Fri, May 27, 2005

Religious trial defended

Court told dad should be allowed to sue church over girl's death


Calgary : When religions verge into secular territory to the point they endanger lives, they can't rely on the Charter to protect them from civil litigation, a lawyer said yesterday.

Vaughn Marshall said his former client's lawsuit against the Jehovah's Witness church should be allowed to proceed despite claims it will put the religion on trial.

Marshall told Justice Patricia Rowbotham the case was about undo influence being placed on a dying child, not the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witness' Watch Tower Society.

He said the lawsuit is about certain segments of the society and the influence they placed on Bethany Hughes before her Sept. 5, 2002, death.

Bethany , 17, succumbed to leukemia after fighting against blood transfusions which she said violated her religious teachings.

Her father, Lawrence, has since sued the church and some of its members, including Bethany 's lawyer, for nearly $1 million claiming they are responsible for her death.

Lawyer David Gnam argued on Tuesday that the lawsuit was simply an attempt to put the religion on trial.

Gnam said Hughes claim was putting the religious beliefs of practising Jehovah's Witnesses on trial.

Hughes was shunned from the church after he rejected its teachings about blood transfusions and agreed to allow Bethany to undergo transfusions during her chemotherapy treatments.

Marshall had been acting as his lawyer, but had to withdraw after seeking independent advice when lawyers for the defendants filed notice they would seek costs against him personally.

Rowbotham granted Marshall intervener status to argue against the application to strike the lawsuit because the costs application put both his finances and reputation at risk.

The Queen's Bench judge has reserved her decision.