July 10, 2019, Washington, D.C. — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) applauds the collapse of California Senate Bill (SB) 360, a bill that would have required Catholic clergy to violate the seal of confession. Such a mandate would have deprived the Catholic Church of its right to the free exercise of religion by encroaching upon a core tenet of its sacramental theology.
Alarmed by the bill’s provisions, RFI led a number of allies in bringing together a diverse coalition of religious leaders to issue an “Interfaith Statement on California Senate Bill 360 as a Threat to Religious Freedom.”
As noted in the statement, “[SB 360] would require priests to report to state authorities sexual abuse information obtained in confessions by other clergy or church employees.” Not only would this requirement stand very little chance of achieving its purported goal of reducing sexual abuse, but it also would impose an extraordinary burden on Catholic priests who, as the statement explains, “must not under any circumstance break the seal of confession. Mandating that a Catholic priest do otherwise forces him to choose between civil penalty and deep moral injury.”
On July 8, State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) unexpectedly withdrew SB 360 from further consideration. Having been delivered that same day to the committee set to hold a hearing on the bill, RFI’s interfaith statement joined with other opponents who saw SB 360 for the threat to religious freedom that it was.
While the collapse of SB 360 is a welcome development, it is important to note that Catholics were not alone in fighting this bill. Non-Catholic leaders joined their Eastern Catholic counterparts as signatories on RFI’s interfaith statement, which concludes by reflecting on the broader implications of bills like SB 360:
When the government attempts to interfere with the millennia old teachings of a church, all of us are greatly concerned. Such a disregard for the beliefs of one community of faith puts all of us at risk. Today it is the Catholics. Tomorrow it could be another Christian community, Jews, or Muslims whose beliefs are targeted. We are united in saying “no” to such interference.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Nathan Berkeley