A new bill in the California legislature could require clergy of all denominations to report their confessions and sins to the federal government.
The proposed law SB360 was authored by Sen. Jerry Hill — a Democrat representing San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. It’s been put forward in response to clergy sex abuse scandals over the past several years.
Critics of the bill suggest that it will do nothing to combat such abuse while illegally sweeping away centuries of First Amendment protections — turning the church into a state-run operation.
Moreover, it could turn the town pastor into crooks if they do not invade the private business of every, single parishioner. The congregation will become suspects, and the pastor will suspect them, rather than shepherd them.
For the first time, a state will classify members of the clergy as accomplices in the lexicon of criminal prosecution if they do not immediately report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Critics include the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI-CPP), led by Brad Dacus, who said in a release:
This legislation is not just misguided, it is blatantly unconstitutional. Imagine the outcry if the Legislature tried to do away with attorney-client privilege. The clergy-penitent privilege stands on the same footing and is an essential component of restorative justice.
In a detailed opposition letter submitted to the Legislature, PJI-CPP attorney Kevin Snider explained the inviolate nature of “penitent communications” in many religious traditions.
Snider suggests that parental requests for counseling could even be misconstrued if they fail to “provide “warmth,” “attention,” or “normal living experiences” for their children or teens:
Tragically, the children most at risk of experiencing sexual abuse are those already under California’s supervision as foster children. Instead of addressing its own abject failure to protect those directly under its care, the State is rolling back longstanding legal privileges in a way that could actually make the problem worse.
The Roman Catholic Church can expect to be excommunicated if they reveal confessions as would be required by the bill.
A petition drive can be found at PJI.org, which urges church leaders and their parishioners to speak up now before California totally removes their religious freedom.
SB 360 was approved earlier this month by the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-0 vote. It is scheduled to be heard next by the Senate Appropriations Committee April 22.
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