|FREE EXERCISE CLAUSE | ECCLESIASTICAL EXEMPTION FROM TORT LIABILITY
UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT | RELIGION-BASED TORT IMMUNITY
Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert, [link to pdf version of opinion (20 pages)]
No. 05-0916 (Tex. 2008) (Majority Opinion by Justice Medina) (constitutional law, ecclesiastical
immunity, privilege based on first amendment freedom of religion) (defendant church was not judicially estopped
from asserting its constitutional first amendment protection as defense against intentional tort claim brought by
member of the church. Judicial estoppel does not apply to contradictory positions taken in the same proceeding.
Prior mandamus was part of the same case.).
THE HOLDING. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits courts from
adjudicating issues of religious doctrine. Here, the psychological effect of church belief in
demons and the appropriateness of its belief in “laying hands” are at issue. Because
providing a remedy for the very real, but religiously motivated emotional distress in this
case would require the Court to take sides in what is essentially a religious controversy,
the dispute cannot be judicially resolved. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reverses the
court of appeals’ judgment and dismiss the case.
Terms: religious practices and acts as basis for tort claims, shunning, excommunication, exorcism | religious belief
and doctrine | Holy Spirit | evil spirit | First Amendment | Free Exercise Clause | Separation of Church and State |
religious doctrine | ecclesiastical immunity | tort immunity | claim of privilege | lack of jurisdiction | question of
Pleasant Glade Assembly of God vs. Schubert (Tex. 2008)
CASE DETAILS AND LINKS TO DISSENTING OPINIONS
PLEASANT GLADE ASSEMBLY OF GOD, REVEREND LLOYD A. MCCUTCHEN, ROD LINZAY, HOLLY LINZAY,
SANDRA SMITH, BECKY BICKEL, AND PAUL PATTERSON v. LAURA SCHUBERT; from Tarrant County; 2nd
district (02-02-00264-CV, 174 SW3d 388, 09-15-05)
3 petitions | motion to strike denied [pdf]
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and dismisses the case.
Justice Medina delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Hecht, Justice O'Neill, Justice Wainwright,
Justice Brister, and Justice Willett joined.
Chief Justice Jefferson delivered a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Green joined, and in Parts II-A, III, and IV of
which Justice Johnson joined. [ pdf ]
Justice Green delivered a dissenting opinion. [ pdf ]
Justice Johnson delivered a dissenting opinion. [ pdf ]
The “laying of hands” and the presence of demons are part of the church’s belief system and accepted as such
by its adherents. These practices are not normally dangerous or unusual and apparently arise in the church with
some regularity. They are thus to be expected and are accepted by those in the church. That a particular member
may find the practice emotionally disturbing and non-consensual when applied to her does not transform the
dispute into a secular matter. “Courts are not arbiters of religious interpretation,” and the First Amendment does
not cease to apply when parishioners disagree over church doctrine or practices because “it is not within the
judicial function and judicial competence to inquire whether the petitioner or his fellow worker more correctly
perceived the commands of their common faith.” Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 707, 716 (1981). Because
determining the circumstances of Laura’s emotional injuries would, by its very nature, draw the Court into
forbidden religious terrain, we conclude that Laura has failed to state a cognizable, secular claim in this case.
* * *
The Free Exercise Clause prohibits courts from deciding issues of religious doctrine. Here, the psychological
effect of church belief in demons and the appropriateness of its belief in “laying hands” are at issue. Because
providing a remedy for the very real, but religiously motivated emotional distress in this case would require us to
take sides in what is essentially a religious controversy, we cannot resolve that dispute. Accordingly, we reverse
the court of appeals’ judgment and dismiss the case.
Judicial Doctrine Protects Religious Doctrine
Texas Supreme Court saves religious doctrine and shields church from liability for demon abatement rituals that
caused post-traumatic distress to youthful church member.
Distress, mental anguish, psychic pain caused by verbal and physical religious practices akin to exorcism not
actionable, Court says. Free Exercise Clause shields church from tort liability.
To avoid excessive entanglement with matters of religious doctrine, Texas Supreme Court grants tort immunity to
Church sued for infliction of emotional distress and mental anguish by young church member, and dismisses the
suit. Demon exorcism activities were too closely intertwined with religious belief to be actionable as torts where
recovery was sought for mental anguish and suffering rather than physical, bodily injury. Court notes that
members of churches voluntarily submit themselves to the church's religious doctrines and rituals, including the
risk of mental anguish arising from adherence and implementation of such precepts, or disciplinary actions.
Church prevails in invoking first amendment protection; not estopped from doing so by failing to seek protection
and dismissal of all claims in prior mandamus proceeding.
Religious practices, i .e. conduct, also protected because they are inseparable from the underlying beliefs (about
demons) the appropriateness of which the Court say it cannot adjudicate.