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Judge Questions Sexual Abuse Law in Jehovah's Witnesses Case

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - A state lawsuit against elders of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation has prompted a judge to question the constitutionality of a Delaware law mandating the reporting of suspected child abuse.

The attorney general's office is suing elders of the Sussex County congregation for not reporting an unlawful sexual relationship between a woman and a 14-year-old boy, both of whom were congregation members.

State law requires anyone who knows or in good faith suspects that a child is being abused or neglected to call a 24-hour hotline. But the law contains exemptions for attorney-client conversations and communications "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

The Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyer argued Monday that they are covered by the clergy exemption, which the judge suggested seems to give special protection, as written, to Catholics.

Don Rush is the News Director at Delmarva Public Media. An award-winning journalist, Don reports major local issues of the day, from sea level rise, to urban development, to the changing demographics of Delmarva.