Court dismisses lawsuit filed by Alamo’s church

— A judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed over the removal of children from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, saying there was no evidence the Arkansas Department of Human Services had acted in bad faith.

The lawsuit, filed by the ministry and two of its members in U.S. District Court in Texarkana in April, accused the Human Services Department of conducting a campaign of “harassment” against the church and violating the religious freedoms of its members.

The lawsuit cited the removal of 36 children from the ministry and requirements that parents move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry in order to regain custody.

In his order dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes agreed with the Human Services Department that ministry members should raise their arguments in the child-welfare proceedings rather than through a federal lawsuit.

He added that the ministry had presented no evidence the Human Services Department acted in bad faith to deny ministry members the right to practice their religion.

Ministry members “want the court to hold that bad faith is present because they disagree that the state statutory requirements for finding dependency-neglect were satisfied in their cases,” Barnes wrote. “This is an issue that can be addressed competently in state court.”

The Human Services Department contends that ministry children are endangered by practices that include allowing underage girls to marry and punishing misbehavior with beatings. Tony Alamo, the ministry’s leader, was sentenced in November to 175 years in prison after being convicted of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex.

In November, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld the removal of five children from their homes at the ministry’s complex in Fouke. The appeals court ruling did not address whether the members’ religious freedoms had been violated because the court said the members did not raise the argument at the trial level. Appeals by several other members are pending.

Arkansas, Pages 11 on 02/03/2010

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