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Court Refused to Extend the Clergy-Penitent Privilege to an Unordained, Self-Proclaimed Minister

A Louisiana state appeals court refused to extend the clergy-penitent privilege to an unordained, self-proclaimed minister to whom a murder suspect made certain statements.

The minister characterized himself as a "self-ordained minister," which he defined as "a person who takes it upon himself to guide others in religious matters." He had taken a Bible study correspondence course from a college in California, and while in the armed services participated in a Bible study group in his church. Such a background, concluded the court, was not enough to justify application of the clergy-penitent privilege under Louisiana law, which provides that "no clergyman is permitted, without the consent of the person making the communication, to disclose any communication made to him in confidence by one seeking his spiritual advice or consolation, or any information that he may have gotten by reason of such communication."

The court observed that "simply because [the alleged minister] studied the Bible and took it upon himself to give religious guidance to others does not make him a clergyman." Further, the evidence did not demonstrate that he had been "approached for spiritual counseling." As a result, the communications made to the minister by the murder suspect were not privileged, and were properly admissible in court. State v. Hereford, 518 So.2d 515 (La. App. 1987)

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Posted:
  • May 2, 1988

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