U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear forced exorcism case

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear the case of a former Texas woman who claims she was physically and emotionally abused during a forced exorcism in 1996.

Laura Schubert Pearson, 29, says she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God performed an exorcism on her, when she was 17.

She sued the Colleyville, Texas, church in 2002. A Tarrant County jury found the church and its members liable for abuse and falsely imprisoning the girl. She was awarded $300,000. An appeals court in Fort Worth later reduced the verdict to $188,000.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected the jury award in late June, ruling that the exorcism was a matter of church doctrine and subject to certain First Amendment religious protections, and thus the case would "unconstitutionally entangle the court in matters of church doctrine."

In its 6-3 decision, the state's high court ruled that a lower court erred when it said the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God's First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion did not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress brought on by a "hyper-spiritualistic environment."

At trial, attorneys for the church, which had merged with another local congregation, said Pearson's psychological problems were triggered by traumatic events she witnessed with her missionary parents in Africa.

The church argued Schubert's case was a personal injury lawsuit that involved legally protected religious activity.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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