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Accessing Employee Computers
Accessing Employee Computers
Do churches have the right to monitor computers and phones?
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Question:
Pastor Corey is a youth pastor at our church. A church secretary picked up a church telephone and overheard a "romantic" conversation between Pastor Corey and a woman who was not his wife. The secretary informed the senior pastor of this conversation. The senior pastor accessed Pastor Corey's computer one evening after work to look for incriminating material. He discovered several incriminating emails, and downloaded pornographic images. The pastor informed the church board, and a decision was made to dismiss Pastor Corey. When Pastor Corey was informed of this decision, he claimed that his "privacy rights" had been violated. Does a church have the right to access employee computers and telephone calls?

Answer:
Most youth pastors function in an "electronic environment." They are provided with a computer by their employing church (which may have an Internet connection), and a cell phone. The use of such devices raises important privacy issues. For example, does a senior pastor or another staff member have the right to access a youth pastor's computer, or phone calls, without notice or consent? Let's illustrate these issues with two examples.

Example. Pastor Dave is the youth pastor at his church. He is provided with a computer by the church, and an Internet connection. While Pastor Dave is away on vacation, the senior pastor needs to access Pastor Dave's computer to find the text of a letter. While searching Pastor Dave's computer for the letter, the senior pastor finds several downloaded pornographic images. The senior pastor shares this information with the church board, and a decision is made to terminate Pastor Dave's employment. When Pastor Dave is informed of this decision, he complains that the unauthorized access to his computer violated his privacy rights.

Example.Pastor Scott is a youth pastor at his church. A church secretary picks up a church phone to make a business call and hears Pastor Scott's voice. The secretary continues to listen, and hears Pastor Scott engaged in a "romantic" conversation with a woman who is not his wife. The secretary hangs up, and later informs the senior pastor about the conversation. When confronted with this information, Pastor Scott admits it, but insists that the secretary violated his privacy rights.

Just what privacy rights do youth pastors have in office computers provided to them by their employing church, or in conversations involving church telephones? Can church leaders dismiss a youth pastor if they find pornographic files on his office computer? Or, would this amount to an invasion of the youth pastor's privacy?

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Posted:
May 14, 2008