May 28, 2005 · Lessig
The comments to Living With Ghosts have done more for me than anything could. “Thank you” is too weak, but thank you.
Many have written asking, “What can I do?” Here’s a map for anyone interested.
As the story recounts, we’re waiting for a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court about whether New Jersey’s law, which immunizes charities from “negligence,” is subject, as the trial court said, to a “judicial gloss,” making the statute “absolute,” and therefore excusing the organization:
“from liability for any degree of tortuous conduct, no matter how flagrant that conduct may be. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ contentions that employees and agents of the American Boychoir School acted willfully, wantonly, recklessly, indifferently – even criminally – do not eviscerate the School’s legal protections.”
There is — and there should be — nothing that can be done about that case while the Court is considering it.
But New Jersey has a legislature as well as a Supreme Court. And the real hero in this case — John Hardwicke, who has given everything he has not just to his case, but to changing the law in New Jersey — has, with others, started a movement to get New Jersey to FixTheLaw in a part that is unrelated to the case before the Supreme Court.
Even if we win our case, the law in New Jersey would still immunize a charitable institution from “negligence” in the hiring of a teacher. That means if a school hires a teacher without taking any steps to verify the teacher’s past — for example, asking why the teacher was fired from his last job — the school is immune from liability.
Assemblymen Cohen, Chiappone, and Bateman have introduced a bill to remove that immunity, so that a school would have the same duty that all of us have — to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable harm, at least if that harm is sex abuse. Yet this bill has been stalled by the very powerful lobbying of some — actually, primarily, one:
Leaders from the Catholic Church have opposed the change. Some of the same leaders, representing the “Catholic Conference of Bishops,” also filed a brief in our case asking the Court to affirm the “absolute” immunity — even for intentional acts — that the trial court had found.
It is completely beyond me why the Church spends its resources to make children less safe. No doubt, the Church has its own issues about liability. But is money really a church‘s only concern? Do its values really say that it is more important to avoid its own liability than to protect children in the future? Or more accurately — that it is right to protect its assets by making children in the future less safe?
In any case, there are more voices in New Jersey than this one. I’ve hesitated before about the appropriateness of noncitizens addressing New Jersey’s issues, but that may just be prudishness. And anyway, I assume the “Catholic Conference of Bishops” is not located in Trenton.
So: Hardwicke has a comprehensive site with links to contact legislators, and to contribute. If you are looking for something to do, I’d be grateful if you followed those leads. Or if you would lead others to them. Or, if you’re a Catholic, I’d be grateful if you would follow your own leads to the conscience of your church.