By Denying Jehovah’s Witnesses Appeal, Supreme Court Sides with Transparency over Secrecy

In a win for transparency and the public good, an appeal that sought to give more leeway to church officials in how they handle allegations of abuse will not be heard by the Supreme Court. We are grateful for this decision and hope that it will lead to safer, more informed communities.

By choosing to reject the argument put forth by Jehovah’s Witnesses church officials that internal documents related to allegations of abuse are covered by clergy-penitent privilege, the Supreme Court has put common sense ahead of the institutional privilege often enjoyed by churches. It is clear to most folks that memos circulated among staff are not the same as a confession between a parishioner and pastor, and we are glad that this argument was rejected by the Court. 

When church officials can quietly dismiss one of their own who has been accused of abuse, all this does is put other children at danger. A recent AP investigation has shown exactly how this situation has played out over the years when they revealed that 1,700 priests accused of abuse are living without oversight, and many of them have gone on to become school counselors, youth workers, or foster parents. If the argument put forth by the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been accepted, we can only imagine how many more pastors, rabbis, elders, and other religious leaders would be able to abuse children, have their crimes covered up internally, and then be quietly sent off to different communities where they could abuse again.

In rejecting this argument, the Supreme Court has sided with transparency over secrecy and has put the protection of children and vulnerable adults above the desires of institutions that have failed to keep them safe. Now that this argument has been rejected, we hope that religious leaders across the country will similarly start to put the protection of the vulnerable above the protection of their own reputations.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is


SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant