Little Rock - The state Court of Appeals today rejected four appeals filed by members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries whose children were placed in the care of the state after being removed from the ministry's compound in Fouke in November 2008.
The parents, Don Thorne, Albert and Miriam Krantz, Bethany Myers and Carlos and Sophia Parrish, wanted the appeals court to overturn a Miller County circuit judge's ruling that the children were neglected.
They argued there was no evidence that the children were mistreated in any way, and that the circuit court violated their right to free exercise of their religion.
The Court of Appeals issued a full-length opinion rejecting Thorne's appeal and short opinions in the other cases saying those appeals were rejected for the same reasons.
The state did not have to show that the children were personally abused to support the argument that they were neglected, the court said.
"A child may be adjudicated dependent-neglected even if he or she has not yet suffered abuse," Judge Rita Gruber wrote, noting that the children were living "in a secretive, communal environment that included sexual abuse of young girls, underage marriage, fasting and beatings."
The parents argued that evidence of corporal punishment should be discounted because it was not supported by medical evidence. The appeals court disagreed.
That argument "is disingenuous in view of the testimony showing that the ministry discourages its members from seeking medical assistance," Gruber wrote.
The parents also argued that court-ordered visitation plans violated their freedom of religion by requiring them to obtain stable employment and safe and stable housing away from the ministry's property.
The appeals court said the circuit judge acknowledged a duty to protect the parents' right of freedom of religion, but the court agreed with the judge's conclusion that the state's interest in preventing potential harm to the children outweighed the parents' right to choose, based on their religion, to live in the ministry's compound.