By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A woman who claimed she punched herself in the face and hit her head on a wall as part of a religious ritual was properly hospitalized for the treatment of mental illness, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The court rejected the arguments of a woman, identified only as ASM, that her First Amendment right to religious freedom was violated when she was involuntarily hospitalized in October 2020.
According to the ruling, written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden, the woman was jailed in the Albany County Detention Center on arson charges when jailers reported she had been placed in a restraint chair 16 times in two weeks because she tried to injure herself.
The opinion said ASM punched herself in the face, banged her head on the wall and scratched skin off of her face.
A hearing was held the day after the report was received and a district court, based on records and testimony from a psychiatrist, found that the woman was mentally ill and should be hospitalized at the Wyoming State Hospital.
ASM challenged the finding on the grounds that the district court violated her constitutional right to freely practice religion.
In her arguments, ASM said she was taking part in a ritual of “mortification,” in which she attempted to injure herself as a way to repent for her sins.
But justices said there was little evidence to prove that ASM told jailers she was practicing a religious ritual when she was injuring herself in jail and added she also presented limited evidence to that claim during the hearings that led to her hospitalization.
“(On) reviewing the evidence of record, we conclude that, even assuming ASM held a sincere religious belief about the … ritual of mortification, she failed to establish that she was engaged in such practice when she injured herself in the detention facility,” the opinion said. “Thus, the district court did not deny her constitutional right to free exercise of religion.”