On Friday the Iowa Supreme Court re-instated the trial court’s convictions of Patrick Edouard for violating Iowa’s Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor statute.
The Court began with a sad recitation of facts as a jury might have received them. According to witnesses, Rev. Edouard preached sermons that were “‘amazing,’ ‘great,’ and ‘dynamic.’ ‘He definitely could preach the word of God.’” But in private he was talking to women about their difficulties behind closed doors in his basement, having sex with them and saying things like
You will never tell anybody. The elders will never believe you. They will only believe me. I’ll make sure everybody knows you’re crazy. You’ll kill your husband . . . . You’ll destroy the church. You’ll hurt your family and you will hurt [my family].
The central issue on appeal was whether Rev. Edouard’s private discussion of personal issues with the women made him a counselor or therapist covered by the Iowa statute. The Court of Appeals had held that the statute was meant to cover a more formal, technical, and modern kind of counseling than anything Edouard had provided. But the Iowa Supreme Court held that “mental health services” under the statute is broader and includes “a counseling relationship with the clergy member established for the purpose of addressing particular mental, intrapersonal or interpersonal dysfunctions.” There must be more than informal and casual advice of a pastor, but formal pastoral counseling is enough to be covered by the statute.
The Court also rejected Edouard’s argument that the statute violates the Establishment Clause by meddling in religious issues, instead noting that the statute is neutral in its application to all counselors and that the trial court observed “proper boundaries” between religious and secular considerations. Along the way the Court quoted a description of a similar statute in Minnesota “that regulates the behavior of those involved in . . . relationships for which the Legislature has determined there is a power imbalance between the parties.”