Monday, February 29, 2016

State Exception To Priest-Penitent Privilege Violates Louisiana Religious Freedom Act

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports on a Louisiana state trial court decision handed down on Friday that upholds, on religious freedom grounds, a priest's right to refuse to disclose confidential information regarding sexual abuse of minors received during confession. The court invalidated a provision in LA Children's Code Sec. 609(A)(1) which requires clergy to report abuse or neglect that threatens a child's physical or mental health or welfare, notwithstanding any privilege.  Apparently relying on Louisiana's Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, the court held that while the state has a compelling interest in protecting children from abuse, this is not the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The decision by Judge Mike Caldwell comes in a suit by Rebecca Mayeaux, now 22, who says that in 2008 she told Rev. Jeff Bayhi during confession that she was being abused by a 64-year old parishioner. Under the ruling, Mayeaux will be able to testify about what she told Bayhi, but her attorneys will not be permitted to argue to the jury that Bayhi was required to report her allegations to authorities.  The ruling is subject to immediate appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  The lawsuit, originally filed in 2009, has already been up to the state Supreme Court once. (See prior posting.)