Religious Liberty Trumps Sanity in Texas


The Texas State Supreme Court last week ruled that a church member had no right to sue a church for damages inflicted to her in the course of “church activities for which members adhere.” The case involved a 17-year-old girl who happed to be a victim of a “spiritually charged” garage sale preparation in which fellow believers became convinced she was possessed by a demon. She was forcibly restrained and “laid hands on her” in an exorcism for several hours despite her pleading to be set free. Amazingly, she returned to the church at a later date when a similar episode occurred again. Her family sued the church for abuse, false imprisonment, and distress; she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident among other psychological fallout. An appeals court later lessened the original award of $300,000 to $120,000. A further appeal resulted in the Texas state Supreme Court ruling, which threw out the suit with a 6-3 verdict.

I find this ruling disturbing on many levels. First, there is no such thing as demons. The church members were caught up in a mass hysteria amplified by her non-participation. Courts of law dismissed spectral evidence as valid after the infamous 1662 Salem Witch Trials. The Texas Supreme Court should have been able to discern that demons are nonsense and that the church members got caught up in a mass hysteria for which they bore responsibility. The court seems to be saying that people, in a state of religious frenzy bear no responsibility for their actions.

Next, we’re talking about an underage girl without her parents present. She did not consent to whatever spiritual rape was inflicted on her. What about the idea of the state protecting children from harm? Didn’t the state just remove 400+ children from the FLDS compound because they were in danger of child sexual abuse? Perhaps this is not an equal comparison as the FLDS kids were brainwashed from birth. Presumably, the victim in this case had “chosen” by her free will to be part of the religious proceedings. She’s under age, however and cannot consent to being abused. The state got it wrong on this account, too. Perhaps cults should adopt a “safe word” concept so that people can escape when they’re not feeling the ecstasy that everyone else is feeling: “Darwin!” “Dawkins!” “Bertand Russell! God damn it! Let me go, you psychotic Jesoids!”

Seriously, though, the most disturbing part of the ruling is the Texas State Supreme Court placing “religious liberty” of a mob above the safety and liberty of an individual victim. Writing for the majority, Justice David Madina wrote, “Religious practices that might offend the rights or sensibilities of a non-believer outside the church are entitled to greater latitude when applied to an adherent within the church.” Is US and Texas law null and void in a church? Do they get to do anything they want as long as they can “justify” their position based on the Bible, which is nothing more than a Rorschach test for the morally challenged? It seems in Texas, that is the case. Send those FLDS kids back! The State has no claim against their cult. While we’re at it, let’s drop any case against the Catholic Church. Surely, they can think of some Biblical justification for molesting boys. They’re “adherents within the church,” right?

Finally, how exactly does the court decide who is an adherent? Is the court privy to some sort of mind reading device where they can decide who believes what? Isn’t one’s mere presence in a church is enough to be labeled an “adherent”? After all, Christians are famous for making up stories about non-believers having death bed conversions. Why not make up a story that someone who happened by a church “converted” to that church’s theology? I submit that sane people would be better off staying out of places and situations where they can be thought to be endorsing a particular religion. The Texas Supreme Court just gave us one more big reason not to support churches, or even darken their door.

Comments

  1. says

    Calling this religious liberty seems like a bit of a stretch. This story was upsetting, but I put it in perspective by reminding myself that the U.S. is led by someone claiming divine revelation. Evidently, we are living in the Middle Ages.

  2. says

    I saw this article over the weekend, and I was also disturbed by it. The way the ruling was presented in the article (with some snippets of the dissenting opinion), it seemed to come very close to saying that if it’s a toss up between U.S. Law and Religious doctrine, the courts don’t want to hear it.I was also disturbed that the person was 17 years old. That’s a little old for people to disregard her wishes/consent. It’s a very different scenario than doing it to a 3-year-old. I mean, a parent could have to hold down a struggling 3-year-old just to get them dressed if they’re not having a good day. So, that’s a little more acceptable as far as consent from the child. In my head, it was just as scary as if they’d done this to any person who was expressing they really didn’t wish to participate.Holding someone against their will is pretty serious, in my book.

