East St. Louis church ordered to pay $3K for woman's fall as congregants rushed to 'receive the spirit'

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot on April 9 signed an order approving settlement of a woman’s personal injury lawsuit against an East St. Louis church.

Cheryl Jones filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Disciple Fellowship Christian Church claiming that during a service in January 2010 members in the congregation rushed to “receive the spirit.”

Jones claimed one congregant fell backwards and knocked other worshipers into her.  Ushers had been assigned to catch those who fell during the receiving process, but were not able to catch everyone, the suit claimed.

Jones claimed she fell to the ground, and several people fell on top of her. She claimed she lost consciousness during the incident and received serious injuries to her head, neck and back in the fall.

She had sought more than $50,000.

According to Lopinot’s order, the parties had reached a full and complete settlement for $3,000 with $1,184 to be paid to Medicare to satisfy its lien interest and $1,805 to be paid to the law firm of Millikan Wright, attorneys for plaintiff and Kathryn Jones.

Kathryn Jones, mother of Cheryl Jones, was listed as special representative of the estate of Cheryl Jones, who died during the pendency of the lawsuit.

The church had sought to dismiss the complaint, stating the suit sought recovery for “the manner in which the worship service is conducted,” which encroaches the church’s ability to practice its religious doctrine and exercise its faith.

The plaintiff maintained the defendant failed to provide a safe place to worship and failed to control parishioners, who were receiving the spirit.

The church maintained that the U.S. Supreme Court, along with Illinois appellate courts, have held that the free exercise clause in the U.S. Constitution guarantees churches to decide for themselves without state interference the methods of faith and doctrine.

Attorneys Brian P. Millikan and Christopher A. Wright of St. Louis represented Jones.

David C. Berwin of Evans & Dixon in St. Louis represented the defense.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Case No. 11-L-702

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