(RNS) The sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Gothard, whose ministry preached the subordination of women to men, has grown again.
Now 18 people -- 16 women and two men -- are suing the 81-year-old founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, and the Oak Brook, Ill.-based institute itself, a once influential Christian ministry associated with the Duggar family from TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting." Thousands of conservative Christian families have relied on the IBLP's home schooling curriculum.
"It’s very similar to the Bill Cosby situation," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, David Gibbs, referring to the sexual assault lawsuit against the comedian. "More and more victims keep coming forward telling the same story."
The story told in the pleading filed Wednesday (Feb. 17) paints Gothard and other IBLP leaders as manipulative spiritual authorities, groping girls as young as 13 and persuading them to keep the abuse from their parents. The suit also alleges that Gothard raped one young woman. One of the men suing alleges harsh physical punishment and emotional abuse from IBLP leaders. The other alleges that he was molested by a male IBLP counselor, who is not Gothard.
Gothard, who lives in La Grange, Ill., has denied all accusations. His lawyer, Glenn Gaffney, said Thursday that he filed a motion the previous day to disqualify Gibbs from the case based on "ethical lapses" and that he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case altogether. "We're very confident that these motions will be granted," he told RNS.
Gaffney said Gothard is considering a countersuit against the plaintiffs and the Recovering Grace website, on which many of them have accused their former spiritual guide. Gaffney said his client has been "left with little choice" because he "has been defamed, and the manner in which this has been done and how it all came about was a violation under Illinois law resulting in a claim for intentional affliction of emotional distress."
Gibbs -- who in the 1990s was the lead attorney in the Terri Schiavo case, representing her parents in their quest to keep their daughter alive -- said he expects the case against Gothard and IBLP to go to trial early next year. Each of the plaintiffs is asking for "no less than $50,000." The lawsuit, first filed in October against IBLP, involved five plaintiffs. In January, five more joined the suit, which added Gothard as a defendant. The judge, said Gibbs, will accept no more plaintiffs. Others who want to sue Gothard would have to file a separate suit.
No criminal charges have been filed against Gothard. Gibbs said that is in part because the statute of limitations has run out on many of the allegations.
The IBLP, from which Gothard resigned in 2014 amid allegations of sexual abuse, has distanced itself from its former leader, who founded the institute in 1961. With an estimated net worth of more than $100 million, the institute continues to preach a strict interpretation of the Bible, and the avoidance of popular culture, in conferences around the nation and the world.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last fall, Gothard said the IBLP also operated the Little Rock, Ark., facility where the Duggars' eldest son, Josh, went as a teenager after admitting that he sexually abused his younger sisters.
(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for Religion News Service)