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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended August 20, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 16Aug00

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


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