5th Circuit rejects habeas petition challenging law making sex non-consensual with clergy spiritual adviser

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Smith v. Thaler, (5th Cir., May 21, 2013), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a habeas corpus petition filed by a non-ordained pastor who had been convicted of sexual assault under a Texas statute that makes sexual relations non-consensual when the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman as a spiritual adviser. The court held it was reasonable for state courts to conclude that the statute does not implicate protected sexual conduct and that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague in requiring a determination that someone acted as a clergyman who knowingly exploited the victim’s emotional dependency. The court also concluded that it was reasonable for state courts to reject the claim that the statute violates the Establishment Clause by fostering excessive entanglement.