“Come on You Homosexual Demon”:

That’s a line from an apparent “gay exorcism,” according to ABC News. The article saus that “Robin McHaelen, executive director of the Manchester-Conn., True Colors,” “a nonprofit group for gay and lesbian youth that has mentored [a teenager] for about a year,” “said she was mandated by law to report the exorcism to the state Department of Children and Families, which she said is now investigating.” The video referred to by the article is apparently available here.

This sort of action sounds quite silly to me, since the notion of demonic possession strikes me as about as sensible as the notion of werewolves, vampires, or witches. I also think there was nothing immoral about homosexuality, but even if I took the opposite view on the morality, I’d think that exorcisms would hardly be the way to stop the problem.

Yet it appears that others hold a different view, and I can’t see what the state can “investigate” here. It’s not any physical violence to the child, or so it appears from the video. The writhing and apparent vomiting do not seem to stem from physical attacks, but presumably from the subject’s feeling that the exorcism does have some effect (or perhaps his feigning such a feeling). Nor can the state react to the exorcism on the grounds that there’s something wrong with the religious nature of the event; such a singling out of religious practices for special action would violate the Free Exercise Clause. And the complainant’s argument about how the parents are “murdering this kid’s soul” helps show, I think, the weakness of argument by metaphor.

The only plausible argument for restricting such behavior, it seems to me, is that attempts to “cure” a 16-year-old of homosexuality (or perhaps specifically such attempts when done in front of a group of other people, and posted to the Internet) are so psychologically harmful and justified that they constitute child abuse. But that, I think, is taking the notion of punishable child abuse — a sensible notion, of course, when properly limited — way too far. Parents do much that is good, some that is bad, and some that is either good or bad depending on your ideology, through psychological pressure on their children, including pressure that’s done through groups to which the parent and the child belongs. It is the very rare circumstance, it seems to me, that justifies intruding into parental decisionmaking absent serious physical abuse or neglect (e.g., denial of medical care, beatings, sexual contact, and so on).

I am, of course, aware that some teenagers may commit suicide based partly on hostile reactions to their homosexuality. But teenagers, unfortunately, apparently commit suicide based on many factors, such as parental pressure to succeed at school, reactions to parental divorce, and so on. Treating the possibility of such awful outcomes as a basis for punishing the parents (or stripping them of parental rights) strikes me as an unacceptable attempt by the government to micromanage child-rearing, and a very bad precedent for the future.

Fortunately, so far we have just a complaint to the Department, not any government action. But I thought I’d pass this along, since it has hit the news and strikes me as a noteworthy incident, though one in which the right legal answer should be pretty clear.