The Texas House of Representatives has passed a bill shielding churches that disclose credible sexual abuse allegations from civil liability — but the bill only has until May 27 to pass the Senate this legislative session.
On May 8 representatives unanimously approved House Bill (HB) 4345, assigned May 10 to the Senate State Affairs committee. The House bill would protect charitable organizations, their volunteers and independent contractors from liability when disclosing such information to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused. A May 7 amendment extended protection to independent contractors, who previously were not included.
The bill was reported favorably out of committee May 16 and directed to local legislators for further action.
Southern Baptists at the state and national level initiated the bill, including Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission helped draft the bill.
In April the SBTC Executive Board removed from its roster New Spirit Baptist Church, San Antonio, for retaining a pastor listed on the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry, the Southern Baptist Texan reported May 2.
Wright believes the legislation would “make it less likely that abusers and exploiters will harm again” but has said the bill would not solve all problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct.
“It does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits,” Wright said shortly after the bill was introduced in March.
The bill does not protect from liability nonprofits “acting in bad faith or with a malicious purpose,” according to the bill.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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