How would you end that sentence? Is there ever a circumstance in which it is okay to abuse your children? I’m not referring to the debate over spanking—I’m talking about laws that are currently enacted in certain states that allow parents to physically abuse and murder their children because of a specific circumstance: religion.
This AP article explores the challenges that face courts trying cases involving parents who neglect their children’s health and well-being because of religious beliefs. Many states have exemptions for these parents that absolve them of their sins because they once read a book that said thinking really hard in an upward direction would cure their children’s ailments.
Apparently, it was not enough to have Pentecostal and Jehovah’s Witness parents literally getting away with murder. According to the article, religious exemptions are only now being publicly questioned because more people are claiming these exemptions apply to their less-popular belief systems, such as those found online:
Gregory P. Isaacs, an attorney for [appropriately named Universal Life Church child-murderer] Crank, who’s out on bond, argues that Tennessee’s religious exemption law is untested and too vague.
“It really has a tremendous amount of problems,” Isaacs said. “What is an organized religion and what is an ordained minister? What illnesses can you attempt to heal by faith? Those are the two pitfalls in the statute. That’s not what’s really clear.”
That this question even needs to be asked is, to me, remarkable. It is never okay to neglect a child’s health. Crank’s daughter died with a “tumor the size of a basketball” on her shoulder. It does not matter what religion Crank is and how many other people in the world buy into the same delusion, and it doesn’t matter how long ago her holy books were written. If Jesus Himself descended from the heavens and knocked on Crank’s door accompanied by a choir of angels and the Pope and Moses and Bill Donohue and a crowd of paparazzi, and commanded her to withhold medical treatment from her daughter, it is Crank’s duty as a parent to kick Jesus in the sack and go to the hospital. If she doesn’t, she is not fit to be a parent or a free human being.
Luckily, there are those out there who have a rational outlook on the question of religious exemptions. The article mentions Rita Swan, director of Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, an organization focused on abolishing those exemptions nationwide. She gets the best quote in the entire article:
In the wake of the Wisconsin case, Swan said legislators there are considering a bill that would repeal the state’s religious exemption to its child abuse and neglect law.
“In the U.S. under the First Amendment, we’re not supposed to be establishing religion or carving out any preferences for prestigious religions,” Swan said. “The courts should not be giving any kind of deference to established denominations and making any distinctions.”
I couldn’t agree more. Rita’s organization sounds like a fabulous one, and I hope she keeps up the good fight until no more states allow parents to legally abuse and murder their children in the name of superstition.