Texarkana, Arkansas - A judge will decide the fate of 23 children removed from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries on allegations of beatings and sexual abuse. Circuit Judge Joe Griffin begins a hearing tomorrow in Texarkana that is expected to last at least a week. Griffin will decide whether the children, who were removed from the ministry in November and December, should remain in foster care, go to live with relatives outside the ministry or be allowed to return to their parents.
The 14 boys and nine girls are among 36 children who have been placed in state custody since the Alamo compound near Fouke was raided September 20th because of claims of abuse and child pornography. No pornography was found in the raid.
Griffin is expected to hear testimony from child welfare officials, who say Tony Alamo Christian Ministries punishes children with beatings, and from parents who say the allegations are part of an attempt to destroy their church.
The 74-year-old Alamo remains in federal custody, awaiting trial May 11th on an indictment that alleges he transported girls across state lines for sexual purposes. The minister has denied the charges but says his religious beliefs allow girls to marry when they reach puberty.