The Texas Legislature unanimously passed a bill initiated by Southern Baptists to provide civil immunity to churches that disclose credible sex abuse allegations.
The Texas Senate passed House Bill 4345 late yesterday (May 22) without opposition, two weeks after the House approved the measure. The bill is written to protect charitable organizations, their volunteers and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.
Texas pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), helped initiate the bill.
“For it to go through without opposition in the House and the Senate is pretty remarkable,” he told Baptist Press, “especially on an issue where there are a lot of people that have different views on how we ought to deal with these issues. Obviously we’re not at the finish line yet.
“We need the governor’s signature, but … I’m pretty optimistic,” said Wright, pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has 10 days to sign the bill.
Wright worked with Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, and others to recruit Rep. Scott Sanford, a Southern Baptist executive pastor, to introduce the bill in March. Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy and general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, helped draft the legislation to comply with state laws and meet intended purposes.
Wright told BP, “This couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the sort of partnering relationships we have in the SBTC.
“This bill, without any of the people who were involved, it probably couldn’t have happened,” he said. “Obviously Rep. Sanford deserves the lion’s share of the credit, but I think it’s just a testimony of what we can accomplish when we work together on things, and when we have relationships like we have here in Texas and beyond.”
SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards expressed gratitude for the bill.
“We are grateful for the passage of this bill and pray that it will serve to make our church ministries safer,” Richards told BP. “I’m also grateful for the initiative taken by Pastor Bart Barber and Pastor Ben Wright in developing this legislation.”
The bill is designed to help prevent abusers from continuing the crime in a series of workplaces, Rep. Sanford has said.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Diana Chandler