NDAs, or non-disclosure agreements, have been tied to many recent sexual abuse scandals, both within and outside the religious community. Now a worldwide movement is working to stop the misuse of NDAs, which activists say squash accountability, transparency and truth.
On Wednesday, a “community of survivors, whistleblowers and activists” launched the NDAfree website and hashtag. “As followers of Jesus,” they note, “we long to see our communities press into the hard work of pursuing truth, promoting transparency and, where possible, seeking reconciliation.”
Resources on the website include FAQs, discussion questions and templates for letters to leadership. Although the advocacy group says it won’t offer legal advice or get involved with specific cases, it promises to share people’s stories so “truth and light” can flourish.
The cornerstone of the site is an NDA-free pledge that churches and Christian organizations can take. The goal is for ministry-based groups to avoid confidentiality clauses and non-disparagement agreements unless there’s “a genuine need to protect intellectual property or personal data.”
A Global Movement to End NDAs
The tech industry originally used NDAs to protect trade secrets and prevent employees from jumping ship to competitors. But the agreements are now associated with protecting an organization’s reputation by imposing consequences on people who speak up. Some churches and Christian ministries even require volunteers to sign confidentiality agreements.
The use of NDAs to silence abuse victims came to light with the Harvey Weinstein case and the resulting #MeToo movement. Recently, NDAs played a role in abuse allegations against the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and controversial pastor Mark Driscoll.
The four members of the #NDAfree launch team live throughout the world. (One previously worked as events director at Zacharias’ ministry, RZIM.) Lee Furney, a member of the launch team who lives in East Africa, says, the campaign is truly “global” and has “no limits.” Furney, an abuse survivor, wasn’t forced to sign an NDA but is familiar with the damage they cause—namely, how they muzzle the truth. And he urges every church and faith-based organization “to be…working out what its policy is ahead of time.”
“We need to read God’s Word and also discern through our conscience what God’s telling us,” says Furney. “What the NDA does is bind the conscience, so if you think God’s telling you, you really need to share this with someone, you can’t do that because there’s all sorts of legal repercussions.” Some NDAs even prevent people from confiding in a Christian therapist, which he calls “just appalling.”
Most NDAs also state that signers can’t tell anyone they signed an NDA, which, as Christianity Today notes, is “cloaking even the secrecy in secrecy.” CT reporter Daniel Silliman tweets that he “reviewed 15 to 20 confidentiality agreements” while writing about them. He discovered that “many are so broad that someone who signs one could be in violation at any time.”
Abuse Survivors Speak Out Against NDAs
On the NDAfree site, abuse survivors and whistleblowers describe being essentially gagged by various legal agreements. Some felt as if they had no choice to sign, saying their family’s livelihood was at stake.
When Lucy Hefford, a missions student in England, signed an NDA, she thought it meant her superiors believed her abuse claim. Instead, she eventually realized they just wanted her to “go away.” Hefford describes an “excruciating” ordeal of having a Christian organization put “reputational damage [above] me as a person.”