Mirecki treated after roadside beating

Douglas County sheriff’s deputies are investigating the reported beating of a Kansas University professor who’s gained recent notoriety for his Internet tirades against Christian fundamentalists and Catholics.

Religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said he was beaten early Monday morning on the side of the road in rural Douglas County by two unidentified men who’d been tailgating him in a large pickup truck. Mirecki said his attackers made references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks.

“I didn’t know them, but I’m sure they knew me,” he said.

Mirecki said in a phone interview that the incident happened as he was “going out for breakfast, taking a drive and thinking about things.” He declined to say exactly where it happened, and the sheriff’s department did not release the location, except to say it was south of Lawrence.

Mirecki said that when the pickup truck began tailgating him, he stopped his vehicle hoping it would pass. Instead, the men pulled up directly behind him, he said.

Paul Mirecki, chair of the KU religious studies department.

“They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out,” he said.

Mirecki said the beating began almost instantly. The men punched him about the head and shoulders and struck him with a metal object, he said.

About 6:40 a.m., sheriff’s deputies were called to Lawrence Memorial Hospital to take a report on the incident. Mirecki was treated at the hospital and released.

“I’m mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots,” he said.

The sheriff’s office is classifying the case as an aggravated battery. On Monday afternoon, the office asked for the public’s help finding the suspects. Mirecki described them as two white males between the ages of 30 and 40, one wearing a red visor and wool gloves and both wearing jeans.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 843-TIPS or the sheriff’s office at 841-0007.

“The information that we have is pretty basic,” Lt. Kari Wempe said. “Our investigators are working on it right now.”

Mirecki recently wrote online that he planned to teach intelligent design as mythology in an upcoming course. He wrote it would be a “nice slap” in the “big fat face” of fundamentalists.

The remarks caused an uproar, Mirecki apologized, and KU announced last week the class would be canceled. Mirecki also has been criticized for online postings he made about Catholicism dating back to 2003.

As news of Monday’s events spread, Mirecki’s supporters expressed shock.

“This whole incident is starting to cast doubt that I can actually share my thoughts effectively without someone waiting for me at my car,” said Kansas University student Andrew Stangl, president of KU’s Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics.

One of Mirecki’s most vocal critics, conservative activist John Altevogt, said he couldn’t imagine anyone he knows doing such a thing.

“This should be investigated thoroughly, and whoever did this should be punished to the full extent of the law. You don’t beat people for either their faith or their lack thereof,” he said.

But Altevogt said he was skeptical about whether Mirecki’s report was legitimate.

“He (Mirecki) has very little credibility left,” Altevogt said. “The one thing that could save his bacon is to become a martyr of sorts, or to elicit sympathy from being the victim rather than the persecutor.”

When told that some people were questioning the truth of his report, Mirecki fired back.

“The right wing wants blood, period. They’re not going to stop until they see blood. They’re not into anything else,” he said. “Whatever I do, whatever I say, they don’t believe anything because that’s the way they are… I know what happened. I got the hell beat out of me. They can say what they want.”

KU religious studies professor Tim Miller said he saw Mirecki on Monday and that he looked “scraped up.”

– Staff writer Ron Knox and 6News reporter Brooke Wehner contributed information to this article.