READ: Watchtower's SCOTUS petition

by Corney 32 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • JeffT

    Thanks, I suspected they were still playing with words. I don't think the early Disciples had any UNPAID clergy either. I"m going to try find out how the law defines "clergy."

  • JeffT

    I think the WTBS has shot itself in the foot.

    I did some research on clergy-penitent privilige. The definition of "clergy" is up in the air, Watchtower elders may not qualify. If the Court takes this case this will likely be one of the arguments.

    The bigger problem is that the Watchtower has told elders to report child abuse in states where they are required to do so. This can be taken as evidence that they don't have any deep seated doctrinal problem about doing so. All, or almost all, states now have some version of mandatory reporting. I don't think the WTBS can now claim that doesn't apply to them, they've already admitted it does.

  • Scully

    This issue of a tribunal system to hear grievances within the JWs was the crux of a legal case in Canada years ago. The court decided that due to the tribunal format wherein more than one individual heard the confession of a congregant, the ecclesiastical privilege rules did not apply to the JWs.

    Here is a more recent ruling against Watchtower:

    McFarland v. West Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lorain, OH, Inc., 9th Dist. Lorain No. 15CA010740, 2016-Ohio-5462

    "During the course of the litigation, McFarland sought the production of certain documents between the Congregation and the Congregation’s governing bodies regarding McFarland, her allegations of molestation and the alleged abuser. The defendants withheld approximately nineteen documents from their production, claiming that these documents were protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. (Id., ¶ 10.)

    "In examining whether the clergy-penitent privilege applied in this instance to each of the disputed documents, the appellate court began by noting that not every word authored or spoken by a cleric is automatically privileged and there is no protection for communications made for secular purposes – even when those communications were intended to be confidential. Ward, 128 Ohio St. 3d 212, 2010-Ohio-6275, at ¶ 15; Niemann v. Cooley, 93 Ohio App.3d 81, 88-89 (1st Dist.1994). Further limiting the clergy-penitent privilege is the fact that the privilege stems from a penitent’s desire to receive spiritual counsel, not a cleric’s desire to give it. See Trammel v. United States, 445 U.S. 40, 51 (1980).

    "In its examination of each of the nineteen disputed documents, the appellate court only withheld production of those documents where the defendants clearly satisfied their legal burden of demonstrating that the document served a religious counseling purpose rather than a secular one. For example, correspondence between governing elders and various congregations were not deemed confidential because they did not involve an instance of a particular penitent confiding to a cleric. (Id., ¶ 16.) Another letter, in which the author was drawing attention to the Congregation’s handling of a particular matter, was also not privileged because it did not pose any questions to the elders or request advice of a spiritual nature. (Id., ¶ 20.) Further, the court also refused to protect those documents involving persons unrelated to the McFarland dispute, finding no third-party privacy rights applied. (Id., ¶ 53.)

    "Finally, the court rejected defendants’ claim that the production of the disputed documents violated their First Amendment rights by exposing their “internal discipline procedures and beliefs regarding repentance, mercy and redemption to external, secular scrutiny.” (Id., ¶ 56.) The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause prohibit states from enacting “laws that have the purpose or effect of advancing or inhibiting religion,” or expressing a preference for any one religious denomination. Varner, 500 F.3d at 495. The Clauses apply to limit the power of courts to hear suits whenever the questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law have been decided by church judicatories.” Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 679, 727, 20 L. Ed. 666 (1871).

    "In rejecting the Congregation’s First Amendment claims in McFarland, the appellate court noted that the First Amendment does not protect religious institutions from disclosing relevant, non-privileged information. Thus, because the documents were not privileged, there was no need for the court to interpret or evaluate the defendants’ religious beliefs or internal governance. In short, because the question of relevance was purely secular and “did not require the court to delve into religious law and policy” there was no merit to the Congregation’s First Amendment claims. (Id., ¶ 59, relying, in part, upon Howard v. Covenant Apostolic Church, Inc., 124 Ohio App.3d 24, 28-29 (1st Dist.1997)).

    "In total, the appellate court found that only four of the disputed documents were protected from production by the clergy-penitent privilege. The significance of this holding is that despite the generally-held belief that matters of church governance and policy are protected from production, there are strict limits applied to the clergy-penitent privilege and determining whether the privilege applies requires a careful, case-by-case analysis."

  • Vidiot
    JeffT - "I think the WTBS has shot itself in the foot."


    At this point, I'm sometimes amazed they still have feet.

  • blondie

    Thanks, Scully, great info.

    Though many states in the US have mandatory, many have stopped short of requiring clergy mandatory reporting. As Scully has shown, the legal system is moving towards more clearly defining what is protected.

    Info on what the reporting requirements in the US by state:

    · Some states (26) have revised their reporting laws to now include clergy as mandatory reporters. In many states a faith leader’s knowledge of child abuse (of any kind) can no longer be considered privileged or confidential information. A member of the clergy who does not practice in a state where he/she is a mandated reporter may still consider notifying the authorities out of a personal or ethical obligation.

    · If you have a question about whether or not a member of the clergy (of any faith) is required to file reports in your state, consult your local statutes. This information is easily accessible through the Child Welfare Information Gateway document Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.

  • careful

    We all know that the GB has used their legal dept to file appeals, if for no other reason, just to stave off payments and to draw out legal decisions. Could that be the main factor at work in their filing here? That is, they really do not hope to win. They are just putting off payments?

  • Vidiot
    careful - "...they really do not hope to win. They are just putting off payments?"

    Oh, absolutely.

    But I'm also pretty sure that on some level, they believe they can't really lose, either.

    Remember, all the anecdotal evidence we have indicates that these guys are complete True Believers... that they've convinced themselves that God's got their back no matter what, and that in the end, they're destined to be victorious in all things (easy habits to fall into when you surround solely with people who are never allowed to disagree with you).

    That being said, I can't imagine that their lawyers aren't at least trying to advise them to expect a more realistic outcome.

  • Eustace

    This incredibly bad excuse for a motion only has one mention of the word "ministry" in the entire 102 pages, and not a single mention of the crucial fact of the case that the Watchtower Society endangered children by allowing a known child molester to go out unsupervised in the ministry. It also pretends that there wasn't a connection between Kendrick's status as a publisher of the Jehovah's Witness religion and his abuse of the victim despite the First Appellate Court of California stating that: “Conti and another congregant testified that Kendrick and Conti performed field service together on multiple occasions. Conti described how Kendrick would separate her from field service groups, take her to his home, molest her, and then take her back to Kingdom Hall or the service group. The jury could find from this evidence that the elders were negligent in failing to supervise Kendrick’s field service.”

  • Corney

    By an order (see p. 42) published 30 minutes ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has DENIED Watchtower's petition.

  • Corney

    Eustace, this petition had nothing to do with the Conti case.

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