Assuming that the Montana Supreme Court’s recent opinion in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case (Nunez v. Watchtower Bible, 2020 MT 3) sets forth the state of the law, then the law needs to be changed.
First, no person should be allowed to sexually or physically abuse another person — minor or adult — and be protected from the consequences of that heinous act by a shape-shifting religious rule, protocol or doctrine. Freedom of Religion, guaranteed under the First Amendment does not protect criminal conduct whether perpetrated by a deity’s ministers or by anyone else.
Secondly, the perpetrators and facilitators of such conduct must be held accountable to the criminal laws. That means simply that perpetrators must be timely reported and criminally prosecuted. And just as important, those who facilitate or cover-up the perpetrator’s criminal conduct—no matter how high up in church hierarchy--must also be held accountable under the criminal law for aiding and abetting the perpetrator.
This country and our state have witnessed far too many instances of sexual assaults by religious ministers, (not to mention trusted adults in athletics, scouting organizations, and other institutions). Sexual predators and facilitators must not get a pass, because they claim to be following their religious doctrines, protocols or beliefs.
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It is long overdue that our legislators remedy this situation, and it is long overdue that voters demand that they do.
retired Montana Supreme Court justice