Church Brawl Justifies|Order Protecting Priest | Courthouse News Service
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Church Brawl Justifies|Order Protecting Priest

(CN) - A priest is entitled to a restraining order against a congregant who warned, "You will depart this church either dead or alive," the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled.

The Oct. 29 decision describes the priest only as E.T., the pastor at a small church for 11 years. It describes a schism, as it were, between those who were loyal to E.T. and those who were against him.

This rift erupted into a violent brawl one afternoon after services. Video footage of the melee showed E.T. staying out of the physical confrontations, protected by three or four loyalists.

The video shows Tsige Belete and others trying to break through this shield, with Belete throwing a container of powdered creamer at E.T.'s head but missing.

Belete and her husband were kicked out of the building, but they returned, with her husband trying to hit one of E.T.'s defenders with a folding chair. A third man intervened before police arrived to break up the fight.

E.T. later testified that he did not try to exclude Belete from the church because he felt as though his job was to resolve the conflict with forgiveness.

Seven months later, however, Belete threw a garbage can at E.T. She missed, but some of the garbage fell onto E.T. She yelled at E.T. and said, "You will depart this church either dead or alive."

E.T. filed for a stalking protective order, stating repeatedly: "I was scared for my life."

Belete appealed, arguing that her actions were not objectively alarming and that the parties knew each other for years without incident. The Oregon Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the protective order.

"She wants past peace to give context to present violence," Judge James Egan wrote for the court. "But respondent's past peaceful behavior is not relevant on appeal because petitioner testified that respondent 'completely changed from the way I used to know her.'"

The judge compared the small church setting to a workplace or a romantic relationship, "where passions are aroused and may go unresolved."

Though Belete had noted that others witnessed the incidents, Egan found that this fact makes her actions more alarming, not less.

"Public violence is objectively alarming in this context because individual violence tends to encourage group violence," he wrote. "In fact, after respondent threw the creamer container at petitioner's head, her husband attempted to hit a man who had been defending petitioner over the head with a chair."

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