Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church School Could be Liable for Failure to Comply with State Child Abuse Reporting Law

Key point 4-08. Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.

A federal appeals court ruled that a church school could be liable on the basis of negligence for a coach’s sexual relationship with a minor student as a result of its failure to comply with a state child abuse reporting law if it had reasonable cause to suspect that child sexual abuse was occurring. An adult male (the “coach”) was employed as the girls’ basketball coach at a Christian secondary school from 2008 until 2010. While he was the school’s basketball coach, he sent over 3,200 text messages over a three-month period to a 17-year-old student (the “victim”) who was a member of the girls’ basketball team. The victim informed the school principal later in 2009 that she had received inappropriate texts from the coach. By that point, she had deleted all of the text messages from her phone, but she provided the principal with descriptions of some of the text messages, some of which were sexually explicit. In some, the coach stated that he loved her, did not want her to be with her boyfriend, and wanted to marry her. In addition, the victim suggested to the principal that he speak with another student about similar conduct.

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