According to this article exorcism still receives legal protection in US:

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.

This also seems to happen in UK, according to The Guardian:

Exorcisms are a booming industry in the UK, partly driven by immigrant communities and Pentecostal churches, according to a report from a Christian thinktank.

However, the vast majority of people being exorcised have mental health problems that require psychiatric assistance, says the report, published on Wednesday by Theos.

This seems rather strange in highly developed countries where psychiatry might be more appropriate in such cases.

Question: Why is exorcism still allowed (legal) in highly developed countries?

As a side note, Vatican seems to be an important advocate for performing exorcism.

  • 12
    There is a difference between exorcism as practiced in pentecostal churches and, exorcisms practiced by a tribal witch doctor. Pentecostals typically go in for lots of (loud) prayer and may run afoul of local noise bylaws, but typically that's it. Tribal witch doctors can ask for all kinds of oddthings - bathe in the entrails of a goat at midnight, flagellation, cutting, etc.
    – pojo-guy
    Jul 20, 2018 at 12:15
  • 13
    The Vatican project that you point to is primarily an exercise to ensure that when exorcism is done, it is only done by those who have received appropriate training, so that it is not used as a substitute for psychiatric treatment, and is not done in a way that harms the subject. Jul 20, 2018 at 13:52
  • 11
    I'm not sure I understand the question; "receives legal protection" is substantially different from "is legal", because the legality of exorcisms in general should not in itself protect practitioners from facing legal consequences for harming minors while performing an exorcism. Conversely, the fact that sometimes an exorcism is practiced in a harmful way doesn't seem to be an argument for banning all exorcisms, and the existence of an arguably superior alternative (psychiatry) is also not typically considered a valid reason to ban something. Jul 20, 2018 at 16:18
  • 8
    ....So are you really wondering why exorcisms in general haven't been banned in most developed countries, or are you just wondering why (at least in the case you sited) the Texas Supreme Court is permitting people to harm minors with impunity simply because the harm occurred as part of an exorcism? Jul 20, 2018 at 16:18
  • 6
    There are much worse scams that are not banned, like homeopathy or anti vaccination. Why do you cherry pick exorcisms? Jul 20, 2018 at 18:59

7 Answers 7


My answer addresses the UK only.

To answer the legality question, religious belief is covered by Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998:

1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

However the second part of article 9 restricts manifestation of religious practice if it harms others:

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Emphasis is mine.

On the basis of part 2 of article 9, there may be a case raised that if an exorcism infringed public safety or put a person's health at risk, then that would be illegal.

  • 10
    Worth noting that while the law can step in to prevent religious practices from causing harm, in the case of exorcisms the practice itself doesn't directly cause harm. I suppose one could argue that someone might deny or avoid mental health treatment on the grounds that the exorcism should be sufficient, and thereby the religious practice is causing harm by restricting access to medical treatment, but then you'd have to demonstrate legally that exorcism is ineffective, and trying to prove in a court of law that a religious practice is useless is a can of worms that nobody wants to open. Jul 20, 2018 at 10:53
  • 9
    @anaximander You do not need to prove anything about exorcisms; the point is about duty of care. If I see somebody who could be in need of mental care and I do not direct him to a doctor, I am not liable if there is no law forcing me to do so. If I exorcise that person, I still do not have any obligation to send that person to see a psychiatrist. Add that (except when legally uncapacitated) people can reject being given medical treatment. The only complicated point would be that of parents not providing medical help to their children; and even then it is complicated (e.g. Jehova's Witnesses)
    – SJuan76
    Jul 20, 2018 at 13:44
  • 2
    @anaximander - Though the OP quotes the Texas case involving "injuries to a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism", from the article, "Laura Schubert testified that she was cut and bruised ... pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism". Jul 20, 2018 at 13:51
  • 3
    @NigelTouch It seems there was quite a bit of disagreement over the facts of the case. From the ruling, it does not sound like the descriptions of the ruling here are quite accurate. In particular, it is not true that the court held the church was not liable for physical injury as a result of the incident because of their First Amendment rights. Rather, she was not suing over physical, but emotional injury claims. Also, it sounds like the church claims that she was restrained because she had begun convulsing.
    – reirab
    Jul 20, 2018 at 16:57
  • 1
    Addressing the UK, you might mention that in relation to the OP's "in highly developed countries where psychiatry can deal with such cases", freely-available psychiatry services are underfunded in the sense that they cannot meet the needs of all those needing such a service. Jul 20, 2018 at 21:25

  There is a fine line between religious freedom and preventing harm to a person

There are certain number of religious practices that are allowed although they actually do injure person being subjected to ritual. Most known is certainly circumcision, which does leave permanent physical and psychological scars. Yet, because of tradition and political pressure, they are still allowed.

Exorcism, at least that performed by mainstream churches like Roman Catholics or Pentecostals usually does not injure subject of ritual directly, but could cause indirect mental harm and possibly self-injury.

