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Catholics, Mormons back synagogue in suit

Jan. 13, 2010 at 5:20 PM

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Roman Catholics and Mormons are providing legal support to a Nevada synagogue sued by a woman who says she was molested by a cantor.

The religious groups argue the First Amendment shields them from lawsuits over misconduct by employees, the Las Vegas Sun reported Wednesday. While the Nevada Supreme Court is dealing with the issue for the first time, other state courts have ruled the U.S. Constitution does not protect religious organizations from being sued by victims of sexual misconduct.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Catholic bishops of Reno and Nevada are supporting the position of Chabad of Summerlin and Chabad of Southern Nevada. Other organizations, including the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, have lined up on the other side.

Theressa Ramani says she was assaulted by Michael Segelstein, a cantor, in a synagogue parking lot in 2001. Segelstein pleaded guilty to gross lewdness in 2002 and received a one-year suspended sentence.

Ramani said one rabbi had refused to believe her story when she first came forward and sued in Clark County District Court in 2003.

She lost in the lower court, which ruled the synagogues were not liable because there was no direct tie between them and the assault, and Segelstein was not an employee. But her appeal has reached the state's high court. Oral arguments have yet to be scheduled.

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