Summarized by Kent Larsen
Second LDS Bishop Fighting Abuse Reporting Law
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The second of two Salt Lake City area LDS Bishops
charged with failing to report child abuse has appeared in court, and his
attorney says that he is challenging the constitutionality of the Utah law.
On behald of LDS Bishop Bruce Christensen, attorney Bradley Rich claimed
that the Utah child abuse reporting statute violates the First Amendment to
the US Constitution by forcing clergy to act as agents of the government,
violating the amendment's mandate of separation of Church and State.
Christensen himself spoke about the details of the case, which he and his
attorney say don't justify prosecution, even if the statute is
constitutional. According to Christensen, a woman in his ward approached him
about the physical abuse she was receiving from her husband, mentioning in
an interview that the husband had allowed their 13-month-old daughter to
touch his genitals while they were both in the bath.
Christensen helped the woman and her child get out of the home and into a
shelter, but didn't report the genital contact because he didn't think it
was reportable. His attorney, Rich, said that the genital contact was "a
very minor thing."
Rich will argue the statute's constitutionality in an October hearing, but
expects that regardless of the outcome, the ruling will be appealed, either
by him or by the prosecution. Christensen's trial is also scheduled for
October, after the court rules on the constitutionality issue.
The other Bishop in the Salt Lake area charged with failure to report, Sandy
Bishop David Maxwell, is awaiting trial while his attorney and prosecutors
file legal arguments in the case. He allegedly failed to report an alleged
rape of a 16-year-old girl in his congregation by a 15-year-old boy, also a
member of his congregation. Maxwell maintains that both could be seen as
perpetrators of abuse, so he reported neither, since he isn't required to
report if the information came from the perpetrator.
The Salt Lake Tribune also reports that a third LDS Bishop, in Washington
County, Utah, was charged with failure to report. Bishop Brent Atkinson
agreed last month to a diversion agreement under which charges will be
dropped for community service. It is believed that the three cases are the
first to be prosecuted under the 1994 reporting law.
Spiritual Confessors or Informants?
Salt Lake Tribune 15Aug00 N1
By Stephen Hunt: Salt Lake Tribune
Abuse-report law faces challenge
Deseret News 14Aug00 N1
By Jenifer K. Nii: Deseret News staff writer