- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound that they can have their children back if they sever most of their ties to the community.

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

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

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson heard testimony last 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 Mr. 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,” Judge Hudson said Friday after the hearing, which was closed to the media because minors were involved.

The state Department of Human Services says that 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 whether the parents are complying. If not, the state could recommend that their parental rights be terminated, the judge said.

After the hearing, the girls, 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 raid are expected to continue this week.

Mr. 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, prosecutors say witness testimony indicates otherwise.

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