A Matter of Faith or a Matter of Tort: Schubert Files Petition with Supreme Court in Texas Exorcism Case

TexasIn 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.

13 thoughts on “A Matter of Faith or a Matter of Tort: Schubert Files Petition with Supreme Court in Texas Exorcism Case”

  1. Pro-life persons who bomb abortion clinics contradict themselves, especially if there are people inside the buildings at the time.

    It’s kind of how PETA puts down stray animals that they come across.
    Ethical treatment? I think not

  2. CEJ,
    Don’t you remember, Sarah from Alaska said that people who bomb abortion clinics or kill doctors are not terrorist. She can’t be wrong, can she??

  3. Speaking of palin’ around with terrorists: what about all those
    “right to lifers” and their targeting of abortion clinics?

  4. Former Fed,
    I can barely say “the theocratic conundrum caapital”, but you are correct. There has to be a reason why too many of these crazy religion issues seem to happen in Texas. Wasn’t that alleged bigamist that the state raided and took away the kids also in Texas?
    I think you are spot on with your establishment argument. The court would have been all over the church if it was a Muslim mosque that was involved.

  5. Texas is a conundrum. Religion there is paramount. Many of my relatives are Texans and all of them are conservative Republicans, as I am. However, with prejudicial blindness, they espouse the current Republican and religious doctrine along with expressing unquestionable admiration for Sarah Palin! Even after all of the abundant self-evident misery Mr. Bush has wrecked on this once proud Nation, their harshest criticism of him is that “he was a disappointment,” while I seek harsh retribution for his malfeasance.

    These good, honest, ethical, hardworking people abide by man’s law, although subservient to god’s supremacy. Most are far more intelligent than Palin; some are exceptionally brilliant and educated while occupying the pinnacle of their highly skilled professions.

    I am often astounded at their unquestioning allegiance to Party and god, notwithstanding any exceptional measures of contradictory evidence. Therefore, there are many highly intelligent individuals with IQs and skills that might far exceed those who frequent this forum, but whose faith is so overwhelming strong that it trumps all secular countenances.

    From my thoroughly atheistic perspective, the Texas Supreme Court was jurisprudentially negligent in dismissing this case. The fundamentalist Christian theocracy that seemingly permeates Texas’ entire societal infrastructure likely influenced the court’s judicial incompetence.

    One common lamenting refrain emanating from some of Texas’ religious electorate, after learning that Barrack Hussein Obama had won the presidency, was simply, “God Bless America.”

    Texas is *the* theocratic conundrum capital of the U.S.A.

  6. This talk of Texas and religion reminds me of when I lived in NJ for a time about 30 years ago in the days when Don Imus was on WNBC radio. Back then he was actually funny and very irreverent (I think it was during his white powder days).

    He used to do a character on his show that he’d introduce as (I hope I remember this correctly)…the Right Reverend Doctor Bill Sol Hartgas of the First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship speaking to you from the gold buckle of the Bible belt in Del Rio, Texas. Home of Holyland Amusement Park…..

  7. rcampbell:

    Right you are. And you know the Pope is a RC and maybe he has some skeletons to hide too. This association game is fun!

  8. I think this ruling also violates the establishment clause in this way: Suppose a christian girl had been taken to a mosque and these very same actions were done to her there. The TX court would not have ruled as it did (if they had they would have gotten death threats from the very people applauding the current ruling). They are privileging the christian church over islam and thus establishing the christian church as the state church.

  9. I agree with you rafflaw. The court is saying that if a church does something that would otherwise be considered illegal, it may not be proscecuted. How does this square with priests being put in jail for sexual abuse of children? I don’t see how this ruling can stand. Religious actions do not stand above secular law. That seems to be a cornerstone of our Constitution. Do we now release the pediphile priests? Is Jim Baker owed money for false imprisonment because he only bilked his church and other christians?

    What these people did was illegal. It caused a person to be physical and psychological harm. This is a dangerous, unconstitutional ruling which I hope will be overturned. If it is not, it has wideranging implications for the rule of law (such as it is). Bush will probably form the First Church of Torture at Gitmo and claim he is only performing exocisisms on detainees!

  10. Mespo

    I also noticed in the Wikipedia article on McVeigh that he was raised a Roman Catholic, but later rejected that and all other religions. Do the wackos mean that everyone given Catholic training should be viewed as terrorists? Or should all atheists and agnostics be viewed as terrorists because McVeigh ultimately took that view? Is Obama considered a terrorist by these loonies because he was exposed briefly to Islam and it shaped his life forever (did Catholicism do this to McVeigh?) or should his adult acceptance (while McVeigh was rejecting religion) of Christianity exclude that charge? I guess we must now render all the white, Roman Catholics who were ever in the military as dangerous terrorist subjects and send them to Gitmo.

  11. Prof. Turley,
    I almost couldn’t finish reading this posting on this important case because of the latest batch of the human spammers that are infesting the “internet tubes”. I agree with you that the Texas Supreme Court was incorrect in dismissing this case on the grounds that hearing it would intangle the State into Church affairs. Actually, by not hearing it, the State is entangled even deeper into religous matters by deciding that religious leaders can do anything to anyone without recourse. Of course, in order to fully understand the logic at play here, we have to remember our geography. It happened in Texas! If Alberto Gonzales can make it to the Texas Supreme Court, that explains a lot. I hope the the Writ of Certiorari is accepted by the Supremes. At least they don’t have any Texas connections….on second thought, maybe they do!

  12. I don’t know about everyone else but I am enjoying the exquisite irony of our spammers here whose frail and unlettered attempts to convince us of their position prove beyond doubt the opposite position. See, the know-nothings do have some use.

    One final note on the palling around with terrorists issue: if I were our spammer I’d be careful with that guilt by (albeit tenuous at best) association argument. I do recall that the the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was quite the military prototype. [From Wikipedia:”He was a decorated veteran of the United States Army, having served in the Gulf War, where he was awarded a Bronze Star. He had been a top scoring gunner with the 25mm cannon of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles used by the U.S. 1st Infantry Division to which he was assigned. He served at Fort Riley, Kansas, before Operation Desert Storm. At Fort Riley, McVeigh completed the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC). McVeigh later would say that the Army taught him how to switch off his emotions.”]

    Should we then infer that all of those soldiers McVeigh “palled around” with in the service and indeed those subjected to the same training and culture as he experienced are equally tainted. If so, our spammers remark that “OBAMA WILL NEVER BE RESPECTED BY THOSE MEN & WOMEN THAT SERVE IN THE UNITED STATES MILITARY BECAUSE OF THE TERRORISTS HE PALLS AROUND WITH (emphasis & stupidity his),” should not concern us too much because our spammer has indicted the patriotism of our troops as well. Class acts these neo-con drones!

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