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WT fights to protect molesters
The court battles continue
 
Thursday, December 18, 2003
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Jehovah's Witness congregations argues first-amendment rights

Lauri Zachry
Staff Writer

Two Jehovah's Witnesses congregations, the Amarillo-Southwest congregation and the Dumas congregation, are seeking a court order to protect them from releasing documents in a civil lawsuit who claims a former elder sexually abused her.
Amy B., the plaintiff, filed a negligence suit in the 251st District Court at the beginning of June against Larry Kelley, a former church elder in Amarillo and Dumas, the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of New York, the Dumas congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Amarillo-Southwest congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The first papers of the suit said the Jehovah's Witnesses appointed Kelley to the position of elder of the Dumas congregation before 1988. The suit said the Dumas congregation gave Kelley "the specific assignment of instructing and supervising children in the congregation." The suit said the Watchtower group encouraged the families of the Dumas congregation to send their children to the Kelley's home for "instruction and supervision."

The suit said Kelley used his position as an elder "with supervisory responsibility over children to sexually abuse them." The suit said this happened while Kelley served in Dumas.

Watchtower then transferred Kelley to the Amarillo-Southwest congregation and he became a ministerial servant. He was responsible for the children of the congregation.

Amy B. attended the Amarillo-Southwest congregation when she was eight years old and is now 23 years old.

The suit said this is when the alleged sexual abuse began for her. The suit said the plaintiff was allegedly abused from 1988-1992. In 1992, Kelley was convicted of indecency with a child and sexual contact.

The brief states when he committed his only indecency with a child offense, it was not with a young girl from the Dumas congregation, but it was with a girl who lived in Amarillo.

The court records which were filed last Tuesday said the Dumas issues arose in 1985 and didn't involve the plaintiff in any way.

Kelley said in the brief "I felt such disgust for my behavior that I went to the elders of the Dumas congregation the next day and confessed what I had done."

Kelley said in the Dumas congregation he served as an elder, but was never given the specific assignment of instructing and supervising children in the congregation.

The brief said he was removed immediately from all positions of authority and was forbidden to make any comment at any meeting. He said he was then instructed to go to his wife and to the girl's parents and tell them what he had done. In Kelley's brief, he said he wasn't transferred by the Watchtower defendants, but he moved to Amarillo for business reasons.

In 1992, Kelley spent several months incarcerated and completed 10 years of therapy in an approved sex offenders and victims program. He also completed 10 years of "shock probation."

"I don't intend to minimize my offense, but plaintiff implies abuse took place from 1988 through 1992. There were only two instances of sexual misconduct," Kelley's brief said.

Both congregations have filed court documents denying claims in the suit.

In court records, the Dumas and Amarillo congregations claim producing various documents sought by the plaintiff would violated their constitutional rights.

"Jehovah's Witnesses have a constitutional right by and through the First and Fourteenth Amendments, respectively, to be free from a government order compelling the church to disclose its confidential and exclusive religious doctrines, teachings and beliefs," the motion states.

The motion says a court order compelling the church to produce some documents would violate the church's constitutional right to freely practice its faith.

"If confidential or non-relevant privileged and sensitive materials are produced, then the impact will be felt not only in this proceeding, but in other venues as well. The Amarillo and Dumas congregations as well as Watchtower New York desire to keep confidential and privileged the materials regarding ecclesiastical affairs from public dissemination," the motion states.

 

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