Franco v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In Franco v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001 UT 25, 21 P.3d 198, 203 (Utah 2001), a seven-year-old girl had been so severely sexually abused as a young child that she repressed the memory of the abuse until she was fourteen years old. Id., 200. Upon the child's recalling the sexual abuse, she and her parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sought counseling from their local bishop and stake president. Id., 200. Both advised the plaintiffs to "forgive, forget, and seek atonement." Id., 201. They also referred the family to an unlicensed family counselor, who also told the plaintiffs to forgive and forget and not go to the police. Id. After finally seeing another counselor and reporting the abuse to the police, the plaintiff daughter was "'ostracized and denigrated'" by the members of her local church ward, with the acquiescence of the bishop and stake president. Id. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the establishment clause and, thus, the Supreme Court of Utah analyzed the claims under that clause. Id. The court stated that although the entanglement doctrine does not bar all tort claims against clergy for misconduct, "it is well settled that civil tort claims against clerics that require the courts to review and interpret church law, policies, or practices in the determination of the claims are barred by the First Amendment under the entanglement doctrine." Id., 203. The court further commented that "courts throughout the United States have uniformly rejected claims for clergy malpractice under the First Amendment" because such claims would "necessarily entangle the court in the examination of religious doctrine, practice, or church polity--an inquiry that . . . is prohibited by the Establishment Clause." Id., 204.