Main thing to consider is does ritual happens voluntarily on part of the subject, although as we could see on example of circumcision, sometimes law allows rituals that happen involuntarily when it comes to underage persons or persons deemed legally incompetent.

Outright ban on exorcism would open can of worms, because if state interferes with one practice it would certainly have to interfere with others.

  • 1
    @JackOfAllTrades234 You can't post something like that without examples or further explanation. Jul 20, 2018 at 17:51
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    @jean: I'd love to see it. I don't think the spirit has a ghost of a chance (pun not intended).
    – Joshua
    Jul 21, 2018 at 0:14
  • 2
    I can't think of any permanent psychological scars "The Little Snip" had on me. Heck, for the first 15+ years I didn't know what an uncircumcised penis looked like. And while the "permanent physical .. scars" might still be there, they sure never interfered with functionality.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 22, 2018 at 7:21
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    @rs.29 cirp.org/library/pain/taddio2/responses.html "neonatal circumcision ... (leaves) circumcised boys with symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder." I don't have anything near PTSD. "All newborn babies encounter painful experiences before birth, during delivery, and during the first week of life. Painful events such as intramuscular vitamin K administration and the Guthrie test are routinely done without analgesia during the first week of life. ... infants requiring intensive care may receive a multitude of small yet painful stimuli."
    – RonJohn
    Jul 23, 2018 at 3:27
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    @RonJohn Neither you or I are qualified to determine do you specifically have PTSD or any other ill effects from circumcision. But numerous studies have been made and results are quite clear - it is a harmful practice. It may be hard for you to cope with something that was done to you while you were helpless infant, in that case seek professional help.
    – rs.29
    Jul 24, 2018 at 2:37

This is a collision between the right to religious expression and government's obligation to protect people from bodily harm. It's why, for example, human sacrifice is not legal even if full consent is given by a person to be sacrificed.

When multiple rights contradict each other, the judicial decisions should err on the side of the least harm. If overwhelmingly most exorcisms do not result in bodily harm, then an occasional one that does cannot be treated as anything different from an injury at an amusement park. Which is to say, it's not a reason to ban amusement parks, but it does give the injured person a reason to sue for relief of damages.

  • 5
    +1 for a reasonable answer which perfectly explains the issue, without committing the mistake almost every other "answer" does (which concentrate on "proving" that exorcism is real or a scam, and ranting about those who hold the opposite view than theirs)
    – vsz
    Jul 21, 2018 at 14:28
  • A key difference is that the injury at the amusement park that at most amounts to a claim of damages is unintentional. If you get intentionally hurt in an amusement park (or even through gross negligence), it then can become a criminal matter (apart from the damages you could ask for). If someone poisons you or beats you to "exorcise" you, then again it is a criminal case, not only a civil one.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 30, 2018 at 10:34
  • Also the negatives have to be weighed against the positive of having expelled the devil.
    – John
    Jan 3, 2020 at 9:28

It could be a fun task to define what a "high developed country" should mean, obviously this definition should involve the social sphere and not the G.D.P.

As long as the "possessed" person can't be be judged psichiatric and/or as long as he's capable of discernment, I somehow apreciate that he can apply for whatever rite he wants. Please note that I'm writing from Italy, but I would be pleased to get rid of Vatican City and its influence.

Every self health and safety consideration shouldn't mean anything for a grown person capable of discernment, otherwise also extreme sports should be banned because of the same reason.

The real issue is to have enough social assistance to be sure that ANY PERSON that otherwise IS psichiatric or not capable of discenrment will be protected against every menace, physical or "spiritual". It's relevant that some cults usually perform brain wash, therefore an exorcism will be more likely accepted by the possessed person and -especially- his family, but this should lead to a legal accusation against the brain washig cult, not against the exorcism itself.

Sadly we aren't not even close to this situation, and -personally- I would choose to somehow limit freedom of belief, and declare exorcism not legal anymore, because I think that this won't actually "hurt" anyone and it will save some unlucky people. In the end we are talking about democratic states, and since religions have a firm hold over a huge number of people the law will follow the most shared ideas, which could also be "exorcisms do work and should be done often" even if it doesn't (and no proofs that exorcism is a real thing have been recorded so far). That's dead simple.

I would like to use another question to explain why exorcisms are still legal: why abortion, euthanasia or de facto couples ARE STILL NOT LEGAL in highly developed country? The answer is the same and then I would object against the "developed" adjective.

  • 1
    Having second-hand (yes exactly second hand) knowledge of real exorcisms, I don't think you know what you're talking about.
    – Joshua
    Jul 20, 2018 at 16:19
  • @Joshua: then enlight us all. And what do you mean by "real" exorcism?
    – theGarz
    Jul 20, 2018 at 16:48
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    This looks more like a rant about personal ideological views than an answer to the question.
    – vsz
    Jul 20, 2018 at 16:52
  • @vsz I've highlighted the TL,DR part of the answer for your convenience.
    – theGarz
    Jul 20, 2018 at 17:03
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    There is a dangerous problem when you assume a psychiatric person is not entitled to decide what treatment to receive. Unfortunately, there's a dangerous problem with not doing so too. The combined authority that can determine both psychiatric and possession does not to my knowledge exist.
    – Joshua
    Jul 20, 2018 at 20:34

The short answer is that the government cannot be trusted with the power to decide which religious beliefs are "legitimate" and which ones are "superstition". Since most religious tenets are things people believe despite there being thin or no evidence for it (of the sort that would, say, convince skeptic James Randi to award the million dollar prize)**, giving the government such authority would make it too easy for the government to persecute people on the basis that it's "unjustified by the facts" and therefore not "legitimate".

