Woman says forced exorcism left her suicidal
The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the case of a former Colleyville woman who says that a forced traumatic exorcism left her so physically bruised and emotionally scarred that she later tried to commit suicide.
Attorneys for Laura Schubert Pearson filed an appeal before the court late last year arguing that the Texas Supreme Court was wrong in tossing out her case against the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God in Colleyville.
In the appeal, Pearson’s attorneys argued that the Texas court’s ruling “dramatically and dangerously departs” from the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions, adding that someone’s religious beliefs do not excuse them from being held accountable under valid state laws that prohibit such things as assault and false imprisonment.
David Pruessner, the Dallas attorney representing the church, said he was not surprised, as the court denies to hear about 95 percent of the appeals filed, especially those so tied up in a state court issue.
Scott Gant, the Washington attorney representing Pearson, did not immediately return phone calls.
Pearson described a wild night in 1996 that involved casting out demons from the church and two attempts to exorcise demons from her. The incident led Pearson, then 17, to eventually attempt suicide, she said.
According to court documents, Pearson and her brother Joey were involved in church activities while their parents were out of town and Pearson underwent two exorcisms.
One of those episodes was during a youth service, and Pearson reportedly curled into a fetal position and asked church members and staff to be left alone. Church members thought she was in distress and held her down in a “spread eagle” position. Pearson suffered carpet burns and scrapes on her back and bruised wrists.
After the incident, she dropped out of high school 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.
Pearson’s attorneys said the Texas court’s decision expands the universe of activities that are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion precepts.
Briefs filed for the now-defunct church — it has merged with another Colleyville church — contend that the case is a personal injury action regarding mental anguish damages that should be left for the state courts to decide.
• Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Texas “Does the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment preclude the imposition of civil liability for the religiously-motivated assault and false imprisonment of a non-consenting minor?” Includes much background to this story.