10/01/09 – TG: Judge: Religious freedom doesn’t allow Alamo to order beatings

Texarkana Gazette
October 1, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge: Religious freedom doesn’t allow Alamo to order beatings

The constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom didn’t give Tony Alamo the right to order beatings, force fasts and falsely imprison, according to a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by two men who claim to have been beaten as children at Alamo’s bidding.

“The principle of religious liberty does not give one the liberty to physically attack others; when a threat to society’s or another individual’s safety appears, the power of the state to prevent or punish is obvious,” said a decision from U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes. “While an individual’s beliefs that he can beat and falsely imprison plaintiffs and intentionally inflict emotional distress upon them is protected by the First Amendment, acting on these beliefs is reasonably prohibited by Arkansas law.”

Barnes’ opinion explained that Alamo claims the beatings alleged in the complaint were merely Bible-sanctioned spankings and that the conduct is protected by the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

Barnes wrote that “religious exercise” can’t hurt others and go unchecked because it’s done in the name of religion.

Barnes ruled that the religious references made in the complaint will remain because the conduct, alleged battery, false imprisonment, outrage and conspiracy, “appears to be religiously motivated.”

Claims of outrage and conspiracy won’t be dismissed from the complaint filed on behalf of Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna by Texarkana attorney David Carter either, Barnes ruled.

“Here plaintiffs allege that Alamo has engaged in or conspired to engage in a pattern of conduct designed to cause injury to plaintiffs, including withholding of food from plaintiffs for a prolonged time period, ordering severe and sometimes public beatings of plaintiffs and verbally abusing plaintiffs during those beatings,” Barnes’ opinion said.

Alamo, 75, and John Kolbek, 50, Alamo’s alleged enforcer, are accused of conspiring to harm Ondrisek and Calagna while the now 19-year-old men lived on ministry properties with their parents in Fort Smith and Fouke, Ark.

Kolbek is currently a fugitive who’s wanted by state and federal authorities in connection with the alleged beating of Calagna.

The suit against Kolbek was severed from the one against Alamo because Kolbek never filed a response to the suit after being served with notice of it in a local newspaper.

A hearing is scheduled before Barnes next month at which proceedings to levy a default judgment against the missing Kolbek will proceed.

Barnes granted a defense motion Wednesday to strike prejudicial matter from the complaint.

The order said Carter won’t be able to refer to Alamo’s criminal convictions, can’t mention the designation of Alamo Ministries as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and must refrain from describing Alamo’s theology as known for “its virulent paranoia and anti-Catholisicm views.”

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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