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The God defense

Here’s a court decision I’m tempted to research a little further. It involves the Texas Supreme Court, a church I’m fairly certain I’d never belong to, Laura Schubert – a member of the church youth group who was injured, and a civil suit for damages.

Wait until you hear how she was injured.

Ft Worth Star-Telegram:

Schubert and her brother were involved with church activities while their parents were out of town. On (a) Friday evening, during preparations for a youth group garage sale, the atmosphere became “spiritually charged” when another youth said he saw a demon.

Under direction of the youth minister, the youth frantically anointed everything in the church with holy oil until, at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, the minister told the exhausted youth that they had finally been successful.

At the Sunday evening worship services, Schubert collapsed. Church members “laid hands” on her and forcibly held her arms crossed over her chest, despite her demands to be set free.

She reportedly cried, yelled, kicked, sweated and hallucinated while also making guttural noises.

She was released after she calmed down and replied with requests to say the name Jesus.

The following Wednesday, during a weekly youth service, Schubert reportedly began to act in the same manner. She curled into a fetal position and asked to be left alone. Church members thought she was in distress and held her down in a “spread eagle” position with youth members holding down her arms and legs.

During the incident, she suffered carpet burns, a scrape on her back and bruises on her wrists.

Just in case it’s not clear, they all thought she was possessed by a demon.

She was later diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, after the ordeal led to emotional outbursts, weight-loss, dropping out of school, and self-mutilation.

The parents sued and a jury found the church liable, awarding damages. An appeals court reduced the damages, but the Texas Supreme Court overturned the whole thing.

Justice David Medina, writing for the majority, said that while Schubert’s argument regarding physical injuries might be tried without mentioning religion, her case was mostly about her emotional or psychological injuries from a religious activity that was sanctioned by the church.

For the court to impose any legal liability for engaging in a religious activity “to which the church members adhere would have an unconstitutional ‘chilling effect’ by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs,” Medina wrote.

“Religious practices that might offend the rights or sensibilities of a non-believer outside the church are entitled to greater latitude when applied to an adherent within the church,” Medina wrote.

Bullshit. What offends me is a church group can hold someone against their will, move on to torment/abuse, write it off as religion, and not be held accountable. Maybe I don’t know enough about the case, but it seems to me it’s kind of hard to separate which actions caused the physical or psychological injuries. Maybe it’s because they’re the same? The judge’s majority ruling might hold a little water if I believed the psychological trauma was caused by the mere accusation she was under the thrall of the devil. Call it an exorcism, a beat-down, or what ever else you can come up with… I don’t think it would be all that hard to argue/prove the trauma resulted from being assaulted.

I picture the scene in my mind and it doesn’t just sound like a matter of civil liability; it sounds criminal. A group of people holding someone down with force (someone who’s probably suffering from exhaustion, having stayed up chasing “demons” all night), not letting her go when she begs and pleads to be let go, “laying hands” on her (a euphemism for slapping her around?), and batter and bruise her in the process. Then, still afraid for her safety, she’s brought back for more harassment the following Wednesday – where the scene repeats itself (when her fear is interpreted as “the devil’s work”). They may have sincerely believed she was possessed by a demon. I don’t really care. They could have done it in a church or in a back alley. Forget about civil liability. As far as I’m concerned they can all go to jail.

If someone can’t be held liable for damages resulting from criminal behavior, what is our tort system good for? Judge Medina wrote of being worried about a ‘chilling effect’ on a religion’s “core principles.” I find it far more chilling that a judge could excuse such abusive behavior.

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  1. In my Roman Catholic grade school the teachers made us sit on the edge of our seats to make room for our Guardian Angels. I’m not aware of any religion’s “core principles” being worth more than a piece of shit in the snow.

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