FORT WORTH, Texas – The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters. [...]
Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members’ actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. [...]
The 2002 trial of the case never touched on the religious aspects, and a Tarrant County jury found the Colleyville church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl. The jury awarded her $300,000, though the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth later reduced the verdict to $188,000.
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.”
A Dallas attorney, defending the Texas Court’s decision, said that “no one should think Friday’s ruling would give protection to a church leader accused of abusing a child.” But as PZ Meyers points out, that’s precisely what this decision did.
There is one thing I’d disagree with PZ about. PZ frames this case as being about religion:
No religious beliefs are to be examined critically, no matter how disturbing they may be. That’s the way things work down in Texas, I guess.
But only Christian churches would ever be accommodated this way; if a similar situation ever comes up involving a non-Christian religion in Texas, the Court will distinguish that case from this one, so the abusers may be punished. As David of The Debate Link argued in a paper last year (pdf file — see pages 58-64), US Courts tend to find that the first amendment requires bending the law to accommodate Christian customs and practice — even as it forbids bending the law to accommodate the customs and practices of minority religions.
If I’m right about that, then a peculiar and ironic result of the favoritism Courts give to Christianity is that Christian kids (especially girls) may (in this one, narrow area of the law) effectively have less legal protection than kids from minority religions.
This sort of logic chills me. I quickly can see the implications for women’s rights outside of just the basic right not to be assaulted during a bout of make-believe over demons that people have convinced themselves is real. Most of these churches are anti-choice—what if they argue that their religious freedom gives them the right to kidnap and contain women that they suspect of being sexual active or of seeking abortion or contraception? Is there a time limit on how long a church can restrain a woman because they believe their god gives them ownership over her body?
Or — seeking to be slightly less blatant about it — couldn’t a Texas church simply say that they’ve perceived a demon in any girl or woman whose plans they disapprove of, and hold and torture her on that basis?