Newly proposed legislation in Texas would allow churches and nonprofit organizations to disclose allegations of sexual misconduct without being sued.
The bill comes amid fallout from extensive investigative reporting in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News about hundreds of cases of sexual abuse where both leaders and volunteers in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes. Their investigations explained how, in dozens of instances, churches failed to disclose concerns about former staff members who were abusers and who sought employment at other churches, and would go on to abuse more victims.
The measure, HB 4345, was introduced by Texas House Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, who’s also a Southern Baptist minister, and is the latest among similar proposals around the country now being considered in light of the #MeToo movement and other religious sexual abuse scandals, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.
A spokesperson for Sanford said the bill was “brought to us by faith leaders” and that Sanford “saw this as an important step to reporting and preventing sexual abuse.”
The legislation came together within the past month, according to the spokesman for the Texas state convention of the Southern Baptist denomination, Gary Ledbetter, who noted that he did not know what “directly prompted” the legislation.
Lawyers often advise churches to “say nothing except that the person did work here” when discussing former employees with potential new bosses, Ledbetter said.
“Basically, we don’t say anything,” he said.
“This bill would encourage churches to tell the truth as best as they know.”
Executive director of the Texas SBC, Jim Richards, also supports the bill, and told the Houston Chronicle that the convention “must do everything we can to protect the innocents from predators.”
“As a convention of churches we will continue to work on ways to provide a safe environment for the vulnerable. We hope HB 4345 will facilitate this goal,” he said.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter