What started out as a custody case is now snowballing into a battle between the Bruderhof religious community and a loosely knit group of former members and opponents.
The developments came in the wake of the dismissal of one of three custody cases yesterday after an Ulster County Family Court judge determined the court does not have jurisdiction.
In the ruling, Judge Mary Work found that the mother and the child are both residents of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, two other mothers involved in the case, who live in Bruderhof communities in England, have also asked Judge Work to dismiss the proceedings. That decision is expected any day.
In an unusual news conference yesterday, Bruderhof leadership said they will not tolerate what they dubbed a "smear campaign" by a "disgruntled group of folks."
The religious group, based in Rifton, is pressing a defamation case against one man who has been critical of the group in a newsletter circulated among former Bruderhof members.
Christian Domer, president of Bruderhof Communities of New York Inc., said the newsletter reported one mother and her children involved in the Ulster custody cases were whisked away in the middle of the night by current group members.
Domer said that claim was completely false.
Three Nigerian men, former members of the Bruderhof, had filed a custody case in the Ulster County Family Court in late July seeking access to their children, who are still part of the community.
"It's not so much the issue of the three fathers; it is a concerted agenda on the part of a group of disgruntled folks, some of them former members of the Bruderhof," Domer said.
At the press conference yesterday, an 82-year-old former member of the Bruderhof and a lawyer representing one of the three men filing the custody cases were denied entry.
Domer also submitted an affidavit to the Family Court to clear the "false, misleading and unfair characterization of the Bruderhof."
He said the Bruderhof has filed a defamation case against one individual.
Domer stated in his affidavit that the man is "one of the most vocal critics" and "the source of the spurious allegation that the Bruderhof used its jet planes to remove the families from New York."