26 Oct 2010

Alamo church opposes sealing lawsuit over children

The Pine Bluff Commercial - Arkansas April 24, 2009

by Jon Gambrell | Associated Press(AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A lawyer for jailed evangelist Tony Alamo is channeling the same people his client proclaims serve the Antichrist _ the media.

A federal court brief filed Thursday on behalf of the church asks a judge not to seal the proceedings of the ministry's lawsuit against officials with Arkansas' child-welfare agency. In the brief, lawyer Philip E. Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., argues that the proceedings should remain open to the public and reporters.

Kuhn even cites a press freedom case in his arguments, saying closing the hearings "presents a clear and immediate threat to the fair administration of justice." State officials previously asked U.S. District Court Judge Harry F. Barnes to seal the case as children and parents' names could be released, which they say is a violation of federal health privacy laws.

Kuhn wrote that all church members involved in the suit would waive their privacy rights and welcome "the opportunity to testify in an open court in a free society."

Defense lawyers "will exercise the same sensitivity and care to the identity of the children involved as the news media has shown in their fidelity to the requirements of the First Amendment and the need for confidentiality and privacy," Kuhn wrote. "The plaintiffs will jealously guard the anonymity of the children involved by every means necessary."

Speaking to The Associated Press, Kuhn said he didn't talk to Alamo before making the court filing Thursday. In tracts, Alamo has referred to reporters as "Satan's tongue" and participants in a Vatican-led conspiracy against his ministry.

"I didn't see any need for secrecy. You have to preserve the anonymity of the children," Kuhn said. "Other than that, I don't see much sense in secrecy."

Alamo, 74, remains held without bond pending a May 18 federal trial on charges he took young girls across state lines for sex. Since police and federal agents raided Alamo's southwest Arkansas compound in September, and state officials have seized 36 children associated with the ministry over allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

The lawsuit, filed April 9 on behalf of the ministry and two parents in the church, asks Barnes to issue a restraining order blocking the state from seizing children solely because their parents belong to the church. The suit also asks a judge to stop the state from forcing parents to leave the church in order to regain custody of their children.

The suit alleges that the state focused on Alamo's ministry as part of a "systematic, persistent and continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation."

No trial date has been set for the lawsuit. However, it comes as part of a flurry of legal activity as Alamo's criminal trial nears. Kuhn, who has met several times with Alamo in jail, said the timing of the civil lawsuit had nothing to do with the criminal charges.

Kuhn also said he hadn't spoken with the criminal defense lawyers representing Alamo.

"I've found that the more you mind your own business, the better off you are," the lawyer said.

Alamo continues to dictate religious messages to his church while in jail, despite needing lawyers to read him legal documents. In his most recent message, Alamo warned followers against believing the "heresy of Al Gore's talk of global warming." Instead, Alamo said the heat came from the "global scorching" of a wrathful God.

"These events are not caused by aerosol cans of hairspray or deodorant, but are curses from God himself because of mankind's continuous sinning," the message reads.

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