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Alabama Legislature passes bill to punish child sex abuse by clergy

A bill by Rep. Leigh Hulsey and Sen. Roger Smitherman would punish church leaders who engage in sexual activity with anyone under age 19.

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Amidst all of the phony legislative outrage over potential sexual assaults of children committed by transgender or gay people, the Alabama Legislature has quietly passed legislation that targets a documented group of child groomers and sex abusers: clergy. 

A bill from Rep. Leigh Hulsey, R-Helena, would make it a crime for any adult church leader, church staff or church volunteers to enter into a sexual relationship with a person under 19. The bill mirrors similar legislation targeted at Alabama teachers. 

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Roger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, in the senate, and it has received final approval in both houses and now awaits only Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature to become law. Violations of the new law would be considered Class B felonies, punishable with 2 to 20 years in prison. 

“We are very thankful to Rep. Leigh Hulsey and Sen. Roger Smitherman, as well as Senate and House leadership, for having the courage to hold even clergy members accountable for taking advantage of minors,” Greg Davis, president and CEO of Alabama Citizens Action Program, told The Alabama Baptist. “It’s a shame that it has come to this point of evil but sadly it has. We are confident Gov. Ivey will sign HB125 into law soon sending a serious warning to any pastor or youth or children’s minister that would groom a young person under their authority in church settings.”

Hulsey has previously told various media outlets in the state that the bill came in response to hearing numerous victims’ stories, including that of Ivy Jeter, who has publicly shared her story of being groomed by an Alabama youth minister from the age of 13. 

Court and media records from across the state show dozens of arrests of church leaders and volunteers for sexual crimes – many of which involve children. Some churches, including an Alabama-based mega-church, has been open about its efforts to “rehabilitate” pastors and leaders who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. 

Davis said that for Baptists, he hopes the new law is taken as a wake-up call to move in a better direction. 

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“For Alabama Baptist churches across the state, please use this opportunity to once again emphasize the issue of sex abuse,” Davis said.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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