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Church exorcism protected by First Amendment
The judges overturned a lower court's decision awarding her damages and ruled that because Mrs Schubert Pearson's claims of injury amounted to a religious dispute over church doctrine it would be "unconstitutional" for the court to get involved.
Religious freedom campaigners say the case strikes at the heart of the US Constitution's First Amendment, which prohibits government interference in the free exercise of religion, and were the US Supreme Court to rule in Mrs Schubert Pearson's favour, it would signal "the end of church independence and religious freedom" in America.
Mrs Schubert Pearson, 29, claims she was left bruised and traumatised after members of her church group allegedly kept her captive for two days so they could perform an exorcism in which was pinned to the ground and "pummelled".
The incident happened after fellow members of the church group became convinced she was possessed by demons. She was 17 at the time.
After the alleged ordeal, she dropped out of school and tried to slit her wrists.
She told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a Texas paper, that she was determined to seek justice from her alleged abusers after the Texas Supreme Court threw out her case claiming physical and emotional injury.
"You can't use your religious beliefs to get away with harming a child," the mother of two who now lives in Georgia told the paper. "This is so much bigger than myself, This is about not allowing the cover of religion to permit physical abuse in a church, and particularly to a child."
In the Texas Supreme Court ruling, Justice David Medina, writing for the majority, said that were the court to get involved and dictate a church's religious activities it would have "an unconstitutional 'chilling effect'".
The decision was opposed by three dissenting justices. Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson said it was "inconsistent with US Supreme Court precedent and extends far beyond the protections our Constitution affords religious conduct."
"The First Amendment guards religious liberty; it does not sanction intentional abuse in religion's name," he wrote.
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Legal Institute, a non-profit organisation representing litigants in religious freedom cases, said the separation of church and state prevented government interference in religious practices except in extreme examples such as sexual abuse.
And while this might mean "certain harms may go unaddressed", he said, "the larger protection of the church and religious freedom is the overriding concern."
Mrs Schubert Pearson's claims were largely emotional and "so interwoven with religious practices" there was no way for a court to get involved, he added.
"The government can't get involved in overseeing religious practices. The best way to say it is it's not American.
"If she did prevail that would erase about 150 years of law in this country from the Supreme Court saying the government does not get involved in the internal affairs and operations of the church. It would effectively be the end of church independence and religious freedom in our country."
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