When to Report Child Abuse: Reporting Obligations for Religious Leaders

When a religious leader learns of child abuse or neglect, what legal obligations does that religious leader have with regard to reporting such abuse or neglect? 

Obligations of Clergy Members

The obligations in such situations vary widely by state.  In Illinois, state statutes pull members of the clergy in different directions.  On the one hand, under the Abused and Neglected Children Reporting Act (ANCRA), members of the clergy are listed among more than forty professionals who are required to report incidents of child abuse and neglect. Thus, when a member of the clergy learns of an instance of child abuse, he or she has a legal obligation to report such abuse to Department of Children and Family Services.  See 325 ILCS 5/4.

On the other hand, Illinois law carves out an exception to the reporting mandate for confessions or admissions made to a member of the clergy “in his or her professional character or as a spiritual advisor in the course of the discipline enjoined by the rules or practices of such religious body or of the religion which he or she professes, nor be compelled to divulge any information which has been obtained by him or her in such professional character or as such spiritual advisor.”  735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/8-803 (2010).

IRS Take Note: The Tie Goes to the Speaker

Both section 501(c)(3) public charities and section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations face distinct constitutional tensions between the IRS’s regulation of their tax-exempt limitations and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of their First Amendment rights.  This tension is perhaps most evident for “issue advocacy,” which is the term coined for nonprofits’ educational communications on public policy matters related to their tax-exempt goals.