A bill working its way through the Illinois Senate proposes mandatory training for clergy to recognize signs of child abuse is causing concern among religious liberty advocates.
Senate Bill 912, the Abused Child-Reporter Training Bill, mandates anyone who is a designated reporter of abused children (teachers, physicians, clergy) as deemed by the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act be required to complete at least four hours of training each year to recognize signs of domestic violence against children and adults.
The bill, introduced by Senator Melinda Bush who represents District 31 located in the north suburbs of Chicago in Lake County, was assigned to the Human Services Committee. It was while in committee that an amendment specifically targeting clergy was added. The amendment stated, “That within one year of initial employment and at least every 5 years thereafter, any member of the clergy required to report child abuse as provided under the Act must complete mandated reporter training by a provider or agency with expertise in recognizing and reporting child abuse and domestic violence.”
Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute, told the Illinois Baptist in an e-mail, “I believe this would set a precedent for government to require training of clergy. It is important to know that once a precedent is set, the next government requirement is easier to do. We don’t want to go down this road.”
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. But what would happen if a member of the clergy refused to participate? ”There is likely no penalty for refusing, but this would be detailed in rules proposed by the agency after the bill went into law,” said Rivera.
He also questioned, “The bill doesn’t say how long the training is (4 hours or 2 days?), who will pay for it (agency or clergy or clergy paying some part of it)?”
Defenders of First Amendment rights may ask, at what cost to religious liberty? Rivera offered this solution, “An easier way would have been to just have the bill require the agency [Dept. of Children and Family Service] to make training workshops available over the year and invite clergy to attend if they would like to better learn how to recognize signs of child abuse and domestic violence.”
SB 912 has been placed on the Senate calendar for a second reading on the Senate floor. The General Assembly is back in session March 28.