Guest / Limited Access /

The Church of Scientology is asking the Supreme Court to let it use clergy-penitent privilege to keep secret more than 18,000 pages of documents on former member and employee Laura DeCrescenzo. It has picked up some unusual allies—the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization.

DeCrescenzo is suing Scientology and alleging a number of abuses, including a forced abortion when she was 17. The California courts have ordered Scientology to turn over the records. Scientology has complied, but asked the Supreme Court to overturn the order, arguing that the conversations were protected by the state's clergy-penitent privilege.

In California, clergy may invoke the privilege even if the parishioner waives it. However, the privilege only stands if the conversation took place between one clergyperson and one parishioner. The courts ruled that since 259 Scientologists reviewed DeCrescenzo's documents, they're no longer confidential. And even though Scientology leaders have argued that all of the reviewers were clergy sworn to secrecy, that's still 258 too many, according to the California courts. If the case is allowed to stand, clergy in California will not be able to rely on the privilege if they share penitent conversations with other church leaders.

That makes the California rule a violation of the First Amendment, the NCC argued in a brief asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. Limiting the scope to a one-on-one conversation favors some religions over others.

Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore agrees that the rule favors Roman Catholic confessions, where a priest and a penitent meet privately. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueEvangelism Is Alive in Portland
Subscriber Access Only
Evangelism Is Alive in Portland
How pastors, evangelists, and residents are sharing the Good News among the city’s ‘nones’ and Muslim refugees.
RecommendedWhy We Need 'Useless' People
Why We Need 'Useless' People
Babies with Down syndrome are aborted all over the world for being 'a burden to society.' Here's how we can advocate for them.
TrendingRussia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Russia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Group gives Protestants competition for souls, but also an ally on religious freedom.
Editor's PickAfter 40 Girls Die in Orphanage Fire, Guatemala Asks Evangelicals for Advice
After 40 Girls Die in Orphanage Fire, Guatemala Asks Evangelicals for Advice
Tragedy becomes impetus for reforms sought by Christian experts.
Christianity Today
Some Christians Are Siding with Scientologists in a Key Abuse ...
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

September 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.