened with a perjury charge, Sophia returned to the stand and admitted that she had spanked (her 7-year-old son) with a paddle; that she had married at 12 when Carlos was 19; that her father (Don Thorne) had walked her down the aisle; that she had sex with Carlos when she was 12; and that she had given birth to a stillborn baby girl at the age of 14,” the opinion states.

“Sophia stated that the Krantzes were at her wedding, which was widely celebrated by the members of the ministry.”

The appellate court also disagreed with the parents’ assertion that the circuit court’s directives to find jobs and residences independent of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries are unconstitutional.

“Thorne contends that, in essence, the case plan makes him choose between his children and his church,” the opinion states.

The opinion notes the United States and Arkansas constitutions guarantee individuals the freedom to worship however they choose. Next the opinion states that religious freedom sometimes “collides” with laws designed to protect.

The state’s interest in keeping the children from harm outweighed the parents’ “ … choice to live on ministry property, work for the ministry and depend on the ministry,” for every need, the opinon states.

“In some cases, the facts tip the balance in favor of protecting the child, and against the parent’s liberty—even in matters of conscience and religious conviction,” the Thorne opinion states. “This is one of those cases.”

In: 2010

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