"My Trusty Gavel" by Brian Turner / CC BY 2.0

Court reverses $35M verdict against Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jan 10, 2020

By Matt Volz

The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a $35 million judgment against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for not reporting a girl’s sexual abuse to authorities.

Montana law requires officials, including clergy, to report child abuse to state authorities when there is reasonable cause for suspicion. However, the state’s high court said in its 7-0 decision that the Jehovah’s Witnesses fall under an exemption to that law in this case.

“Clergy are not required to report known or suspected child abuse if the knowledge results from a congregation member’s confidential communication or confession and if the person making the statement does not consent to disclosure,” Justice Beth Baker wrote in the opinion.

The ruling overturns a 2018 verdict awarding compensatory and punitive damages to the woman who was abused as a child in the mid-2000s by a member of the Thompson Falls Jehovah’s Witness congregation. The woman had accused the church’s national organization of ordering Montana clergy members not to report her abuse to authorities.

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