Tuesday, August 21, 2012

People v. Robertson (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 21, 2012)

I get that Roger Wayne Robinson is a rapist.  I understand why the Court of Appeal affirms his conviction and multiple X to Life sentences.  Fine.

The only thing I don't understand is why Justice Levy includes the following, which is the first footnote of the opinion:

"Both parties refer to the garage [the location where the rapes occurred] as a church and appellant refers to himself as a pastor. These characterizations are not supported by the evidence adduced at trial. No documentary or testimonial evidence proved that a legally organized church met at the compound or that the garage had been legally converted into a worship space. Also, no documentary or testimonial evidence proved that appellant was a legally ordained minister or that he was recognized as a minister, pastor, preacher or missionary by any Christian denomination or sect."

Well, I have a pretty good guess why both the defense as well as the prosecution were willing to refer to the garage as a church; namely, because it was.  As the Court of Appeal's opinion itself reflects, the garage (1) had rows of pews in it, (2) had a pulpit at the front, (3) contained a prominent tub in which total immersion baptisms were routinely performed, and (4) was the site of regular church services attended by numerous people (including the victim).  Maybe the Court of Appeal thinks this is sort of a "weird" church -- the participants thought that the defendant performed miracles, he claimed to have turned a lizard into a snake, the parishioners (including the victim) believed in faith healing, etc. -- but that it's not a church of which we're all familiar doesn't make it any less of a church.

If I hold services in my garage and call myself the Latest Christ and rows of attendees agree with me, well, you know what, that's a church.  That this may not be a "legally recognized" church -- and I'm not exactly sure when the state got into the business of formally recognizing only certain types of churches -- or that my garage may not be "formally recognized" as a church (zoned?) doesn't matter in the slightest.  It's a church.  A place of worship.  It is indisputably what it is -- and what it was here -- and the state doesn't get to define (much less legitimate) what a church entails. 

Similarly, I'm pretty confident that one can legitimately call one's self a pastor even if you've not been "legally ordained;"; i.e., recognized by the state.  Legally ordaining yourself is one way to go, but so's not getting ordained.  If I recall from the history books, for example, Joseph Smith was just a farmer who thought he had a vision and found some plates while digging for treasure, so he and a bunch of other folks started worshiping in their own special way.  No one legally ordained the guy, and no one zoned his barn (or whatever) as a church.  But I'm pretty sure that Mormonism counts -- and counted -- as a religion, and that it's entirely proper to call where they regularly worshiped a "church".

Ditto here.  We're not in the business of distinguishing between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" churches by deciding how nutty (or unpopular) we view the underlying religion.  I think it might similarly might be wise not to take pains to declare that someone's place of worship isn't a "real" church.  Seems to me you might just want to leave that one alone.

(Much less would I say that the parties' characterization of the garage as a church was "not supported by the evidence adduced at trial."  Seems to me that the evidence about the pews, services, baptism tub, meetings, faith healings, etc. support precisely such a characterization.)

Sometimes extraneous, unnecessary comments liven up -- and may improve -- an opinion.  In my view, this one doesn't.

P.S. - It's not that I don't potentially understand, by the way, where the footnote comes from.  It may well be that the justices were disgusted by the defendant -- understandably so -- and were repulsed that he was able to rape someone through the use of his religious authority.  I get it.  But it happens.  Even in established churches.  Sadly.  But that a religion is abused doesn't make it any less of a religion.