Key point 3-08.07. The clergy-penitent privilege is not required by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom.
In some cases, a communication made to a minister will fail one or more of the requirements for a valid privilege, yet the minister or the penitent making the communication will claim that the First Amendment's guaranty of religious freedom prohibits compelled disclosure of the communication. To illustrate, in one case a Catholic nun who was not eligible for the privilege argued that the First Amendment protected her from being compelled to testify regarding communications made to her by a murder suspect. The court, in rejecting the nun's claim, observed that "this case calls for a balancing of interests-that of the state in enforcing the power of the grand jury to inquire into the commission of a crime, and that of [the nun] who claims she responds to a call of conscience. ...
This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."
Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.