Court rejects therapist's religious-freedom appeal

The Associated Press, July 2, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- An Arizona psychologist who lost his license for performing an exorcism has lost an appeal to get it back.

Kenneth J. Olson, an ordained Lutheran minister and clinical psychologist, performed an exorcism on an 8-year-old boy and then billed it to the state as a psychotherapy session.

A state caseworker referred the boy to the Olson for evaluation and psychotherapy, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The boy's foster father believed the child had been subjected to satanic ritual abuse by his biological parents.

During at least one session, Olson laid hands on the child and prayed for the Holy Spirit to reveal and remove the demonic spirits. He billed the state for that session, the court said.

After state caseworkers complained that Olson was unable to separate his ministry from his work as a psychologist, his license was revoked by the state Board of Psychologist Examiners after the incident.

Rather than appealing in state court, Olson filed a U.S. District Court lawsuit in 1994 accusing the board of violating his freedom of religion by refusing to let him use prayer as therapy. U.S. District Judge Roger Strand dismissed the suit and was upheld by the appeals court in a 3-0 ruling Thursday.

Without deciding whether Olson's rights were violated, the court said he could have made his constitutional arguments during the state board's hearing and a state court appeal. Because he failed to do so, he cannot make the arguments for the first time in a federal court suit, said the opinion by Judge Barry Silverman.

Olson's appellate lawyer, David C. Larkin, said Olson wasn't represented by a lawyer in the state proceedings and didn't know what he had to do.

"My argument in federal court was that these were federal (constitutional) claims, the proper forum was federal court, and he shouldn't be precluded simply because he didn't put on evidence of religious discrimination at the state hearing,'' Larkin said.

The case is Olson vs. Morris, 98-15693.

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