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White Papers

State Policy White Paper: Facilitating Abuse Disclosures by Nonprofits

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October 30, 2020

In response to the revelations of a sexual abuse crisis in American society and recognizing that such abuse has occurred in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J. D. Greear commissioned a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG). He tasked the group with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.

Responding to the mandate from the messengers to the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, who urged “churches and their leaders to develop partnerships within their communities to serve the abused, calling on government officials to strengthen laws and maintain justice and protections for the vulnerable in our society,” the ERLC in partnership with SAAG has studied various state-level legal mechanisms to confront sexual abuse. 

This white paper is a part of a series focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse. The ERLC encouages Southern Baptist leaders and policymakers to assess the laws surrounding sexual abuse within their respective states to evaluate if new legislation is needed or would be helpful to ensure that survivors of sexual abuse have access to justice and that future abuse is prevented.

Liability for Disclosing Sexual Misconduct

The welcoming environment of most churches and nonprofits and their need to rely on volunteers to run their ministries makes many churches “soft targets” for abuse. When sexual predators are caught or suspicions arise as to their malevolent intent in one congregation, predators will often pack up and move on to the next soft target. And most alarmingly, many perpetrators are able to move from one church to another with near impunity. During investigative reporting into sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches, the Houston Chronicle “found dozens of instances in which church leaders apparently failed to disclose concerns about former employees who applied for jobs at other congregations.”

This abuse pipeline from one church to another must be shut down. 

A part of this abuse pipeline rests in the confidence that perpetrators have that churches and nonprofit organizations will not share credible information about alleged abuses with future employers. This is because employers, even when they have credible information about alleged abuses, are reluctant to share that information out of a fear that the accused abuser will sue for defamation. Every circumstance is different, but perpetrators are aware of this legal issue and exploit it to their advantage.

Texas has recently enacted a law aimed at allowing churches and nonprofits to share the credible information they have about alleged abuse. Southern Baptist leaders in Texas crafted and passed HB 4345 giving immunity from civil liability to churches or other non-profits that in good faith report allegations of sexual abuse to an individual’s current or prospective employer. This allows church leaders to warn future employers about a potential predator by sharing a former employees’ sexual abuse and misconduct allegations without being sued. 

While it is imperative for churches to protect the vulnerable whether they are shielded from liability or not, a law such as this can make it easier for church leaders to do the right thing. Pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, commented, 

This legislation will not solve the entire problem, but it will eliminate one obstacle. It will enable our convention of more than 2,600 churches to say that when you act in good faith, when you do what you need to do, you can do it without fear because the state of Texas stands behind you.

Sample Statute: Texas

This bill was authored and introduced by Texas state Senator Scott Sanford, who in addition to serving in elected office is Executive Pastor of Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, Texas, a Southern Baptist church. The bill was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019 and is now a part of Texas law.

Statute Text

Sec. 84.0066.  LIABILITY FOR DISCLOSING SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.  (a)  A charitable organization, or an employee, volunteer, or independent contractor of a charitable organization, acting in good faith, is immune from civil liability for any act to disclose to an individual’s current or prospective employer information reasonably believed to be true about an allegation that an individual who was employed by or served as a volunteer or independent contractor for the charitable organization or its associated charitable organizations:

(1)  engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2)  sexually abused another individual;
(3)  sexually harassed another individual; or
(4)  committed an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(A)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(B)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(C)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(D)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency).

(b)  Immunity from civil liability under Subsection (a) applies in relation to an allegation described by that subsection that was required to have been reported as abuse under Chapter 261, Family Code, only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to an appropriate agency under Section 261.103, Family Code.

(c)  An individual is not immune under this section from civil or criminal liability for:

(1)  disclosing the individual’s own conduct that constitutes:

(A)  sexual misconduct;
(B)  sexual abuse of another individual;
(C)  sexual harassment of another individual; or
(D)  an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(i)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(ii)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(iii)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(iv)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency); or

(2)  acting in bad faith or with a malicious purpose in making a disclosure described by Subsection (a).

Notes

Sample Bill: Missouri

HB 1446 was introduced in the Missouri legislature by Rep. Doug Richey, who also serves as Senior Pastor of Pigsah Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The Missouri Baptist Convention supported the legislation. The bill was heard in committee but did not pass the Missouri legislature in 2020, in part due to legislative disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bill Text

537.049. 1. No charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, shall be held civilly liable for any communication regarding an individual made directly to another charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, to the extent the communication concerns an allegation that the individual has:

(1) Engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2) Sexually abused another individual;
(3) Sexually harassed another individual;
(4) Committed any sexual offense under chapter 566; or
(5) Engaged in conduct affecting the individual’s fitness for religious ministry, but only in the case of a communication to a church or religious organization or persons acting on behalf of a church or religious organization.

2. Immunity from civil liability under subsection 1 of this section applies in relation to an allegation described in subsection 1 of this section that was required to have been reported as abuse under sections 210.109 to 210.183 only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to the children’s division within the department of social services under section 210.115.

3. An individual is not immune from liability under this section for:

(1) Disclosing the individual’s own conduct; or
(2) Any communication made with actual malice while making a disclosure described in subsection 1 of this section.

4. This section does not replace, limit, or alter any other defense or privilege available to a person based on communications.

Notes

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Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24