Apr 28, 2016

How Faith Healing Laws Puts Children at Risk

Kyle Jaeger
April 27, 2016

Faith healing is a religious practice that flies in the face of medical science. There are exemptions for parents who choose to treat their kids with a faith-based approach, but in six states, parents are literally protected from felony charges including manslaughter, negligent homicide, and capital murder.

faith healing

Idaho, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and West Virginia shield parents from these felony charges. They are offered legal immunity in spite of evidence revealing that rates of preventable child mortality are higher in these six states, according to Slate. What's more, 43 states allow parents some type of religious exemptions if they endanger their children by taking a prayer-based treatment approach in lieu of conventional medicine.

It's not just that parents are legally allowed to deny their children vaccines or antibiotics — basic medications that have saved countless lives — on religious grounds. The types of religious exemptions vary by state, protecting parents from charges that range from child neglect to involuntary manslaughter.

"Several states allow parents to use a religious defense against charges of murder of their child — and in some places they can’t be charged with murder at all," Slate reports. "And even when parents are prosecuted, acquiescence to religious belief often leads to their being acquitted or given light sentences, including unsupervised parole."

No exemptions exist for parents who try to contest such charges on nonreligious grounds.
In extreme cases, parents in religious sects such as The Followers of Christ have been accused of refusing basic treatment for children suffering from preventable illnesses and physical pain, blaming the kids' suffering on a lack of faith, The Guardian reports.

A 2000 study published in the Cultic Studies Journal looked at cases of child mortality in communities that practice faith healing exclusively. Researchers found that 140 of the 172 deceased children included in the survey died from conditions that were treated with more than a 90 percent success rate with modern medicine.

Child advocates and health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics want to repeal all religious exemption laws, but so far, efforts to reform the system have been largely ineffective, blocked by state lawmakers who feel that the exemptions represent an important tenet of the the First Amendment "freedom of religion" clause.

"By all means let us have religious freedom, but let us curtail that freedom at the line where health and lives are at stake," Jerry Coyne, the author of "Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible," wrote. "Neither philosophy nor religion should allow parents the right to substitute prayer or ritual for science-based medicine."


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