  3. says

    Actually, this might be a better link about the ruling and its implications:http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/Historical/2008/jun/050916d1.htm“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.””…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.”Again, my main issue here is that I have no data indicating she ever consented to what amounts to false imprisonment. Even in the link provided by baz above, it never indicates she agreed to this restraining and then changed her mind. Regardless of why they were holding her (even assuming demon possession), she expressed a desire to be released–and that has to be honored, IMO.Where is it in U.S. law that I can be held against my will so long as I say I believe I’m being motivated by a demon?”Although this case presents an unusual set of facts, involving physical restraint not proven to be part of any established church practice…”And also…”Schubert testified that she suffered physical as well as emotional injuries from the assaults. Furthermore, the jury awarded damages for unsegregated past ‘physical pain and mental anguish.’ Pleasant Glade did not request that the damages be segregated, and so waived any complaint that her physical injuries were not compensable.”I don’t see the justification for holding the girl. And I’d love to get an opportunity to see how SCOTUS would respond to this.

  4. says

    Baz, the article you link makes arguments that are not only ridiculous, but immoral. So what if she played along with everything until then? She never said that she wanted an exorcism, and she made it clear that she wanted to be released.Is it not rape if she makes out with you before you force things further?

  5. says

    I apologise if my first post was a bit harsh. But I still don’t think this is a clear-cut “mad” decision.The link tracieh posted was was too full of legalese for me to read! But the other document with the decision seemed to indicate that the girl had been acting pretty ambivalently to all the talk of demons prowling around the church, and was obviously heavily involved in what was going on. It sounds like she found out how crazy her fellow wingnuts could get and had a breakdown (maybe her brain couldn’t handle the paradox any more?)In any case, she ended up dropping out of school and having some serious mental health issues, but it seems like her family are blaming the church when in fact they went along with most of what the church leaders were advising.*Obviously* what went on was crazy and typical of what fundies get up to. But it’s not clear whether they went against her wishes, or whether she in fact went along with it until she realised what she’d got herself into. By which time it was too late!

  6. says

    There is no “too late.” It doesn’t matter what she went along with, or how she seemed to take things up until the exorcism. Just as in the rape analogy, as soon as she says “no,” that’s it.

  7. says

    Damn Baz, ever hear of date rape? No means no at any time. Next you’re going to say she was asking for it. 6-3? Wow. So why is a place that “might offend the rights or sensibilities of a non-believer” tax exempt? Well let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Go to church and you might get restrained and assaulted, and it’s legal!

  8. says

    First of all, this *wasn’t* rape, so please don’t start assuming you know where I stand on that subject.Also, I am not agreeing with this decision, all I’m trying to say is, don’t jump to conclusions without examining the full story!I don’t *in any way* agree with what happened to this girl, but at some point she should take some responsibility for getting herself involved in such a crazy group of people. This just smacks of the stereotypical “litigious American” attitude that we in Europe find so funny.

  9. says

    >The link tracieh posted was was too full of legalese for me to read!I posted the actual justices’ opinions. I recommend you try again to read it. What you’re actually saying here is “I can’t manage to understand the actual opinions of the people who supported this decision, or opposed it–so I’m just going to go with some commentator’s opinion about it.Great way to analyze a situation. Don’t get the info from the source, get it second-hand from some uninvolved person who claims to understand what you can’t and who tells you what to think about it.I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but frankly, shame on you for advocating such a thing. Your opinion is based on another opinion, not on the actual information.

  10. says

    If you are trying to demonstrate how atheism has influenced your life by imbuing you with compassion and empathy for fellow people, rather than mean-spirited hypocrisy, you are shooting well wide of the mark. Condescension to the point of saying “spiritual rape” and talk of ‘some Biblical justification for molesting boys” more than amply confirms his impression that you are more interested in stroking your ego than speaking the truth with compassion.