** - For instance, dozens of authenticated recordings showing someone fitting Zeus's description literally throwing thunderbolts.

  • 1
    Even if it you take the religious sentiment out of the picture, governments should not regulate occasionally-harmful activities which happen to be whimsical. Amusement park rides can be occasionally harmful, too.
    – grovkin
    Jul 21, 2018 at 7:02
  • See also the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    – Erik
    Jul 21, 2018 at 7:41
  • 3
    @grovkin but governments do regulate amusement park rides. iaapa.org/safety-and-advocacy/safety/amusement-ride-safety/…
    – RonJohn
    Jul 22, 2018 at 7:24
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    In fact some folks were recently charged with murder over incompetence and disregard for safety regulations in the "design" of an amusement park ride: cnn.com/2018/03/27/us/schlitterbahn-waterpark-death-arrests/…
    – Ton Day
    Jul 22, 2018 at 8:51
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    One of the surest signs a society thinks the government can't be trusted with something is that it only feels comfortable letting the government do it after it gets a permission slip signed by a judge saying there's a good reason. The President can pardon anyone he wants, without a judge's say-so; but if he wants to arrest someone, his men have to explain themselves before a judge, who has the authority to say 'no' and that's the end of it.
    – Ton Day
    Jul 24, 2018 at 2:24

It's probably because of freedom of religion.

Now, as an atheist, I don't perform that kind of stuff (and I find it ridiculous).

But, as long as the exorcism doesn't cause harm (bodily, psychological, etc.), it is fine.

It's a ritual the is performed by certain religions.

And people should be able to freely practice their religions, as long as : no one gets harmed in any way, it does not discriminate or call for discrimination, and it does not try to put it's religion into government or laws.


As a Christian I have done exorcisms and I can assure you they are not a joke.

The first time I didn't do one was when I was a missionary support worker (very new to it) and a man told me his house was haunted and could I do an exorcism. I said yes. I got his phone number but it took me 5 or 6 days to get to his house and by that time it was too late he had shot his father.

The second time, I was at a house where there were multiple suicide attempts, everyone living there had a diagnosed mental health condition they were taking medication for; and they didn't have any such conditions before living there, and there were rooms where people who lived there would not go.

I knew the man living there and stood outside and rebuked Satan in the pitch black and quoted scripture for about 45 minutes. I had my eyes closed and for most of the 45 minutes I daren't open my eyes - it was like being in the midst of a soundless whirlwind was swarming all around me a silent tornado - I can't describe it and towards the end of me continually praying out loud and quoting Jesus' promises in the Bible a huge cat face (like on a mask) came out from the building and tried to engulf me.

Then it was utterly peaceful. In an instant. It was some years ago but I still remember the face of that cat like creature that I saw even thought my eyes were shut.

The ministry of Jesus in the Bible is approximately covering 3 to 4 years yet he rebuked demons and stopped possession almost as much as any other miracle. What that means is if you go about the place meeting people you WILL run into demon possession regularly. And you do I can assure you. And most people if they live long enough WILL experience it whether they know it or not. This is the crux of why it is still in law: because most members of government are not 100% confident (deep down) it is not really real. It's only young inexperienced people who have shut their minds to the notion.

I could go on and on into the detail of it. But the very short version is this: In Daniel (Daniel ch10 v10-13) it clearly states that demons can be a possessor of family lineages, and individual people and places. Jesus also said that demons can be very powerful (Matthew 17:21) and hard to evict.

  • 4
    As a skeptic of supernatural forces, I would love to experience anything akin to what you describe.
    – CramerTV
    Jul 20, 2018 at 16:46
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    I don't get why if the government thinks that's not real it should then keep it in law. The opposite seems more reasonable, otherwise they should also create a law for the dragon hunters. Maybe I've lost in translation the real meaning of "this is the crux of why".
    – theGarz
    Jul 20, 2018 at 17:11
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    @theGarz Mr Heelis obviously misspoke. In the next line, he contrasts the leaders of the government with the young inexperienced people who have shut their mind to the notion. He meant to say that the gov't leaders are confident it is real. I'll leave it to him to edit that correction in himself, though.
    – lly
    Jul 21, 2018 at 2:39
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    The idea that "mental health problems" and "demonic activity" are mutually exclusive seems to me to be a hasty assumption. I would bet that the latter is often an ingredient of the former.
    – user15103
    Jul 23, 2018 at 14:18
  • 2
    citations needed
    – user1530
    Jul 23, 2018 at 16:57

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