WASHINGTON, (January 30, 1997) -- Mark E. Chopko, General Counsel of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), expressed satisfaction with the decision of the United States Court of Appeals in a case involving the taping of a prisoner's confession. The Court found the taping to be both illegal and unconstitutional.
On January 27 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared the taping of a sacramental confession, which took place in an Oregon jail last April, to be a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Fourth Amendment. In so doing, the Court reversed a District Court decision which had dismissed a lawsuit by the Archbishop of Portland, Most Reverend Francis E. George, and the priest who heard the confession, Reverend Timothy Mockaitis, on August 15, 1996. The Appeals Court sent the matter back to the District Court with instructions to fashion injunctive relief for the plaintiffs, and to decide on the amount of attorneys' fees they would be awarded.
"I am very pleased with the decision of the United States Court of Appeals in the taping of a prisoner's confession last April," said Mark E. Chopko. "That Court correctly declared what all of us in the religious community already knew: the deliberate taping of a sacramental confession violates the law-both federal statute and the Bill of Rights.
"I hope this plain declaration of the law will give notice to anyone else who might be tempted to engage in a similar action in the future that the religious community will defend vigorously the rights of all believers to seek forgiveness without worry about someone snooping."
Those rights are fundamental and worthy of respect especially for those in prison and those who minister to them.
"I look forward to the swift resolution of the case on remand to the district court," Mr. Chopko stated.
The USCC was joined by a diverse coalition of the religious community in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals urging the Court to declare the taping of a sacramental confession illegal and unconstitutional. Joining the USCC was the National Council of Churches, Christian Legal Society, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), American Jewish Congress, Commission on Social Action of Reformed Judaism, Baptist Joint Committee, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Mr. Chopko was counsel of record for the religious coalition.