  11. says

    I was considering just ignoring tracieh’s comment but then I guess I’d just get accused of running away or something.I *did* read the judges’ opinion, just not the opposing opinions, which, being so full of legal jargon, I couldn’t understand. So yes, in a sense I am relying on someone who does understand the legal jargon. But I am also reading from the “source” i.e. the *actual* decision, and making comments on the facts as they were presented to the court.Come on, people. Comparing this case to rape? Sounds like you *want* to be victimised. I don’t believe churches should get away with this shit. I also don’t believe people who get themselves into this situation should then be able to sue willy-nilly. Maybe this decision will make some people realise what a mad organisation they belong to!And as vjack commented, you in the US have *much* more to worry about than a few fundies learning the extent of their religious beliefs.

  12. says

    baz:Thanks for clarifying. I’m still always going to be dubious when someone says they don’t understand the source material, but then offers an opinion. But I appreciate you attempted to read it. I just wish it had been the source of your opinion rather than someone else’s opinion.Meanwhile, the rape analogy others have used (I, myself, have not used it) appears to me to be only a comparison of consent and what it means to consent.The idea is that we all accept that if two people engage in pre-sexual activity, and one decides prior to sex that he or she wants to stop, that should be respected.This illustrates that consent to X does not constitute implied consent to X+1.Also, I don’t know that I’ve seen anything that even hints that this girl ever consented to restraint to begin with. And her agreement that demon possession occurs or even if she declared she was demon-possessed does not, that I can see, justify the idea that I can hold her against her will, and without any consent from her whatsoever.Even if I say: Yes, she’s a Xian and believes in demons, in fact, she thinks she might be possessed by a demon–I don’t see how “so we can hold her without her consent” follows. That’s the gap I need filled.

  13. says

    @tracieh: “Even if I say: Yes, she’s a Xian and believes in demons, in fact, she thinks she might be possessed by a demon–I don’t see how “so we can hold her without her consent” follows. That’s the gap I need filled.”I guess she didn’t realise that the other nut-jobs she hung out with considered exorcism as a cure for demon-possession…In fact, what I find more scary is the bit where her father basically tells the pastor to do whatever he thinks is necessary – and then goes off on another missionary trip! Good job, Dad!

  14. says

    Jesus believed in demons. Are you all saying that you know more than Jesus Christ?Now, I don’t know how complicit the girl was in her exorcism or if she was actually just being a pest and looking to rebel. I never read where Jesus held anyone down to exorcise a demon from them, so I wouldn’t advocate it.But I can say this: If Jesus believed in demons, I believe in demons.

  15. says

    Edward: Actually what you mean is that if the church produces books that say that Jesus existed and believed in demons, you believe in demons.I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or serious, but if you’re serious, your pride in your lack of independent thought is…interesting…to say the least.

  16. says

    Seeing as how if Jesus were real he would have live, 2000 years ago, yeah, I know a lot more than he could ever have known, starting with what a blog is and how to comment on it. From there, gosh, what else do I know that he didn’t? How about that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe or the value of pi? Should I go on?

  17. says

    From reading the Gospels, you would think that the Galilee was the demon possession capital of the world. It seems like Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into someone who was allegedly possessed.Are you all saying that you know more than Jesus Christ?Well, I don’t know the full extent of his education. The Gospels are silent for the time spanning from when he was about twelve until whenever it was he began his ministry, presumably in his late twenties or early thirties.I will give him this though, he probably knew more about Judaism then I do!

  18. Martin says

    Some atheists take the view that Jesus was not a real person. I veer towards thinking the character of Jesus in the Gospels likely was inspired by a real person, or maybe more than one. But much of the character was heavily mythologized by later generations of worshipers. Much of his life story was heavily borrowed from Mithraism, for one thing (hardly surprising, since most religions of the day borrowed liberally from one another). If there ever was a real Jesus, we know virtually nothing about his actual life.

  19. says

    That’s a pretty ignorant remark, Martin.Virtually no biblical scholar believes that Jesus wasn’t a historical person. Not even Bart Ehrman believes that.And not even the Jesus Seminar believes that we can know virtually nothing about His life. They wouldn’t say we know a ton, but certainly not “virtually nothing”.

