Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Wyoming Supreme Court Rejects Nun's Claim That She Was Engaged In Ritual Of Mortification

In ASM v. State of Wyoming, (WY Sup. Ct., Oct. 12, 2021), the Wyoming Supreme Court rejected appellant's claim that the state violated her free exercise rights when it ordered her involuntary hospitalization after she began injuring herself while in detention on arson charges. Appellant (ASM) claimed that she is a Catholic nun and that she was engaged in the Catholic ritual of mortification when she scratched skin off her face. According to the Court, the psychiatrist who examined ASM explained her conduct in part as follows:

Dr. Schaaf was aware of ASM’s religious beliefs but believed that she “engage[d] [in] and promote[d] religious beliefs as a way to manipulate others around her.” He was also aware of some form of self-chastisement in Catholicism, but opined that it did not fit the way ASM chose to self harm.... Further, ASM’s self-harming behaviors correlated with many occasions when she contacted police officers to report being assaulted when she had in fact been hitting herself. He explained that “at some level [ASM] engage[d] in self[-]harm behaviors not as a way to express herself in a spiritual sense but to again manipulate.” That manipulation was due to her personality disorder.

The Court concluded:

... [E]ven assuming ASM held a sincere religious belief about the Catholic ritual of mortification, she failed to establish that she was engaged in such practice when she injured herself in the detention facility.