Exorcism and the Law (Updated)

There's a two-day conference on how to do it. Leaving aside all the historical and theological and sociological questions, my first question is legal: how do you get someone possessed by a demon to give informed consent to the acts necessary to remove it? I don't think the secular laws against battery and false imprisonment have a "demonic possession" exception. Will the bishops' lawyers be expanding into a new realm of First Amendment law?You may ask, what do we do when we force treatment upon mentally ill people? Well, we have a legal hearing --sometimes an emergency hearing--in which a mentally ill person is declared legally incompetent and his or her medical decision-making is put in the hands of someone else, usually under supervision of a court. When I practiced law in Massachusetts, extreme treatment plans such as ECT or psychotropic drugs needed a special court sign-off, because they were both traumatic and had the potential for long-term deleterious effects. It seems that exorcism would be an extreme treatment--but it is not a form of medical treatment, nor one that I think courts would be comfortable authorizing for incompetent patients.Can you be exorcised against your will? There are also analogies to deprogramming, which is legally controversial. In that case, at least, the "cult" is visible, and presents a tangible influence upon the kidnapped child. Cases of exorcism will be far more murky, to say the least.This should be interesting. It's too bad there wasn't a lawyer at this conference.But then they probably would have tried to exorcise the lawyer!Update: The Texas Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment confers some protection upon the practice of exorcism. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the case. Texas's interpretation of the First Amendment is not binding upon other states, however, and the U.S. SCt.'s denial of certioriai does not mean that it agreed with the result. What do you think of this decision?Remember, the legal framework around exorcism will not be tailored to Catholics--other faiths perform them as well.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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