Fw: *Sightings* 6/24/04 -- Confidences
DLaycock at mail.law.utexas.edu
Thu Jun 24 13:52:54 PDT 2004
I don't think Rev. Westbrook can have it both ways. Secular
counseling by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and the like is
heavily regulated. Pastoral counseling is not, and in my view cannot
be. But as long as that distinction holds, there have to be clear lines
and clear disclosure. A counselee is entitled to know whether she is
consulting a secular counselor, who will use secular methods and be subject
to secular regulation, or a religious counselor, who may use quite similar
methods or who may use dramatically different methods.
When this guy got himself licensed as a secular counsel, he
submitted to secular regulation. If he had remained a purely pastoral
counselor, and she had consulted him on those terms, I think the standards
of other pastoral counselors, and their association that is no doubt
dominated by folks from much more mainline denominations than Westbrook's,
should have been utterly irrelevant.
At 02:47 PM 6/24/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>This is part of Martin E. Marty's list. While I don't find the pastoral
>counseling standards argument legally persuasive, I think the general
>holding does appear to accord with Smith.
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <mailto:e-alvarez at uchicago.edu>Sightings
>To: <mailto:sightings at listhost.uchicago.edu>sightings at listhost.uchicago.edu
>Sent: Thursday, June 24, 2004 8:13 AM
>Subject: *Sightings* 6/24/04 -- Confidences
>-- Duane R. Bidwell
>A minister who is licensed by the state of Texas as a mental-health
>professional cannot claim First Amendment protections for a breach of
>confidentiality, a Texas appeals court has ruled.
>The case alleges that Fort Worth minister C. L. "Buddy" Westbrook, a
>licensed professional counselor and pastor of Crossland Community Bible
>Church, broke confidence when he wrote a letter to his congregation
>directing church members to avoid contact with a woman until "the time of
>repentance and restoration." The action was necessary, he wrote, because
>she was engaging "in a biblically inappropriate relationship" and seeking
>Under the congregation's bylaws, church members can be disciplined for
>behaviors the congregation considers inappropriate. But the woman, who
>had resigned from the church prior to Westbrook's letter, says the
>information he shared was obtained during a counseling relationship and is
>A pastor's right to discipline church members -- even by revealing
>confidential information -- seems a cornerstone of Westbrook's
>defense. Earlier, a state district judge threw out the case because it
>applied a secular standard to a church conflict. This implies that the
>pastor's actions are protected by the First Amendment as "freedom of religion."
>But last month the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled that the
>lawsuit could move ahead because the pastor is a licensed professional
>counselor and therefore accountable to professional standards for
>confidentiality established by the Texas Professional Counselor Act.
>The plaintiff, appeals court Judge Anne Gardner wrote, has a "viable claim
>involving the pastor's alleged breach of duty in his secular counseling
>role that does not implicate the propriety of the church's disciplinary
>The decision seems consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 ruling in
>Employment Division vs. Smith that generally applicable laws, such as
>those governing professional counselors, may be applied even if they
>restrict religious freedom.
>When Westbrook revealed private information obtained through a counseling
>relationship, he violated Texas standards for licensed counselors --
>standards he agreed to follow when he sought and received state licensure.
>But licensed or not, he also flouted well-established ethical guidelines
>for the practice of pastoral counseling and standards for professional
>conduct established by many denominations and honored by most ministers.
>The Code of Ethics of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors
>(AAPC) specifically states:
>"We do not disclose client confidences to anyone, except: as mandated by
>law; to prevent a clear and immediate danger to someone; in the course of
>civil, criminal or disciplinary action arising from the counseling where
>the pastoral counselor is a defendant; for purposes of supervision or
>consultation; or by previously obtained written permission."
>Westbrook is not a certified pastoral counselor, an AAPC member, or a
>staff member at an accredited pastoral counseling center. But even if he
>cannot be held to the professional standards of the pastoral counseling
>community, the policies of most Christian denominations would call his
>behavior into question.
>Confidentiality, of course, is not an absolute standard. Clergy and
>mental-health practitioners have an ethical (and often legal)
>responsibility to break confidentiality when children or the elderly are
>being abused or when people are a danger to themselves or others. This
>does not seem to have been a factor in Westbrook's decision to share
>confidential information, however.
>In allowing the lawsuit against Westbrook, the 2nd Court of Appeals has
>made a decision consistent with state and federal law. More importantly,
>the decision is consistent with our culture's broader consensus --
>including the consensus of professional organizations and communities of
>faith -- that a breach of confidentiality can often be an abuse of
>Rev. Duane R. Bidwell, Ph.D., is a certified pastoral counselor and
>director of the Pastoral Care and Training Center, an AAPC-accredited
>pastoral counseling center at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian
>University. He is author of Short-Term Spiritual Guidance: A Contemporary
>Approach to a Classic Discipline (Fortress Press, 2004).
>The June Religion and Culture Web Forum is now available at
>http://marty-center.uchicago.edu/webforum/index.shtml, featuring "A
>'Monkish Virtue' outside the Monastery: On the Social and Civic Value of
>Humility" by Mary M. Keys.
>Sightings comes from the <http://marty-center.uchicago.edu/>Martin Marty
>Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
>Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to
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>columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for
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>Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the
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>Please send all inquiries, comments, and submissions to
><mailto:%20sightings-admin at listhost.uchicago.edu>Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez,
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