The woman, whose name we have chosen not to print here, says that a fellow congregant four years her senior first raped her in December of 2007. He raped her multiple times and recorded at least one of those instances. Then, for unknown reasons, he provided a copy of the recording to the congregation’s leadership.
Given that the age of consent in Utah is 18, those leaders should have taken the evidence directly to law enforcement and reached out to offer the girl support in seeking justice, while demanding that the rapist take responsibility for his actions and attempt to make amends.
Of course, that’s not what happened.
Premarital sex is a sin in their faith, so a tribunal of church elders convened in an attempt to convince her to confess. They wanted her to admit that she had engaged in consensual sex outside of the bonds of matrimony. The meeting, during which they played the recording repeatedly, lasted at least four hours. She was, at the time, still a minor; the tribunal convened in 2008.
After suffering from trauma symptoms that impacted her day-to-day life for years, she filed a lawsuit alleging “intentional infliction of emotional distress” — or, to put it in simpler terms, emotional abuse. She wanted those leaders to be held accountable for traumatizing her.
In addition to the four elders who participated directly in the tribunal, she sued her local Kingdom Hall and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nationwide organization that governs the Witnesses as an organization.
The case initially came before the Second Judicial District Court in 2016. While that court admitted at the hearing that it would have “no hesitation” about proceeding with the case if the abuse had taken place in a secular setting, the religious angle complicated matters. Ultimately they ruled that holding the church liable for traumatizing a young teenager would violate the leaders’ First Amendment rights.
Robert Friedman of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, who’s serving as the plaintiff’s attorney, says the lower courts got it wrong. While he and his colleagues acknowledge that religion was a motivating factor for the elders’ behavior, their appeal argues that it cannot justify their clearly reprehensible actions:
… When a defendant violates an independent and religiously neutral principle of civil law, the Establishment Clause imposes no obstacle to relief even if that defendant asserts that he was motivated by a religious belief.
Defense attorney Karra Porter, described on her firm’s website as “one of the most experienced and successful appellate lawyers in Utah,” argues that the government is legally prohibited from meddling in a church’s efforts to determine whether a congregant has committed a sin. She also argued that, while she would draw the line at physical torture, “infliction of emotional distress” is less clear-cut."
There's a bit more conversation about the position taken by the prosecution and that taken by defense, but in main this is about it. Access the link for more.
So, what are your thoghts?