A judge on Thursday terminated the parental rights of six members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, clearing the way for the members’ children to be put up for adoption.
The rulings by Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin followed the recommendation of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which said the parents had failed to comply with orders that they move off of church property and find jobs outside the ministry.
The rulings, which came after three days of testimony in Miller County Circuit Court in Texarkana, affected the parents of 13 children from four families.
After the hearings ended, shortly after 9 p.m. Friday, the parents hurried away from the courtroom, declining to comment as they left. One mother, Mirriam Krantz, sobbed uncontrollably, clutching her husband’s arm as he led her to a sport-utility vehicle.
Cheryl Barnes, litigation specialist for the parent advocacy group CPS Watch Legal Team, called the rulings unnecessarily harsh. She noted that Tony Alamo, the ministry’s leader, is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. She said the parents will appeal the termination of their parental rights.
“The chances of these kids being exposed to Tony Alamo are slim to none now, and it’s just a tragedy that these families have been destroyed,” Barnes said.
A sheriff’s deputy said Griffin would have no comment on his ruling.
The proceedings were closed to the public, and Griffin has issued a gag order barring parents, attorneys and others from speaking with reporters about the case.
Julie Munsell, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said children whose parents’ legal rights over them are terminated would typically not put up for adoption until the appeals are resolved. She said she couldn’t comment on the ministry children’s cases because of the gag order and laws requiring child welfare proceedings to be kept confidential.
The children were taken into custody in Fouke and Texarkana in September and November 2008 amid an investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
Tony Alamo, the ministry’s 75-year-old leader, was sentenced to 175 years in prison in November after being convicted of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex.
Last year, judges in Miller County ruled that the parents could be eventually reunited with their children, but only if the parents moved off of church property and found jobs outside the ministry. While some parents have complied with the orders and have been reunited with their children, others say the orders infringe on their religious freedoms.
In November 2009, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld the removal of five of the children, all girls. However, the court did not rule on the parents’ constitutional argument because the court said the parents did not raise the issue at the trial level.
Several other appeals are pending, and the ministry has also challenged the removals in a lawsuit in federal court. The Human Services Department has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
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