Alamo seeks removal of religious language in suit

Associated Press/December 23, 2008

Little Rock, Arkansas - A lawyer for jailed evangelist Tony Alamo asked a federal court Tuesday to remove religious references from a lawsuit against his client, saying they have the potential to draw the court into theological debate to decide the case.

John Hall of Little Rock said in a court filing that claims made by two former members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries were based on religious beliefs and not matters for argument in a court of law.

Hall gave as examples claims that Alamo engaged in practices to intimidate church members by withholding food, marrying young girls and performing severe beatings. Hall said Alamo's defense to each of these allegations was based largely on the Bible, and the filing cites numerous biblical passages.

"All of these fall within the ambit of defendant's religious beliefs," the filing says.

The suit, filed Nov. 25 in federal district court at Texarkana, claims that Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek were beaten and subjected to abuse as teenagers in the church. The suit says the former church members, now adults, suffered physical pain, emotional distress, scarring and disfigurement. It seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

Hall said in Tuesday's filing that the Bible requires spanking unruly children, and he suggested that Alamo had permission from church parents to discipline their children.

"This case will involve inquiring into religious doctrine in determining whether this was a 'spanking' or a 'beating' and whether the plaintiffs or their parents consented to them," the filing says. "One of the spankings came when Ondrisek threatened to punch defendant Alamo, over 70 years old at the time. Seems justified to the defendant."

Fasting also appears throughout the Bible and has physical and spiritual benefits, the filing says. In addition, the Bible refers to the marriage of 10-year-old Rebecca to 40-year-old Isaac and to allowing younger women to marry.

"To the extent that this court is asked to adjudicate or determine or even argue over theology or the doctrine of the Bible or Tony Alamo Christian Ministry, it is barred by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment," Hall wrote.

Alamo, 74, also faces criminal charges in federal court. He remains jailed without bond awaiting trial in February on counts that accuse him of raping and sexually abusing girls in the ministry, and taking them across state lines for purposes of sex. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

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