California drops clergy confession bill

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By Pacific Justice Institute,

California Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties) withdrew SB 360, a bill that would have required clergy to report certain confessions to the government. The Bill would have further restricted ministers by excluding clergy penitential communications from long established legal protections including “spiritual direction” and “religious counseling.”

After SB 360 passed the Senate with a 30-4 vote and moved to the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, Pacific Justice Institute–Center for Public Policy (PJI-CPP) sent a lengthy legal opinion letter to all of the Assembly members to oppose the Bill. On July 8 the Public Safety Committee published an analysis of SB 360 that mirrored the First Amendment concerns discussed in PJI-CPP’s position letter. In a surprising reversal, Senator Hill pulled SB 360 the same day and published the announcement on his website July 9.

“This proposed law could not be reconciled with the First Amendment,” said PJI attorney Kevin Snider. “SB 360 was an attempt to sweep away centuries of clergy-penitent protections, forcing clergy members to choose between criminal prosecution or spiritual peril.”

Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “We are immensely relieved that this misguided legislation has been shelved this year. We commend our legislators who recognized that this Bill is harmful and raises grave constitutional problems for clergy protecting the confessions and confidences entrusted to them.”