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Bill creating criminal penalties for clergy who groom children moves forward in House

The bill’s sponsor said the bill is needed to ensure clergy in positions of trust do not groom children who are under their authority.

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If a teacher has sexual relations with a student, it doesn’t matter if that student is 17 or 18 years old—it’s illegal in Alabama because of the teacher’s position of authority over that student.

A bill brought forward by Rep. Leigh Hulsey, R-Helena, in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would take that same approach to ensuring pastors are held accountable under similar criminal standards.

The bill, HB125, basically copies language from Alabama law that holds teachers accountable for sexual relationships with students under 19.

Hulsey said the bill is needed to ensure clergy in positions of trust do not groom children who are under their authority while waiting until the children turn 16 to being sexual relations. The age of consent in Alabama is 16.

The committee ultimately gave its unanimous support to the bill, after making a few amendments to ensure that it didn’t unintentionally ensnare people in a more innocent position.

The example was given of a 19-year-old nursery worker who has a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old church member not under his or her direct authority. The committee approved changing language from “a child” to “the child” to make it clear that the criminal penalties only apply when the child is under the pastor’s supervision.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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