Judge to parents: Leave sect, get kids back

Asscociated Press/November 22, 2008

Texarkana - A judge has told parents of two teenage girls removed from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound that they can have their children back if they sever ties with the community.

They were among six girls taken from the compound in a raid on Sept. 20 amid allegations of beatings and sexual abuse. This past week, 11 boys and nine more girls, ranging in age from 1 to 17, were taken into state care.

Alamo, 74, has been indicted for alleged violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits children being moved from one state to another for sexual purposes.

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson heard testimony in the past week that children at the compound received beatings for seemingly minor infractions.

He said the parents of two of the girls taken away in the September raid had to move away from Alamo's compound and demonstrate financial independence if their children were to be returned to them.

"I am not trying to infringe on their religious practices, only the practices that were found to be neglectful or abuse," Hudson said Friday after the hearing, which was closed to the media because minors are involved.

The state Department of Human Services alleges one of the girls had been beaten and that the other had witnessed abuse.

The judge said that while the two girls' parents cannot live on church property or work for the church, they can continue to attend religious services there.

A review is scheduled for Feb. 14 and about every 90 days afterward to see if the parents are complying. If not, the state could recommend that their parental rights be terminated, the judge said.

Following the hearing, the girls, ages 14 and 16, were allowed to meet briefly with their parents before state social workers escorted them away.

Hearings regarding living arrangements for the other four girls taken in the Sept. 20 are expected to continue this coming week.

Alamo is set for trial on Feb. 2.

He has preached that the Bible allows girls to marry once they reach puberty but has said he didn't adopt the practice. However, witness testimony and assertions from prosecutors indicate otherwise.

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