In what could be an extremely important constitutional case, Laura Schubert (now Laura Schubert Pearson) has filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court in Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert. Schubert lawsuit alleging false imprisonment and assault by the pastor and the church was dismissed by the Texas Supreme Court, which held (6 to 3) that any trial would unconstitutionally entangle the court in church matters.
We have previously discussed this case where Pearson was abused as part of a fundamentalist exorcism. A jury ruled for her and against the church and awarded $300,000. I do not understand the notion that such a trial entangled church and state or interfered with religious practices. The case presented, in my view, a standard tort — albeit in a less than standard context. The important factor is that a church cannot physically harm a minor by claiming divine justification.
This abuse began after her parents left her at a youth camp where students were forced to work and pray with little rest and little food. Schubert reported that she thought she saw a demon and was immediately set upon by the adult spiritual counselors who brought her before all of the kids.
The dissent noted that, even accepting the facts in the light most favorable to the church, it is pretty damning:
Here, assuming all facts favorable to the verdict, members of Pleasant Glade restrained Schubert on two separate occasions against her will. During the first encounter, seven members pinned her to the floor for two hours while she cried, screamed, kicked, flailed, and demanded to be released. This violent act caused Schubert multiple bruises, carpet burns, scrapes, and injuries to her wrists, shoulders, and back. As she testified, “I was being grabbed by my wrists, on my ankles, on my shoulders, everywhere. I was fighting with everything I had to get up, I was telling them, no. I was telling them, let go, leave me
alone. They did not respond at all.” After Schubert “complied with what they wanted [her] to do,” she was temporarily released. Fifteen minutes later, at the direction of Pleasant Glade’s youth pastor, a different group of seven church members physically restrained her for an hour longer. After this experience, Schubert was “weak from exhaustion” and could hardly stand.
Three days later, a male church member approached Schubert after a service and put his arm around her shoulders. At this point, Schubert was still trying to figure out “what had happened” at the previous incident, “wasn’t interested in being touched,” and resisted him. As Schubert testified, “I tried to scoot away from him. He scooted closer. He was more persistent. Finally, his grasp on me just got hard . . . before I knew it, I was being grabbed again.” Eight members of Pleasant Glade then proceeded to hold the crying, screaming, seventeen year-old Schubert spread-eagle on the floor as she thrashed, attempting to break free. After this attack, Schubert was unable to stand without assistance and has no recollection of events immediately afterward. On both occasions, Schubert was scared and in pain, feeling that she could not breathe and that “somebody was going to break
[her] leg,” not knowing “what was going to happen next.”
After the exorcism, Pearson dropped out of high school in her senior year, began to cut herself as many as 100 times over several years, and refused to leave the house. Pearson slit her wrists with a box cutter. Her father left the faith and stopped being a minister. He is now an agnostic.
For the Texas Supreme Court decision, click here.
For the dissent, click here.