Texas Supreme Court rejects exorcism lawsuit

Chris Rizo Jun. 28, 2008, 11:37am

Justice David Medina

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of the church she attended.

The justices ruled that the exorcism was a matter of church doctrine and subject to certain First Amendment religious protections, and thus the case would "unconstitutionally entangle the court in matters of church doctrine."

In its 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that a lower court erred when it said the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God's First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion did not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress brought on by a "hyper-spiritualistic environment."

Laura Schubert sued the Colleyville, Texas, church in 2002, claiming she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members performed an exorcism on her in 1996, when she was 17.

Attorneys for the church said her psychological problems were triggered by traumatic events she witnessed with her missionary parents in Africa.

The church also claimed Schubert was acting out to gain attention.

In 2002, a Tarrant County jury found the church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl.

The jury awarded her $300,000. The 2nd Court of Appeals later reduced the verdict to $188,000.

In the high court's majority opinion, Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable "would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs."

The court ruling added: "We do not mean to imply that 'under the cloak of religion, persons may, with impunity,' commit intentional torts upon their religious adherents."

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson dissented. He said providing the church immunity goes against U.S. Supreme Court precedent and is far beyond constitutional protections for religious conduct.

"The First Amendment guards religious liberty; it does not sanction intentional abuse in religion's name," Jefferson wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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