  20. says

    Hey Tracieh,You said: I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or serious, but if you’re serious, your pride in your lack of independent thought is…interesting…to say the least.Edward: I’m dead serious. In fact, it gets a lot more interesting than that. I control what I believe by the power of the Holy Spirit I am born again into. What I believe doesn’t control me.

  21. says

    Hey Martin,You said: Some atheists take the view that Jesus was not a real person. I veer towards thinking the character of Jesus in the Gospels likely was inspired by a real person, or maybe more than one. But much of the character was heavily mythologized by later generations of worshipers. Much of his life story was heavily borrowed from Mithraism, for one thing (hardly surprising, since most religions of the day borrowed liberally from one another). If there ever was a real Jesus, we know virtually nothing about his actual life.Edward: And you know this to be true, how? I mean really, you have Gospels written about Jesus Christ specifically, and you say it’s actually about someone else. You weren’t there, but you claim it’s all mythologized; I’m just wondering how you know this to be a fact. I would assume you pride yourself on your logic as all proud atheists do. So, do tell.

  22. Martin says

    Rho, learn to read. Here’s what I said, again, in English.”I veer towards thinking the character of Jesus in the Gospels likely was inspired by a real person, or maybe more than one.”Don’t think I could have been much clearer. Count on you for the kneejerk reaction to anything I say, though.Edward: So what if we have Gospels written about Jesus specifically? We have ancient myths from Greece and Rome talking about the Olympian gods specifically, too. The mere existence of these gospels and myths doesn’t mean what’s in them is 100% accurate and reliable. There’s no way of knowing with exact precision to what degree they may be entirely factual, entirely fictional, or a combination of the two.How do I know that the Gospels contain a lot of heavy mythologizing? Because that’s how religions work. The similarities between the story of Jesus’s life in the Gospels and the stories of Mithra, Krishna, Isis, and other deities and godmen of the time are documented. Stories of virgin births, martyrdoms and three-day resurrections did not start with Jesus. Religions have always borrowed from one another, especially those practiced in primitive, polyglot cultures like the Roman provinces. This is hardly controversial. You can splutter petulantly about it all you like, but, you know, reality won’t care.

  23. says

    The thing about the Gospels though that gives them such traction with believers is that they are set in a real time and a real place and mention real people whose existence can be confirmed outside of the Bible such as Herod, Pontius Pilate, Emperor Tiberius and such.Thus, there are two possibilities, the stories in the Gospels are entirely true, or they are fictional (or contain a mixture of truth and fiction) and were deliberately written to take place in a real place and time in order to make the events they describe plausible to the audience for whom they were written.

  24. says

    >I control what I believe by the power of the Holy Spirit I am born again into. What I believe doesn’t control me.This did not respond to my comment. You noted you believe in Demons. And your rationale–as you put it forward was that “Jesus believed” in demons. This is recorded in the Bible. And, I admit, I assumed that is what you were referring to. My point was that if you are getting this info from the Bible, then your comment that you believe it because Jesus believed it is not supported. A more accurate statement–if my summary above is not a misunderstanding of your meaning–would be what I described: “if the church produces books that say that Jesus existed and believed in demons, you believe in demons.”Now, if by what you say above, you claim to know Jesus believed in demons because the voices (i.e., Holy Spirit) told you this–then I misunderstood you to be describing the Bible, and that was my error. But if this latter scenario is the case, I would advise to consider carefully whatever these voices are telling you about the world.

  25. says

    “if the church produces books that say that Jesus existed and believed in demons, you believe in demons.”This is a highly ignorant statement about the identity and situation of the authors of the New Testament. Thanks for playing, you don’t know what you’re talking about.I would advise to consider carefully whatever these voices are telling you about the world.Taking the Bible to be God’s self-revelation, and taking the Holy Spirit’s assurance that the Bible is God’s Word is far from the same thing as “hearing voices”. Nor is it rightly used in a setting like this where I might try to convince you. But it is perfectly reasonable to bolster my own confidence and to respond honestly when you ask “How do you know?”, to use that as ONE of my answers.We affirm the first two and deny that we’ve “heard voices”. Have you never interacted with educated Christians before?I’d add that even if you’re right and believing the Bible is borderline mental disease, if atheism is true, it matters not a whit. At all. Believing that atheism is true? Doesn’t matter. Believing that my mission from God is to kill everyone else on earth except me? Doesn’t matter! Nothing matters if atheism is true; when one thinks about it, one wonders why you even frequent a debate website. It’s evidence of inconsistent thinking on your part.Peace,Rhology

