Monday, May 08, 2006

Should Pastors Be Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse?

On May 1, 2006, much to my regret, the General Assembly sent SB 17 to the Governor's office for signature. For reasons stated below, LLM has vigorously opposed the passage of SB 17 (and its predecessor bill, SB 100), a law which would include pastors within the statutory list of mandatory reporters of suspicion of child abuse. LLM Attorney Hamilton testified before the General Assembly in both 2004 and 2005. The following is the text of my 2004 testimony in opposition to SB 100.

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TESTIMONY BY ATTORNEY TERRY LEE HAMILTON
IN OPPOSITION TO S.B. 100 (125TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY)

SUMMARY
Attorney Hamilton, on behalf of hundreds of Independent Baptist churches and hundreds of other like-minded churches in Ohio, opposes the passage of S.B. 100, which expands the list of specified professions and persons that are subject to existing mandatory child abuse reporting provisions so that the provisions also apply to clergy. Heretofore, for sound public policy reasons, the General Assembly has not seen fit to include clergy within the list of mandatory reporters. Those same public policy reasons still prevail today -- upholding separation of church and state, upholding privacy and confidentiality, and avoiding unnecessary conflicts over freedom of religion in America.

ATTORNEY TERRY LEE HAMILTON
Attorney Hamilton was a trial attorney for the U.S. government in Washington, DC, from 1977 to 1984. For the last twenty years, he has practiced law in Ohio, defending hundreds of Independent Baptist churches and like-minded churches in Ohio and a dozen other states in cases involving separation of church and state.

INDEPENDENT BAPTIST CHURCHES
Attorney Hamilton represents hundreds of Independent Baptist churches in Ohio and hundreds of other Independent Baptist churches around America. Baptist churches, an integral part of American history since the early 1600s, were instrumental in the passage of our nationÂ’s Bill of Rights and have been steadfast advocates of freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

The Baptist devotion to liberty and separation of church and state is based upon their literal interpretation and practice of the Bible, GodÂ’s Holy Word.
• Government, ordained of God for the protection of life, is to be honored and respected by Christians (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17).
• The Bible teaches both separation of church and state (Matthew 22:21) and liberty (Galatians 3:17). Christians should not use “liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (I Peter 2:16).
• Baptists believe that churches should be supported by the tithes and offerings of God’s people
(Malachi 3:8), not by government handouts. As Justice Souter stated in his dissenting opinion
in the 1997 Supreme Court opinion, Agostini v. Felton, “religions supported by governments
are compromised just as surely as the religious freedom of dissenters is burdened when the
government supports religion.”

INDEPENDENT BAPTIST CHURCHES SUPPORT LAWS WHICH PROTECT CHILDREN
Before expressing our problems with S.B. 100, it would be profitable to first explain those things which Independent Baptists do not have a problem with.
• Jesus loves children (“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” -- Mark 10:14). Independent Baptist churches, with their Sunday Schools, Junior Churches, Church Schools, bus ministries, and so forth, also love children and want to provide them a quality Bible-based, Christ-centered education and life.
• Independent Baptists do not oppose laws which protect children. Jesus made it very clear that we should make protection of children a top priority (Matthew 18:6).
• Independent Baptists do not oppose the existing mandatory reporting laws applied to various professions. But none of those existing professions raises the problems found with S.B. 100.

S. B. 100 STIFLES LIBERTY AND UNDERMINES SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
For sound public policy reasons, the General Assembly, recognizing the constitutional problems of free exercise of religion and separation of church and state, has heretofore not applied the mandatory reporting laws to clergy.
1. “Sacred Trust.” The General Assembly has previously recognized the sacred trust inherent in the relationship between pastor and church member. That sacred trust extends to all relationships within the local church, not just between pastor and penitent.
2. Privacy and Confidentiality. Persons of all ages must have the liberty, the freedom, the confidence that when they talk with their pastor, those conversations will not be forwarded to the police or child protective service agents.
3. Definition of Child Abuse. We live in an age when society has changed dramatically. For example, although the courts have consistently upheld the right of parents and church schools to discipline children, state agencies charged with investigating allegations of child abuse have consistently labeled corporal discipline as child abuse. It is not difficult to imagine situations where pastors are arrested for failing to report that a parent spanked his child.

Other church groups which may support S.B. 100 have their own agenda. The agenda of Independent Baptist churches is advocacy of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The stateÂ’s interest in protection of children is adequately served by the existing laws. S.B. 100 should not be passed.

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In next week's blog, we will address a couple of drastic consequences of passage of SB 17. But the bill which finally becomes law does contain at least one minor victory. Stay tuned next week!

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