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These guidelines cover two varieties of security procedures. Background
checks, as we use the term, search public data banks such as criminal
conviction records. Reference checks seek non-public information, and
concentrate on interviewing persons who have acquaintance with the person under
These guidelines recommend a balance between respect for personal privacy on
the one hand and respect for congregations as trust-based communities on the
other. Persons in congregational settings expect to be able to be vulnerable; we
expect to be safe from exploitation, to be able to “let our guard down.” Thus
the question criminal conviction checks ask—has this person been convicted of a
felony (and in some searches, misdemeanor)?— deserves an accurate answer. Yet an
answer in the affirmative is in many cases only an invitation to further
exploration. Was the criminal trespass for purposes of burglary, or civil
disobedience? Was the drug conviction for selling cocaine or possessing
marijuana? Was the statutory rape conviction of a 40-year-old man with
12-year-old girl, or of an 18-year-old with a 16-year old? How long ago was it?
What kind of life has the person lived since? And remembering the differential
rates of prosecution and conviction of people of European background and people
of color/members of historically marginalized groups, what was the context of
the event, and what other factors were involved?
In addition, the requirements of the particular position sought should be
relevant to the analysis of an individual’s conviction history. For instance, a
recent conviction for embezzlement should disqualify an applicant for a position
in which the individual will have access to others’ finances. Similarly, because
of the unique role of ministers in UUA organizations, more extensive and
exhaustive review measures are appropriate.
Federal and state law may also impact inquiries into criminal history or
other background reviews. For instance, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act
imposes particular authorization and disclosure requirements for background
checks conducted by outside agencies, and state law may have additional
requirements or limitations. There may also be unique resources in each state
that can be utilized for purposes of conducting background checks. These can
include offender registries and listings of individuals who have engaged in
These guidelines further counsel a do-it-yourself approach to reference
checks. The greater the ability of the search committee or hiring body to
develop detailed acquaintance with the persons it is considering, the greater
its ability to make an informed selection. Reliance on the technical means
offered by outside agencies should at all points be considered second best to
Self-reliance requires imagination. “Google” persons’ names to see what, if
anything, comes up. Check out the websites of the congregations they are
currently serving, even those they have served. By such means you may well
unearth valuable new conversation topics by which you can get to know them
For more information contact congservicesatuuadotorg.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.
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