  26. says

    Tommy:Stories about Buddha and about the Greek gods are also set in real places with real people participating. It’s not unusual. Most myths take place in areas familiar to the culture that promotes them. It would be weird to find a myth from Africa talking about gods in a realm covered by ice, for example. It’s most likely it would involved a god that lives on “that mountain over there” that everyone is familiar with.In fact, in North Carolina, I camped near a sacred mountain, and there were stories about supernatural things that happened on that mountain–all sorts of spiritual myths about it.I don’t think it’s meant to be a trick to make people believe it. I just think that familiar areas lend themselves to tribal stories most often. It’s just the world they know and are familiar with.Now, with the Bible, later you do get a lot of push for “literal” interpretation. So, yes, things get moved around, added, revised, rewritten, deleted, to make it seem more real, and yes, there probably was some of that done intentionally. But who can read about a book that includes talking animals and take it are reality? I submit that if someone does, it would be hard to find much of a way to communicate rationally with such an individual. Surely if they read any other book with stories of talking animals, they’d know immediately they were in the presence of a work of fiction, no? It’s just that people are very desensitized to the Bible because they’re used to it, and it’s always taught as “real” in Fundy circles. That’s “indoctrination”–a kind word for brainwashing.Also, many personalities are thought to be sort of real/unreal–like Diogenese and Socrates. Nobody knows they were real, we just sort of treat them as though they were. Same with Jesus.

  27. Martin says

    Rhology, first paragraph: Thanks for playing, you don’t know what you’re talking about.Rhology, last paragraph: Nothing matters if atheism is true…And another irony meter bites the dust!Have you never interacted with educated Christians before?Sure we have. Have you?

  28. says

    I’m perpetually astounded by how in one comment Rhology can both deride someone for ignorance and then follow that up with his own ignorance. I can’t accept that such a thing just happens naturally. It must be a product of design.

  29. says

    “This is a highly ignorant statement…”Good thing I wasn’t drinking something when I read that.”Have you never interacted with educated Christians before?”Most people are educated. It’s how well-educated you are that matters. And statistics prove that the more educated a person, the more likely they are to be atheist.If by “educated” you mean “rational”, I’m still waiting for that paradox to occur…

  30. says

    Martin,Obviously YOU have. You’ve talked to me on several occasions, haven’t you? ;-)I was asking tracieh. Unless you are part of some Continuum, or are one and the same person. tracieh’s comment made it sound like s/he had no idea about CHristian belief on that question. It’s a fair question. Maybe s/he could answer it instead of you answering for him/her (like Mack Brown answering for Chrissy Simms some years back).And another irony meter bites the dust!It’s only ironic b/c of your actions – acting like these questions matter when they don’t on your own worldview. It’s strange when someone else sees the logical conclusions of your own worldview better than you do.And perhaps you could explain how that comment of mine is ignorant. It’s not as though I haven’t argued for that in the recent past; you act like I thought it up just now. Such derision is more becoming of a schoolyard bully than someone who’s interested in the truth.If atheism is true, why is it not the case that nothing matters?

  31. says

    I can’t accept that such a thing just happens naturally. It must be a product of design.Speaking of irony…Yes I know he meant it. And yet the underlying truth shines thru though he didn’t mean it to.

  32. says

    No, I did mean for the truth that an argument of incredulity is itself a punchline to shine through, Rhology. It was one of several layers of ignorance I felt was worth chuckling at.

  33. says

    Nothing matters if atheism is trueWhy? Maybe to you nothing would matter. But fortunately, the rest of us are not bound by your proclamations.

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