November 4, 2007
Conviction Of Clergyman Reversed
In a divided opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a statute that makes it a crime for a member of the clergy to engage in sexual penetration with a person seeking " religious or spiritual advice, aid or comfort in private." The court majority held that the statute was not void for vagueness and evenly split on the facial constitutionality of the statute, thus upholding the decision affirming the conviction by the court of appeals on that ground. However, the admission of extensive evidence with respect to church practices and doctrine "necessarily caused entanglement of religion with the verdict and conviction." The case involved a clergyman who had engaged in sexual relationships with two members of his parish.
A dissent would affirm: Noting the power imbalance between the defendant and the victims, one of whom was suffering from depression, the dissent contends that the statute is grounded in "secular legislative determinations, not on church doctrine...when [the defendant] first came to the church, he made a list of 20 women, 14 of whom he said late 'hit' on him; and out of the 14,12 were married." (Mike Frisch)
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