Sep 15, 2011

A member of a Nevada synagogue filed a lawsuit against the synagogue, alleging that the synagogue's cantor had sexually assaulted her and that the head rabbi, to whom she had reported the assault, retaliated against her and her son and then successfully sought sexual favors from her in exchange for ceasing the retaliation.  A Nevada trial court dismissed all of the plaintiff's claims.  On appeal in the Nevada Supreme Court, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Roman Catholic Bishops of Las Vegas and Reno filed amicus briefs arguing that the Nevada Supreme Court should adopt a very narrow view of what type of claims should be allowed against religious institutions for sexual misconduct committed by their clergy.  Essentially, the LDS Church and the Catholic Bishops argued that religious organizations should be liable only when they intentionally disregard actual notice that one of their clergy is committing, or is substantially certain to commit, sexual misconduct.  

On December 11, 2009, Americans United joined an amicus brief written by Professor Marci Hamilton, a noted constitutional-law scholar, opposing the arguments made by the LDS Church and the Catholic Bishops.  The brief argues that the U.S. Constitution does not categorically bar victims of sex crimes from pursuing claims against houses of worship for negligent hiring, supervision, or retention, for breach of fiduciary duty, or for retaliation.  The brief also argues that the fact that a house of worship's clergyperson may have acted as an unpaid volunteer does not automatically shield the house of worship from liability. 

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