Viewpoint: First Amendment not an excuse to cover illegal acts

Many religious institutions use the First Amendment as a defense in an attempt to shirk their responsibilities for sexual abuse that occurred under their watch.

However, the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment is not a defense for sexual abuse.

It also is not a defense to protect or prevent churches from accountability for their hiring, supervising and protection of pastors, priests, or lay people facing claims of sexual abuse.

The First Amendment is not a defense for covering up sexual abuse by churches.

Some religious organizations argue that churches’ internal governance and decision-making should be off-limits to the court system.

I disagree.

When internal decision-making results in people living with the effects of sexual abuse perpetrated by the people in authority, a church and its leadership should be held accountable.

Survivors and victims of sexual abuse suffer for years because of the abuse.

Problems typically faced by sexual abuse survivors include guilt, fear, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and low self-esteem.

Sexual abuse is an underreported crime with many victims coming forward years after their abuse to break the silence.

Current statistics show that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday.

Sadly, a majority of victims know their abuser.

Commonly, the abuser is a family member, friend of the family, a coach, pastor, priest, school teacher, neighbor or someone else that is in a position of trust and authority.

Christians are to live above reproach.

However, churches that try to hide behind the First Amendment are doing just the opposite.

Hiding behind the First Amendment only re-victimizes the victims of sexual abuse rather than helping bring them healing from their abuse.

Churches are a place where the broken and hurting can find peace and healing.

Yet when a church chooses to ignore sexual abuse occurring within the church, they no longer are a place of peace and healing for the people they serve.

They become a place that causes hurt, pain, and suffering.

I find it a slap in the face as an American and as a Christian that churches would try to hide behind the First Amendment rather than face the facts of their negligence and responsibility.

David Trower is a senior management information systems and media business double major from Waco. He is the Web editor for the Baylor Lariat.