Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Should "Innocent until Proven Guilty" be a thing of the past?

Imagine you’ve been wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. A 13-year-old lies to their parents about engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct and they point the finger at you – unjustly. The parents go to the minister of your congregation. You are called on the carpet. You, of course, vehemently deny any such wrongdoing. The minister questions the child regarding the details. He establishes a time and place of the supposed incident. You have no alibi for that time.

What should happen next? You tell me. Pick the response below that you feel is, not only proper, but scriptural. Remember that it is YOU who has been unjustly accused:

  1. The minister tells you that, in the absence of any evidence, the accusation will be disregarded. Perhaps he further tells you to be especially careful to never be alone with a child so as to prevent any allegations in the future.
  2. The minister calls the police.
  3. The minister tells the parents to call the police.
  4. The minister tells the parents that they may call the police, but they need to be aware that the Bible warns against false accusations the same way that it warns against sexual misconduct.
Here's a second scenario: This one is, I know, even less likely, but it isn't impossible. Suppose the child gets together with friends and they conspire to make several false accusations against you. They still have no evidence since you did not do what you are being accused of.

  1. Should the minister now take disciplinary action against you because there are multiple accusations?
  2. Should the minister now call the police?
  3. Should the minister now urge the parents to call the police?
  4. Should the minister maintain that there is still no evidence and remind the parents about the gravity of making false accusations?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that all, or even a majority, of accusations of sexual misconduct are false. The stories that have come out about Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and others bear that out. According to some studies, false accusations of rape are rare - possibly fewer than 10%, though I suspect that number may be skewed when deep pockets are involved. 
-Continues below-
False accusations do happen. If they didn't, there wouldn't be guidelines about them in the Bible. In Bible times, if someone accused someone falsely, the accuser became liable to the same penalty that would have been inflicted on the innocent party. (Deuteronomy 19:18) However, many cases required that accusations be backed up by two eye-witnesses. (Numbers 35:30) 
You can see where this is going. “Innocent until proven guilty” has long been a fundamental principle under the law, because most legal systems are consciously or unconsciously based on Bible principles. When we are unjustly accused we want that principle to be followed in our case.

Unfortunately, when we hear that someone else had an accusation made against them but no disciplinary action was taken, we tend to believe the case was mishandled. 'Where there's smoke there's fire' has become a truism for exactly that reason. Especially if the accused later turns out to be guilty. Especially if there were children involved.

It’s called “20-20 hindsight,” or being a "Facebook expert", or a “Monday-morning-quarterback,” named for water-cooler discussions on Monday about the previous day’s football games.

In a case in California involving a former Jehovah’s Witness, a man is suing to obtain Jehovah’s Witnesses confidential records – not just those pertaining to his case, but ALL confidential records of ALL accusations.

If you think that’s a good idea, you need to re-read the example at the top of this column. If you were falsely accused, and ministers in your church or elders in your congregation heard the accusation, took notes, and then determined the accusation was false... do you want your name and the notes with that false accusation to become public knowledge? If you are a Catholic and the false accusation was made to your priest, how would you feel about your priest being forced to tell the authorities about the false accusation?  
Do you really want 'innocent until proven guilty' to become 'innocent until accused'?

Please leave a polite comment. Comments are moderated, so if you have your own agenda, don’t waste your time. 

Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at can help support this site by purchasing a book.