From tilman@berlin.snafu.de Sun Dec 20 09:29:43 1998
Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology,misc.legal
Subject: First Amendment Does Not Shield Churches from Civil Liability
From: tilman@berlin.snafu.de (Tilman Hausherr)
Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 17:29:43 GMT

If this is upheld on appeal, it would mean that the USA would come more into the 20th century. I see this not only in the context of the Tony Strawn case (scientology tried to prevent Mother from reporting her child-rapist husband to the police, no additional civil lawsuit filed), but also in a general context: for example, in California there is an additional burden to pass before suing a "church".

Btw, the "procedural grounds" mentioned below is that the LDS Church does not exist. It is not incorporated.


Attorney Michael G. Sullivan Releases Court Report Saying
First Amendment Does Not Shield Churches from Civil Liability

PR Newswire

Court Rules Mormons Cannot Escape Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

BECKLEY, W.V., Dec. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- The office of
Michael G. Sullivan, P.C., Attorney At Law today released the

In a ruling that carries national significance, a West Virginia court ruled recently that the First Amendment does not protect religious organizations from civil liability merely because of their status as a church.

Raleigh County Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick made the ruling in response to a suit, filed by a young girl and her mother, that seeks $750 million in damages from the Mormon Church. In their complaint, the young girl, identified only as Jane Doe, contends the Mormon Church knew that her father was sexually abusing her for five years and failed to report it as required by state law. Jane Doe alleges that not only did the Church fail to report knowledge of her abuse, but it has actually suppressed evidence of the abuse of hundreds of other Mormon children over the years.

The Court's ruling represents a serious setback for the Mormon Church and its team of lawyers who have raised this defense in similar suits throughout the country. The Mormon Church has been sued at least 26 other times for their failure to report the sexual abuse of children.

In the past, the Mormon Church has vigorously defended sexual abuse suits by relying upon the First Amendment, which calls for separation of church and state. "Because of the Court's ruling, the Church will need to re-examine its strategy in dealing with reports it receives of sexually abused children," said Michael Sullivan, the lawyer representing Jane Doe and her mother.

The Mormon Church has centered most of its arguments on the question of when does the state's interest in protecting children override a church's First Amendment rights to avoid government control. The Court responded by saying the state's interest in protecting children from the horrors of sexual abuse "will override even the most sincerely held religious convictions."

The Court, in an exhaustive opinion, examined each of the Mormon Church's First Amendment claims and found that they did not shield the Church from this suit.

The Court also found that Jane Doe and her mother "have alleged sufficient gross, wanton and reckless conduct such that a jury may award punitive damages." Awards of punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant in order to deter similar bad conduct in the future.

Although Judge Kirkpatrick had earlier dismissed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as defendants on procedural grounds, after hearing arguments from the plaintiff, the Court allowed them to amend their complaint and return the Mormon Church as defendants in the suit.

Church lawyers have attempted to distance the Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, from the local church in Beckley, claiming its members were not acting for the Mormon Church itself when they failed to report the sexual abuse of Jane Doe. The Court found this contention by the Church unpersuasive and ruled that a jury should decide whether or not Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City exercise control over their local churches.

"This defense too has been widely used by the Mormon Church in similar suits, and its rejection by the Court presents the Church with a difficult choice," Sullivan said.

In 1994, after five years of abuse, Jane Doe's father was arrested and convicted on 37 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. The father is currently serving a 184-year sentence in a West Virginia prison.

Jane Doe alleges that her father, a member of the Mormon Church, began sexually assaulting her when she was three years old. Her brother, who was seven years old at the time, was also repeatedly abused. The father told the children's grandfather, a bishop in the Church, who notified a senior Church official of the abuse. The children lived alone with their father at this time.

The complaint further alleges that the Chief Executive Officer of Raleigh General Hospital at the time, Kenneth Holt, also a member of the Mormon Church, too knew of the abuse of the children. No church members reported the sexual abuse. The suit contends that local church leaders, mimicking Mormon authorities around the country, acted to suppress evidence of this abuse for five years.

The plaintiffs contend that the conspiracy to suppress evidence of sexual abuse of Mormon children is motivated by the Church's desire to continue its phenomenal growth, and to prevent any interference with the donations it receives. It is the fastest growing evangelical Church in the world. Members are required to donate a tenth of their gross income to the Mormon Church each year. All tithes from around the world are sent to a bank in Salt Lake City, Utah, every week.

One of the first cases dealing with the issue of religious freedom in this country coincidentally involved the Mormon Church and its belief that polygamy was a basic tenant of its religion. The Supreme Court ruled that while the Mormons were free to believe what they wished, the secular law against plural marriages would have to be followed.

"This ruling re-affirms that in America, not the President nor any church is above the law," Sullivan said.


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