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Rights of priests

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Limelight
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Do people, for instance a priest, have the right to neglect taking any legal action towards a known crime? For example, the priest, to whom Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was selling information from US intelligence to the Soviets, was confessing to- was he unethical for not saying anything?... Is the law actually obligated to protect the so called "sanctity" of a priest and his confessor?.. I know the Federal gov't has protected it in the past, but is it an actual violation of the constitution to do so?...

Also regarding Hanssen: was it ethically contradictory and hypocritical for the Feds to punish him for treason when in order to catch him they paid off a Soviet spy to verify that Hanssen was selling secrets? Was it unethical to pay off the Soviet spy?

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If you promise to not reveal information, then you do not have a right to reveal that information. Certain conditions (being a doctor, priest, lawyer, banker, teacher) carry implicit promises of privacy. The stench of illegality of the act legally overcomes the obligation to not tell, to a large extent. Indeed, lawyers are obligated to "tell" if they know of a future illegal act in the works.

Priests are a legal exception. It violates Roman Catholic law to reveal the contents of a confession, and I guess the penalty for breaking that law is an eternity as human barbecue. So that explains why Hansen got away with treason.

Morally, of course, it is wrong to remain silent about your knowledge of a future rights-violating crime. But being a Catholic priest is an even bigger moral wrong, so it's no wonder these pederasts feel that it's okay to cover up espionage.

The problem is that forcing a person to not practice their religious beliefs (keeping quiet about stuff you learn in a confession) can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment.

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Also regarding Hanssen: was it ethically contradictory and hypocritical for the Feds to punish him for treason when in order to catch him they paid off a Soviet spy to verify that Hanssen was selling secrets? Was it unethical to pay off the Soviet spy?

Of course not. Paying off Soviet spies (turning them) was pretty much the object of the game, the weapon of choice in the Cold War. That's how Western intelligence got all its information about the enemy's activities.

I don't follow why it would be wrong (or hypocritical) to do that.

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The problem is that forcing a person to not practice their religious beliefs (keeping quiet about stuff you learn in a confession) can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment.

But to apply that is problematic.

When one's religious beliefs include infringing upon the rights of others there are grounds to deny the right to practice that religious belief be it female circumcision, honor killings, denying children medical care or marrying 5 13 year old girls.

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Is it actually against the law not to report a potential future crime? I understand that you can be charged as an accessory if you help cover up a crime by, say, lying about it, but don't we have the "right to remain silent"? I know it's legal to subpoena for testimony, and perjury is illegal, but can't the person so subpoena'd "take the fifth" and refuse to actually say anything? Can they be held in contempt of court for this? They showed up and gave their testimony: "I'm saying nothing", they abided by the terms of the subpoena, yes?

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Is it actually against the law not to report a potential future crime? I understand that you can be charged as an accessory if you help cover up a crime by, say, lying about it, but don't we have the "right to remain silent"? I know it's legal to subpoena for testimony, and perjury is illegal, but can't the person so subpoena'd "take the fifth" and refuse to actually say anything? Can they be held in contempt of court for this? They showed up and gave their testimony: "I'm saying nothing", they abided by the terms of the subpoena, yes?

Future, potential, suspected, threatened or expected are covered under "mandated reporter" laws.

Where the average citizen falls in regard to your question varies.

My spouse, for example is a mandated reporter and would be breaking the law to not report anything that she knew about, suspected, or even a threat that was made.

Wiki not the best source in the world but a fairly decent overview of MPL:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandated_reporter

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Future, potential, suspected, threatened or expected are covered under "mandated reporter" laws.

Where the average citizen falls in regard to your question varies.

Thanks, I was wondering. Most of my legal knowledge comes from watching courtroom/police dramas. :P Actually, I think ALL of it may come from that. Ugh.

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But to apply that is problematic.

When one's religious beliefs include infringing upon the rights of others there are grounds to deny the right to practice that religious belief be it female circumcision, honor killings, denying children medical care or marrying 5 13 year old girls.

I think the door is clearly shut on those possibilities; the question is how to get the door shut on the sanctity of the confessional.

The argument would be that the sanctity of the confessional does more good than harm, by encouraging people to confess evil deeds to a priest first, which might lead them to rethinking their lives, or might even lead then to a legal confession. In contrast, there is no good whatsoever coming from female circumcision or any other such practice that you might try to protect as a religious practice. Since a fundamental right (a First Amendment right) is at stake, there has to be a "net benefit" to limit that right.

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Um, David, why shouldn't ANYONE have the right to establish a confidential relationship with someone? I think the question here is less "why should priests be allowed to do it?" and "why is there a limitation on who is entitled to keep their mouth shut if they feel like it?"

I can understand (sort of) the mandatory reporter thing if you have some sort of connection with the state apparatus (but I don't think people like news reporters ought to be licensed by the state).

I don't think it should be illegal not to report a crime or potential crime or to refuse to testify, and I'm wondering why it should be.

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I don't think it should be illegal not to report a crime or potential crime or to refuse to testify, and I'm wondering why it should be.
The crux of the matter is whether the courts should be allowed to compel testimony, or production of evidence. The fact is that they are and always have been, and the problem is this limited card-of-immunity. We need a separate thread on why it is necessary for the government to be allowed to use force (in a circumscribed manner) to protect rights.
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In contrast, there is no good whatsoever coming from female circumcision or any other such practice that you might try to protect as a religious practice.

The people who practice these things would argue that there is much good in these things.

Such is the lunacy of religion.

That's why I call it "problematic".

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I don't think it should be illegal not to report a crime or potential crime or to refuse to testify, and I'm wondering why it should be.

The divisor between crime and non-crime is the initiation of force. If no such thing is present, it cannot be a crime. It if it, is must be a crime.

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The divisor between crime and non-crime is the initiation of force. If no such thing is present, it cannot be a crime. It if it, is must be a crime.

A divisor between non crime and crime is initiation of force, not the divisor. Meaning initiation of force is not the underlying principle, individual rights are.

And the question goes beyond making neglecting to report a crime illegal (it isn't, except for licensed professionals--and it's a fair point that some of those professionals have no business being licensed, nevertheless there is a category of people, such as cops and lawyers, who should be required to report crimes). The real question is whether these special protections extended to priests, journalists, mental health professionals and others should go as far as they do today, to the point that people in these categories can legally obstruct justice.

In my opinion, the government has the right, under well defined limits, to use force to compel testimony in criminal investigations and trials, and if certain limitations apply (high standards of probable cause), that would not constitute a violation of rights.

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The divisor between crime and non-crime is the initiation of force. If no such thing is present, it cannot be a crime. It if it, is must be a crime.
And in fact it would not be a crime. It is not a crime to not testify when ordered to do so. It is contempt of court, which also will land you in jail. It's a subtle distinction, but a principled one.
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And in fact it would not be a crime. It is not a crime to not testify when ordered to do so. It is contempt of court, which also will land you in jail. It's a subtle distinction, but a principled one.

Are you talking "is" or "ought"? If the latter, I use "crime" to mean anything that would make the government use force against you. If crime is only a subset of that category, then place it under the "super class" instead, whatever that's called.

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