Utah Lawmakers Urged to Remove 'Clergy Exemption' From Reporting Child Abuse

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A group of Mormon women walk to Temple Square in an attempt to get tickets to the priesthood meeting at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints semi-annual gathering known as general conference in Salt Lake City, Utah April 5, 2014. The group, who want ecclesiastical equality with men, seeked admittance to a male-only session of the faith's spring conference on Saturday, as they promote the ordination of women into the lay priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. |

The Truth and Transparency Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to decreasing abuse and corruption in religious and faith-based organizations through increased transparency, has called on Utah legislators to remove the state's clergy exemption from mandatory reporting laws.

"We, at the TTF, believe that any exemption of clergy members in mandatory reporting laws is an affront to the safety and well-being of abuse survivors and provides an environment where predators are enabled. Thus, we are proposing the exemption be removed entirely and that clergy members explicitly be required to report child abuse reported to them by any individual regardless of the reporter's role in the abuse," the organization said in an email to state lawmakers on Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes that identify persons who are required to report child maltreatment under specific circumstances. Only 12 of these states, however, make absolutely no exemption for clergy, says TTF.

While noting that some critics of the proposal might see the request as an attack on religious liberty, the transparency organization pointed out that some highly religious states, like Texas and Mississippi, do not exempt clergy. 

"Some may claim this is an attack on religious liberty. We ask you to reconsider that argument and realize that the proposal does not oppress members of any religious denomination. In addition, some of the states with the highest rates of religious affiliation do not make any exemptions for clergy," the organization said.

"These ... states include Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas. Like Utah, each of these states have majority populations who, according to Gallup, identify as religious," the group continued.

"We implore you to put the survivors of abuse first and to consider supporting and fighting for this proposal by sponsoring an amendment to Utah Code 62A chapter 4a section 403 in the upcoming Utah legislative session in early 2019," they added.

A petition seeking 1,000 signatures to push the proposal has already gotten support from more than 600 supporters, including Jonathan Heinz who noted that: "As a teacher I'm a mandated reporter and I feel clergy should be no different. It's about doing what's morally and ethically right."

Jean Hill, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which covers Utah's 300,000-plus Catholics, told the Salt Lake Tribune that it won't comment until there is actual legislation, but noted: "We would be very concerned if lawmakers attempted to legislate the relationship between priest and penitent and to debate the merits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation."

The TTF is the same group that released documents, via MormonLeaks and FaithLeaks, showing that clergy typically and intentionally avoid reporting abuse to law enforcement except in states where they are required to do so, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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