Court reverses judgment against church in exorcisms - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Court reverses judgment against church in exorcisms

A jury gave girl $300,000 for trauma she said the rites caused

AUSTIN — A North Texas Pentecostal church should not be held liable for emotional trauma a former parishioner suffered as a youth when church members physically restrained and touched her during two exorcism attempts in 1996, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court's decision reverses a $300,000 judgment a jury ordered paid to Laura Schubert in 2002. Schubert was 17 at the time when fellow parishioners at the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God Church in Colleyville, in an attempt to rid her of evil spirits, held her down and "laid hands" on her body as she struggled to break free.

The original jury award was later reduced to $178,000.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, said the church's exorcism sessions were a matter of church doctrine and were thus subject to certain, though not absolute, First Amendment religious protections.

"The laying of hands" and the presence of demons are part of the church's belief system and accepted as such by its adherents," the ruling said in part. "These practices are not normally dangerous or unusual and apparently arise in the church with some regularity. They are thus to be expected and are accepted by those in the church."

An attorney for the church hailed the ruling. Several years ago, the church merged with another church and now calls itself the Colleyville Assembly of God Church.

"The key point of this ruling is that we don't have a right to have our standards of reasonableness foisted upon some other religion," Dallas attorney David Pruessner said. "None of our religious beliefs can be examined when they are emotionally disturbing to other people."

Neither Schubert nor her father, Tom Schubert, who was a minister and missionary with the church at the time of his daughter's exorcisms, could be reached for comment Friday. Both are believed to live out of state.

The attorney who represented Laura Schubert did not return a call for comment.

In her original suit against the church, Laura Schubert said she suffered lasting emotional trauma in 1996 when, on two separate occasions in one week, church members held her down and "laid hands" on her while she cried, kicked, clenched her fists, gritted her teeth and made guttural noises.

She said the ordeal left her deeply depressed and suicidal and needing psychiatric help. She dropped out of high school.

Concerns over abuse

A jury, which was not permitted to hear references to the exorcisms, ordered the church to pay Schubert $300,000 after finding it liable for falsely imprisoning and abusing her.

Friday's ruling means the church won't have to fork over any money, Pruessner said, adding that his legal fees were paid by the church's insurance company.

The Supreme Court said churches couldn't inflict intentional harm on their subjects and claim protections under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

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

Pruessner said no one should think Friday's ruling would give protection to a church leader accused of abusing a child.

"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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