KINGSTON -- An Ulster County Family Court judge demanded that members of a religious community compel four children and their mothers to appear in court in a three-year custody battle.
Judge Mary Work sternly ordered the three women and four children to appear in court Friday or risk arrest warrants. The legal action is being taken by the children's fathers, who said they were evicted from the Bruderhof religious group three years ago.
The fathers -- Joseph Idiong, Ebong Ebong and Basil Ebong -- charge that they have been prevented from seeing their children. The women and children are believed to be part of the Bruderhof community in Ulster County. Work told the lawyer representing two of the three women to get out of her courtroom after he said he didn't know the whereabouts of his clients.
"I am absolutely outraged that there is a Christian organization that prevents fathers from visiting their children," said Gilda Riccardi, the court-appointed legal guardian for three of the four children. "I think they are under the control of the elders in the Bruderhof," she told the Middletown Times Herald-Record.
The three fathers -- all of whom are from Nigeria -- testified that they were evicted from the community three years ago and have since been denied visits with their wives and children.
A spokesman for the Bruderhof Community in Woodcrest said that in view of the "concern and safety of the children involved, we don't believe it is appropriate to comment at this time."
Bruderhofs focus on Christ's spirit and teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. They believe in community living, don't own private property and share everything like early Christians.
There are Bruderhof communities in Catskill in Greene County, Walden in Orange County, Rifton and Ulster Park in Ulster County, Farmington, Pa., England and Australia.