12/30/08 – Lawyer: Alamo civilly liable for alleged abuse

Houston Chronicle
December 30, 2008
By JON GAMBRELL Associated Press Writer

Lawyer: Alamo civilly liable for alleged abuse

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jailed evangelist Tony Alamo can’t use religious freedom to shield himself from a lawsuit claiming abuse occurred at his ministries, a lawyer suing the preacher says.

In federal court filings this week, W. David Carter wrote that protecting the public trumps constitutional protections afforded to religion. Carter, who represents two former members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, said courts have allowed similar suits in the past.

“Alamo’s religious ‘belief’ that he can beat, sexually abuse and otherwise mistreat children is guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Carter wrote. “Acting on that belief, however, is not.”

Alamo, 74, faces trial in February on charges he took children across state lines for sex. Carter’s suit on behalf of former members Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek seeks more than $75,000 for damages for physical abuse they say they suffered as children in the ministry. The suit also claims the evangelist ordered disciplinary “coffee and water” fasts for days at a time.

Alamo’s lawyer, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, previously asked for the court to remove religious references from the civil suit. However, Hall’s filing said Alamo’s defense to each of the allegations made in the suit was based largely on the Bible, and the filing cites numerous biblical passages — something Carter questioned.

The filing “is a perfect example of Defendant Alamo’s somewhat schizophrenic perception of the world,” Carter wrote. “The motion is laced with reference to his religious beliefs (including some 30 scriptural references), yet at the same time he contends his religious views have no place in this litigation.”

Carter said the court also should allow references to Alamo’s theology and criminal history to remain in the suit. The Texarkana, Texas, lawyer says Alamo’s ministry recently issued a new tract describing a run-in the evangelist had with a judge — as well as a warning about bad things that have happened to judges who have “ruled against us unjustly.”

Hall said Tuesday that using Bible verses illustrated the points he wanted to make on his client’s behalf. However, he questioned whether Carter or others could show where religious fasting crossed the line into physical abuse.

“It’s a religious belief and while he can try and prove that it was unnecessary, (Carter) can’t get into what the religious purpose is,” Hall said. “We may very well have to get into it in defense of it.”

Arkansas State Police and federal agents raided Alamo’s compound at Fouke on Sept. 20, searching for evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex. Five days later, FBI agents arrested the evangelist as he left a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz.

In the time since, state officials have seized 36 children associated with Alamo ministries in Fort Smith and Fouke. A court order offered the names and possible addresses of 126 children who could be at risk of abuse from the church, though officials acknowledge more could be out there.

Alamo, who previously was convicted of federal tax-related charges in 1994, remains jailed without bond. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and has denied the allegations in the civil lawsuit.

In a posting attributed to Alamo on his ministry’s Web site, the jailed evangelist notes that prison guards can use pepper spray or Mace against rowdy inmates.

“The courts say that it’s wrong to spank a child,” the posting reads. “Is it (all right) then to spray them with pepper spray or Mace?”

In: 2000-2007

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