30 July 2008

A Laying on of the Hands

So, I was half-watching Dan Abrams's Verdict! last night and he did a bit about this case.
FORT WORTH, Texas - The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.
First off....oh, gee, look...it's Texas, home of Joe Horn. Go figure.

Anyway. Here's the deal:
Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members' actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.
The 2002 trial of the case never touched on the religious aspects, and a Tarrant County jury found the Colleyville church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl. The jury awarded her $300,000, though the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth later reduced the verdict to $188,000.
Sounds about right--there's no point in touching on the religious aspects--abuse is abuse, violence is violence, imprisonment is imprisonment. The girl was 17 years old, legally a child. Oh, but wait...

Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable "would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs."

That's right! I forgot! Of course you consider the religious aspects because everyone knows they operate under special religious nutbag rules. Everyone knows that anything said or done to keep any religious freak from doing what they want is infringing on their right to practice their religion as they see fit. I'm this close to starting a religion that says I can walk into any church, drag anyone out into the street, and beat them mercilessly with a wooden spoon. That would be the only way I could get away with it.

Now, I've seen Bob Larson* up close. I've been there when he's taken clear advantage of people who are obviously unstable and completely unable to psychologically protect themselves against attacks like an 'exorcism' (this, by the way, is a result of their religious upbringing--it's no less than psychological trauma and is comparable to any trauma any adult suffers from any child abuse). Exorcisms, to me, are a pretty egregious example of abuse by a church. Some can say that going to church at all is subjecting oneself to abuse, and to a degree that is right, but with exorcisms there is something visceral. It violates an internal/external barrier we have with the world--it allows victims to believe that their very inner sanctum has been broached. It's bad enough to convince people there's an invisible man in the sky that'll send you to hell for not loving him enough, and quite another to convince them there's an evil demon inside you, screwing up your life and your head--that you can't even tell your own thoughts from his. Now, that can't be good for someone's psychological state. And why does this happen? So people like Larson can get a new Rolex.

Yeah, I could do without exorcisms. Silly practice? Yes. Serious phsyixal and psychological abuse? Absolutely.

But what is infuriating here, of course, is that people can do this to other people--minors, no less--and get away with it because this abusive and psychologically traumatic practice falls under 'religion.'

When I watched this, I couldn't help but think of Webster Cook at UCF:
"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him."She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.
With the Cook case, I wasn't shocked to hear the Catholics got all bunched up about their cracker--this is not surprising. It was that they felt it appropriate to physically manhandle this kid to retrieve their precious, quite literally crumby body of Christ. Somewhere, a line got crossed. It's one thing if they want to argue ideas--their right to believe what they want. Fine. But these cases are moving into an area that makes me uncomfortable and, frankly, rather angry. Now they say that they have the right to lay their hands on you and physically abuse/obstruct/attack you in the name of their religion. And the Texas Supreme Court just said it was okay.

Justice Medina said that a ruling such as the one the jury came to would have an "unconstitutional 'chilling effect'." This, apparently, says nothing of the ruling he himself laid out--as far as I'm concerned, the 'chilling effect' is that churches in Texas, and possibly elsewhere, now feel the have legal precedent to take everything a little further. They will cry persecution at the drop of a hat and they will scream about retaining and protecting their religious freedom. Now they can lash out physically and they're covered.

*This idiot/abuser is getting his own show on Sci-Fi. Seriously. I suggest writing a letter to Sci-Fi explaining how disgusting you think it is that they'd give a platform to a guy who is clearly a scam artist and who does active damage to susceptible people for money. He preys on the psychologically weak and, quite literally, the sick. And Sci-Fi wants to give him more money for it, in addition to the tremendous amounts of cash he squeezes out of people by convincing them the only way to happiness is to get rid of their demons.


  1. This is an extremely important issue. Here is South Africa we also have to contend with "traditional culture", and a few examples of "witches" being killed with stones and sticks spring to mind. Although just about everybody always gets a look of disgust on their faces when talking about these things, there is always the inevitable "yes but remember that it's part of their tradition/religion", as if that somehow softens the horrible deeds they did.

    First comes human rights. It is the only way. If a culture or religion condones violation of basic human rights, it is WRONG. Period.

  2. I can't help but think that it is Justice Medina's ruling that is unconstititional.

  3. JF: There seems to be this incredibly wrong-headed, unquestionable idea that every single culture is worth saving. Just by being defined as someone's 'culture' it is inherently valuable and good. It's ridiculous.

    AH: Absolutely!

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