July 1, 2008
First Amendment Precludes Tort Claim for Emotional Distress Caused by Exorcism
Last week, in Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert [pdf], the Texas Supreme Court held that the First Amendment precluded a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and mental anguish by a young woman who suffered post traumatic stress after a "laying of hands" by church leaders. (The opinion never uses the word "exorcism.").
The plaintiff was awarded $300,000 by a jury, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit. The court was splintered in its decision with three dissents by various Justices. The case turned on the fact the plaintiff did not claim any physical injuries, and her psychological expert testified that he could not separate "the damages resulting from [the plaintiff's] physical restraint and the psychological trauma resulting from the discussion of demons at the church." (Op. p. 14). The majority concluded that "the imposition of tort liability for engaging in religious activity to which church members adhere would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs." (Op. p. 15).
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