5/11/10 – TG: Alamo group: Revive lawsuit. Group argues constitutional rights have been violated

Texarkana Gazette
May 11, 2010
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo group: Revive lawsuit
Church argues constitutional rights have been violated

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries wants a federal appeals court to revive a civil lawsuit a lower court threw out in February.

In an appeal brief filed Monday, the church argues that its constitutional rights to free association and the free exercise of religion have been violated by custody proceedings concerning the children of ministry loyalists. The brief asserts that U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes failed to consider those rights when he ruled against the ministry Feb. 2.

The appeal, like the complaint in the civil suit, accuses the State of Arkansas of using a child abuse investigation to disband the controversial group because it has mistakenly identified it as a “cult.”

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and two members whose children were the subject of state custody proceedings are named as plaintiffs in the civil suit.

In his February opinion, Barnes ruled that the two fathers whose children had been taken by the state amid allegations of abuse and neglect could not make their complaints about DHS in federal court. Long-established “abstention” doctrine that prevents federal courts from interfering in state court proceedings was cited. The fathers are not appealing Barnes’ ruling and have filed appeals in state court.

“Plaintiffs argue that Tony Alamo Christian Ministries is not a party to the dependency-neglect proceedings and therefore has not had a reasonable opportunity to raise its constitutional claims in any ongoing state proceeding,” Barnes’ February order said. “However, the court finds that TACM lacks standing to raise its claims. TACM claims injuries to its ministries because of a decline in membership, resulting in fewer workers … a decrease in donations; and a decline in recipients of its outreach services …”

Barnes’ opinion stated that federal law doesn’t protect the ministry from such loss and that a dismissal was in order.

In the appeal brief filed on the ministry’s behalf by Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall Jr., the ministry argues Barnes didn’t sufficiently address the issue of whether abstention was being applied to the ministry in his ruling.

Hall further argues Barnes made a mistake when evaluating the church’s claim that it is being harmed by the state.

“The church alleges in its complaint, among other things, that the defendants are attempting to put it out of business by taking away children and then forcing the parents out of the church before they can just get permission from the state to reunite with their children. The church respectfully submits the district court erred in viewing this as merely a monetary question, not a free exercise and free association claim. The church is thus not a mere ‘concerned bystander’ to the defendants’ actions … it is a direct victim.”

The appeal argues the church’s claim that it suffered injury because of religious reasons is enough to prove standing to bring the civil suit. The church is asking the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Barnes’ decision and send the case back to his court for a second look.

In: 2010

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