Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations in Amarillo and Dumas are seeking a court order protecting them from releasing documents in a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims a former church elder sexually abused her.
The negligence suit, filed earlier this year in 251st District Court, was filed by Amy B. against Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Larry Kelley and several other organizations, including the Dumas Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Amarillo-Southwest Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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According to the suit:
The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization appointed Larry Kelley as a Dumas church elder sometime before 1988. Kelley, who performed a puppet show to instruct the congregation’s children, used his post to sexually abuse children. In 1992, Kelley was convicted of indecency with a child.
While Kelley was a Dumas elder, church officials learned he was sexually abusing children in the congregation but did not report the abuse to authorities or warn other church members.
Kelley later was transferred to the Amarillo congregation and abused other children, including the plaintiff, who was 8 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse.
Both congregations have filed court documents denying claims in the suit.
Kelley filed a response to the suit admitting that he committed indecency with a child but denied some of the suit’s allegations. In court documents, Kelley said he completed 10 years in a sex offender program and has finished 10 years of shock probation.
“I don’t intend to minimize my offense, however, plaintiff implies that abuse took place from 1988 through 1992 when, in fact, there were only two instances of sexual contact,” Kelley’s court response states.
In court records filed Tuesday, the Dumas and Amarillo congregations claim that producing various documents sought by the plaintiff would violate 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.
The Dumas congregation also has asked the judge not to compel the church to produce letters written by elders of the Dumas congregation.
“Specifically, the letters contain information obtained by or fruits of confidential communication with elders of the Dumas congregation from Larry Kelley during the course of spiritual and scriptural counseling between Larry Kelley and elders of the Dumas congregation.” according to court documents.