16-0 Respondent’s Reply Brief Filed

16-0 Respondent's Reply Brief Filed

October 9th, 2020

[22-page document]




Respondent, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (hereinafter “Department” or “Respondent”), through counsel, respectfully submits this Brief in Reply to the Brief in Opposition filed by Petitioner Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereinafter “Ivy Hill” or “Petitioner”).

It is not disputed by the parties that the Child Protective Services Law (hereinafter the “CPSL”), 23 Pa. C.S. §§ 6301, et seq., requires “a clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization” (hereinafter a “member of the clergy” and, collectively with other enumerated persons, “mandatory reporters”), to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities. It is also not disputed that if a mandatory reporter fails to report suspected child abuse then that individual could be subjected to various criminal penalties.

Petitioner concedes that the elders of Ivy Hill are within the class of persons subject to the duty to report child abuse, but argues that there is some uncertainty that exists about their status as members of the clergy and this uncertainty has presented them with a fear of future enforcement actions, similar to an action brought against an Amish bishop, if they too fail to report suspected abuse.

To resolve this fear, Petitioner seeks a declaration that its seven present elders are members of the clergy as defined by the clergy-communicant privilege. Or alternatively, if the Court does not hold the above, to deem the statutory privilege unconstitutional. As a basic premise, however, Petitioner’s fear of prosecution for failing to report can only exist if the elders of Ivy Hill are members of the clergy. For if they are not members of the clergy, it follows that they are not mandatory reporters under the CPSL subject to criminal penalties for failing to report suspected cases of child abuse. Therefore, the alleged issue presented before this Court – whether the elders at Ivy Hill are members of the clergy – would never arise in Petitioner’s feared failure to report case.
Petitioner is clearly then seeking a validation for some future defense. If Petitioner concedes, as they have, that their elders fall within the definition of mandatory reporters and that they are not seeking a blanket declaration that all of their communications are privileged, then a declaration by this Court is not necessary to allow Petitioners to follow existing guidance concerning the clergy-communicant privilege.

For these reasons, Respondent requests that this Honorable Court sustain the Respondent’s preliminary objections and dismiss the Petition for Review.


[Download PDF to read entire document]

File Type: pdf
Categories: Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses versus Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, DHS
Tags: Ivy Hill Congregation of JWs Versus Pennsylvania
classic-editor-remember: classic-editor
JWCA Document Number: 16.0
Downloads: 1
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