Clerical Abusers and the First Amendment

Religious institutions have constitutional protections, but they are not above the law. Unfortunately, that has not stopped the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups from arguing that the First Amendment shields them from civil lawsuits for negligent supervision and retention of employees who sexually abuse children.

Most state courts that have considered the issue have rejected this claim by churches, recognizing that holding religious employers liable for failure to monitor employees in sex-abuse cases does not interfere with constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

However, courts in Missouri, Wisconsin and Utah have twisted the First Amendment into a shield for organizational liability for pedophile clergy. In an outrag...


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  • Alexandra Roberts
    commented 2012-03-16 12:36:24 -0500
    I hope someone is checking these comments. Precedent was set for overturning First Amendment defenses with Bollard versus California Province of Jesuits in 1999. Bollard was a Jesuit seminarian who sued for sexual harassment, through civil courts and he won the right to do so, on appeal, based on, Judge William Fletcher of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that, “Religious organizations are not free to engage in sexual harassment under the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.” More about this precedent setting case can be found at:

    Although Bollard and the Jesuits settled out of court, Judge Fletcher’s ruling still stands as legal precedent that can be cited by any attorney dealing with judges unfamiliar with this case.

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