Little Rock, Arkansas - A First Amendment right to religious freedom didn't give evangelist Tony Alamo permission to order beatings of his followers or force them into disciplinary fasts, as is alleged, a federal judge ruled Sept. 30.
U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes issued a series of rulings over a civil lawsuit filed against Alamo by former followers Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek. Barnes allowed the lawsuit against Alamo and alleged Alamo enforcer John Kolbeck to move to trial, ignoring the 75-year-old preacher's claims that his ministry administered "spankings" that the Bible required.
"While an individual's beliefs that he can beat and falsely imprison (the men) and intentionally inflict emotional distress upon them is protected by the First Amendment, acting on these beliefs is reasonably prohibited by Arkansas law," Barnes wrote.
Barnes also wrote that if the lawsuit's allegations were true, then Alamo acted in way that was "outrageous and utterly intolerable in a civilized society." The judge also found that the two former followers also provided enough information to show their abuse came at the hands of a conspiracy by Alamo and Kolbeck.
The lawsuit asks for more than $75,000 in damages and a jury trial over the alleged beatings it says left the two men scarred and emotionally battered.
It claims Kolbeck administered beatings with his hands or wooden paddles on Alamo's orders over petty disciplinary infractions, like playing with spray bottles or making a sarcastic remark about Harry Potter. Alamo at one point shouted "Here's Johnny!" when Kolbeck arrived for a beating, mimicking Jack Nicholson's deranged delivery during the film "The Shining," the lawsuit claims.
During another beating by Kolbeck, the lawsuit claims, Alamo hit Ondrisek at least three times himself. The lawsuit claims Alamo taunted Ondrisek by saying, "You think I like doing this? I love doing this!"
The lawsuit also claims Alamo ordered followers to obey "coffee and water" fasts for days at a time when he couldn't find the member who violated the church's rules.
Kolbeck faces a battery charge over the allegations and is wanted on federal and state felony warrants. He disappeared shortly after a 2008 raid on Alamo's compound in Fouke.
Certain aspects of the lawsuit came up during Alamo's federal trial in July over charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex. Witnesses testified about how Alamo controlled every aspect of life in his church, down to what food followers ate to the kinds of clothes they received. Women whom Alamo "married" as young as age 8 told jurors about how Alamo doled out beatings and other punishments for not obeying his every command.
Testimony also revealed Alamo's hidden assets and church bank accounts, areas that lawyers could stake claims to in civil lawsuits. Barnes is scheduled to sentence Alamo on Oct. 23 over the child-sex charges. The evangelist could face a total of 175 years in prison if given the maximum sentence.
Barnes did order the men to amend their lawsuit to take out references to Alamo's criminal history and his "virulent paranoia and anti-Catholicism views," saying those had no bearing on their allegations.