Iowa Supreme Court Rules Church’s Labeling of Women Pressured Into Sex With Pastor as ‘Adulteresses’ is Constitutionally Protected Religious Speech

Patrick Edouard (Photo: David Purdy / The Register)
Patrick Edouard (Photo: David Purdy / The Register)

The Iowa Supreme Court says an all-male church board’s characterization of female congregants who were pressured into sex with the pastor as sinning “adulteresses” who gave into “temptation” was constitutionally protected religious speech.

The court issued its ruling Friday in Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church. All the justices concurred, except Justice Daryl Hecht, who took no part.

Two women and their husbands sued the Pella church, arguing its leaders failed to adequately supervise pastor Patrick Edouard, who was removed from the ministry and criminally convicted in 2012 of sexually exploiting four of his former parishioners. Iowa law treats religious leaders as counselors and bars them from having sexual contact with congregants they’re counseling.

Edouard sexually exploited the plaintiffs, sisters-in-law Valerie and Anne Bandstra, pressuring them for sex during private counseling sessions in his basement office. The women were seeking his advice for family planning decisions and other personal matters. The pattern of exploitation occurred over several years. Edouard has said the sex was consensual.

The Bandstras also argued in their lawsuit that church leadership defamed them by reading a letter to the congregation that described their behavior as “sexual immorality and/or inappropriate contact.”

In its ruling Friday, the court held that members of the Covenant Reformed Church’s board of elders didn’t defame the two women because they were expressing their religious beliefs.

“The record demonstrates the elders sincerely believed that, pursuant to their faith, the women were in need of forgiveness, and Edouard’s criminal conduct was ‘sexual immorality,'” Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in the court’s opinion.

The court also found that the Pella church wasn’t obligated to provide counseling to the women that went against its religious teachings.

Attorneys for the two sides didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.

SOURCE: AP / Stephen Gruber-Miller
Des Moines Register