Many religions still hold that exorcisms are effective in freeing their congregation from evil spirits and the devil. Many of these religious followers are willing to undergo an exorcism to rid themselves of horrible thoughts and actions. But what happens when a congregation forces an exorcism against a member’s will? Is it the congregation’s right to do everything in its power to free a member from their possessor, even if they do not have that member’s consent? In the court case Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert (2008), one teenage girl developed PTSD after two forced exorcisms. The jurors believed that the church had trumped their religious freedom on the basis that someone was injured. However, the judge disagreed and overturned the verdict, dismissing the case.
The judge cited the Free Exercise Clause, which states that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. However, there have been exceptions made in cases of mental and physical injury, as seen in Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert (2008). Many people were hoping the original verdict would set a precedent that churches could not use their religious freedom to openly abuse, consent, or harm someone in the name of religion, such as in a forced exorcism.
However, the judge argued that the victim had consented to the church’s practices by attending the church on her own free will. Therefore, she had also consented to an exorcism, despite voicing her dissent. In addition, if the judge were to charge and condemn the church for their belief in exorcism, it could have been interpreted as a criticism of their religion. That was a fight the court did not want to pursue. Despite the fact that the victim did not consent, the Texas judge ruled that is was within the church’s religious freedom to carry out practices that were important to them. Do you think the judge had a point, or do you believe that consent, no matter the circumstances, should precede an exorcism?
Submitted by: Bridget Cotton
Koploy, C.(2010). Free exorcise clause? Whether exorcism can survive the Supreme Court’s “Smith Neutrality.” Northwestern University Law Review, 104, 363-389.