State appeals court: Not all private conversations with pastors privileged

Conversation must be private and pastor must be acting as spiritual advisor
A conversation with a religious leader is not protected from being revealed in court unless it occurred in private and the leader was acting as a spiritual adviser, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on August 20 that a pastor’s testimony should be allowed at a trial in which a father is facing charges of sexually molesting his two daughters.

Though the conversation occurred in private, the pastor did not offer to keep it confidential. Nor did he purport to be acting in the role of a spiritual adviser, and he explicitly refused to counsel the man.

“The conversations between defendant and [the pastor] are not protected by the privilege,” wrote Judge Lorraine Parker.

Prosecutors, who had sought to have the pastor’s testimony included at an upcoming trial, said they were happy with the decision.


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