In keeping with nationwide trends, the Kentucky legislature extended the time period in which child sex abuse survivors can bring civil lawsuits and allowed that their lawsuits can be asserted not only against perpetrators, but also against institutions that fail to protect children.
Under these new laws, Samantha Killary pursued her lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse against a Louisville police officer and also against Louisville Metro for “employing and empowering” him.
The case is now pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court, with arguments about the validity of the new laws.
Into this case, the Southern Baptist Convention decided to insert itself, even though the SBC is not a party and the case has nothing to do with the SBC.
Together, the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Lifeway Christian Resources filed an amicus brief, urging the court to throw out Killary’s lawsuit and arguing against the Kentucky laws that would allow child sex abuse survivors to seek justice.
Experts say the new laws will better serve justice and also will help in preventing abuse by encouraging institutions to implement accountability measures. (It’s worth noting that Kentucky leads the nation in substantiated child abuse reports per capita, so the legislature had especially good reason to take earnest measures.)
Nevertheless, the SBC (and its affiliated entities) are trying to negate the Kentucky laws. They’re putting all their weight and influence on the side against justice for childhood sexual abuse survivors.
And a hefty weight it is. Eight lawyers from four different law firms signed off on the brief.
As soon as we saw the many names, we started mentally running the math on how much that brief and the attorneys’ time on the case would have likely cost. Best guess? We’re estimating in the mid-to-highish five figures (and we’ve been told we’re estimating low).
This is how SBC officials use offering plate dollars — not to help #SBCtoo survivors but to attack even the possibility of justice for child sex abuse survivors — even in a case that doesn’t involve them.
The reason the SBC filed this hostile-to-survivors amicus brief (once again, in a case in which they aren’t even a party) is because of another pending case — the lawsuit of Hannah Kate Williams against the SBC — and the possibility of more future cases. They referenced Hannah Kate’s lawsuit in their brief, stating they are “non-perpetrator third parties who were allegedly made aware of the abuse and violated common law duties in responding to it.”
Read that line again: “non-perpetrator third parties who were allegedly made aware of the abuse and violated common law duties in responding to it.”
“The SBC is so determined to protect itself against liability that it’s willing to throw all child sex abuse survivors under the bus.”
Think about what this means. The SBC is so determined to protect itself against liability that it’s willing to throw all child sex abuse survivors under the bus, even those with cases against other institutions. It’s willing to stand on the mere passage of time as a tactic to evade institutional responsibility, without regard for the merits or specifics of the case.
How is this different from what was documented in the Guidepost report? How does this constitute “reform”?
In dealing with sexual abuse, the SBC’s primary driver remains the same as it always has been: protecting against institutional liability risks. The safety of kids be damned and justice for #SBCtoo survivors be damned.
Now consider the fact that their amicus brief was actually filed in April 2023. This means that, even while Southern Baptist officials were putting on a show at their June 2023 annual meeting — with their “we care” PR schtick and their “historic” launch of an empty shell of a database — they already had filed this amicus brief behind the scenes, actively working against any possibility of justice for survivors.
The duplicity is staggering.
The amicus brief is also contrary to the SBC resolution that was passed in June 2019: “RESOLVED, That we ask civil authorities … to ensure that privacy laws do not prevent the pursuit of justice on behalf of the abused and that statutes of limitations (criminal and civil) do not unduly protect perpetrators of sexual abuse and individuals who enabled them.”
“When a lawsuit alleges that they themselves enabled child sexual abuse, they will do almost anything to deter it.”
Yet, with their amicus brief, the SBC and its affiliated entities showed their true colors. When a lawsuit alleges that they themselves enabled child sexual abuse, they will do almost anything to deter it, including spending heaps of dollars to argue against the extension of statutes of limitation in an unrelated case just to try to protect itself down-the-road.
Again, the duplicity of it boggles the mind. Their entire focus is on institutional protection, not on “the pursuit of justice on behalf of the abused.”
Thanks to some fine reporting from the Louisville Courier-Journal, all this blew up this week on X (previously called Twitter), and some Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee members claimed they were surprised by the amicus brief. They said they hadn’t known about it. We even saw some posturing about it as though they were offended by it … because … you know … they just really, really care about survivors. (Please pardon us if we indulge a bit of skepticism.)
Here’s the thing: Even if it’s true that some Executive Committee members were taken by surprise and didn’t know about the amicus brief, and even if it’s true that some of them are offended by it, the question remains: So what?
What are they actually going to do in order to undo the harm of that amicus brief?
Merely withdrawing the brief is not enough. They still would benefit from it because, once filed, a brief can’t be unseen. So, if indeed the Executive Committee is remorseful about the brief, then it needs to affirmatively disavow the brief.
If the SBC, the Executive Committee, the seminary and Lifeway actually care about justice for #SBCtoo survivors, they need to withdraw their brief and substitute a new brief in support of the extension of limitations for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice against both their perpetrators and enabling institutions.
That would be something meaningful. Short of that, it’s all just posturing, grandstanding and window-dressing.
Christa Brown, David Clohessy and Dave Pittman are all survivors of church sexual abuse and are active in advocating for reforms in the SBC and other religious groups.