Des Moines imam argues sexual exploitation charges violate religious freedom



Des Moines Register

Written by Grant Rodgers

An attorney for a Des Moines Islamic leader charged with sexual abuse and exploitation is asking a judge to drop two of the charges, arguing that they violate the man's religious freedom.

In a motion to dismiss filed last week in Polk County District Court, Des Moines defense attorney Angela Campbell argued that Nermin Spahic, 40, had never met the two women who accused him of sexual abuse before the day of a religious ceremony that led to his arrest. The motion also says that Spahic never claimed to offer "mental health services" or counseling.

Spahic faces one count of third-degree sexual abuse and two counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist. He was arrested in August after a 42-year-old woman and her 18-year-old daughter told police that Spahic sexually assaulted them during a religious ceremony.

Iowa law spells out that counselors and therapists are barred from "sexual conduct" with patients. But because Spahic never had a formal relationship with the two women, using his religious position to charge him should be unconstitutional, Campbell argued in the motion.

"The ceremony he was performing was not psychotherapy, nor was it counseling," the motion said. "The sexual exploitation charges are therefore necessarily based on his religious identity and the religious nature of his relationships to the accusers."

Additionally, there's no evidence that the two women were "emotionally dependent" upon Spahic, the motion said. Spahic will also argue he is not guilty on the sexual abuse charge at trial.

The woman on Aug. 12 called Spahic to her house in Johnston for help with her daughter, who reportedly suffered personal issues, including depression and drug use, police and court papers said. Spahic allegedly performed an Islamic ceremony that involved "chanting and rubbing the body with oil," court papers said.

In one section of the sealed minutes of evidence, prosecutors "inappropriately refer to Mr. Spahic as a 'Voodoo priest,'" according to the motion. At the time of his arrest Spahic served as the imam - a leader of Islamic prayer services - at the Des Moines Islamic and Cultural Center Bosniak on Lower Beaver Road.

Campbell also filed a motion for a judge to review mental health records of the two women. The mother told police investigating the alleged sexual abuse that her daughter had a "history of mental illness and deception," the motion said.

Spahic bonded out of the Polk County Jail after his arrest and is scheduled for trial on Dec. 2.

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