Wisconsin Clergy Reporting Bill Poses Serious Threat to Religious Freedom

August 15, 2019

by Leo Thuman


Last Wednesday, three Democrat lawmakers announced they would be introducing the “Clergy Mandatory Reporting Act” in Wisconsin’s state legislature. The State Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by Reps. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), while the State Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).

While statements from the bill’s sponsors have implied Wisconsin law doesn’t require clergy to report child abuse to authorities, that is not the case. In fact, state law does currently require clergy to report under most circumstances.  

The Clergy Mandatory Reporter Act is actually intended to remove a clause that exempts members of the clergy from reporting what they hear “in a confessional setting” when their faith places upon them a “duty or [expectation] to keep those communications secret.” And it is clear that this law targets a specific religion: Catholicism.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy” regarding sins divulged in the confessional — even when they violate rules and laws of the secular world. Catholics believe that the priest is acting in an absolutely sacred role when he presides over any of the seven sacraments. They also believe that sinners should not have any impediments to confessing their sins when they are contrite.  

Clearly, this law places Catholic clergy in a situation where they could be forced to choose between the dictates of their conscience and those of the law. This constitutes a clear violation of our First Freedom: the freedom of religion.

Unsurprisingly, all three of the bill’s sponsors have voting records on life and family issues which couldn’t be more contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches. State Reps. Taylor and Sargent both have zero-percent ratings from Wisconsin Right to Life, the state’s leading pro-life lobbying group. State Senator Taylor is even further to the left on these issues, with both Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin and NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin giving her perfect scores. All three are also rated poorly by Wisconsin Family Action, the most prominent group supporting pro-family policy at the state level.  

Nearly-identical legislation proposed by a California state senator with a similar legislative record was pulled earlier this summer amid a mass public outcry over its targeting of Catholics. However, this bill may be more difficult to defeat. The Democrat who took the Wisconsin governor’s mansion last November, Tony Evers, guaranteed that he would sign similar legislation while on the campaign trail.  

While it is unlikely that the Republican dominated state legislature will allow this assault on religious liberty to progress into law, Governor Evers is certainly not afraid of overstepping boundaries between the executive branch and the legislature.  He has already become infamous for threatening to restrict firearm ownership through Executive Order. 

Advocates of religious liberty will need to remain vigilant to ensure dangerous proposals like this one are not enacted — in Wisconsin, California, or anywhere else. If they do not, the door will be flung wide open to further infringements on this freedom by secularists and the left.


Leo Thuman is a columnist for TheNationalPulse.com, primarily focusing on religious liberty issues.

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