Saturday, March 09, 2013

Clergy-Communicant Privilege Does Not Extend To Lay Religious Counselors

In United States v. Dillard, (D KA, March 7, 2013), a Kansas federal magistrate judge [corrected] held that the clergy-communicant privilege extends only to members of the clergy and not to a lay counselor providing religious counseling or other support through a religious program. Defendant, Angel Dillard, visited inmates at the Sedgwick County jail through a non-profit religious ministries program.  In the case, the federal government is seeking information on Dillard's communications through the program with Scott Roeder, who is serving a life sentence for of murdering abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see prior posting), and with another inmate who says that Dillard solicited his participation in unlawful activities against abortion providers. In rejecting Dillard's claim of privilege, the court said:
Extending the privilege to “counselors” and other lay members would require the Court to undertake the constitutionally-hazardous task of analyzing whether counseling was or was not “religious” – and possibly even balancing whether the religious component of a communication is substantial enough to require protection.