Faith healing is widely practiced by Christian Scientists, Pentecostalists, the Church of the First Born, the Followers of Christ, and myriad smaller sects. Many of these believers reject all medical treatment in favor of prayer, anointing with oils, and sometimes exorcisms. Some even deny the reality of illness. When they reject medical treatment for their children, they may be guilty of negligence and homicide. Until recently, religious shield laws have protected them from prosecution; but the laws are changing, as are public attitudes. Freedom of religion has come into conflict with the duty of society to protect children. The right to believe does not extend to the right to endanger the lives of children. A new book by Cameron Stauth, In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide, provides the chilling details of the struggle. He is a master storyteller; the book grabs the reader’s attention like a fictional thriller and is hard to put down. He is sympathetic to both the perpetrators and the prosecutors of religion-motivated child abuse, and he makes their personalities and their struggles come alive.

Rita Swan: From Christian Scientist to Crusader

Rita and Doug Swan were Christian Scientists who firmly believed that disease was an illusion, and that “the most dangerous thing they could do was to show lack of faith in God by relying on medical treatment.” (One wonders just how strong their belief was, since when an ovarian cyst caused intractable pain, Rita had surgery to remove it.) When their baby Matthew developed a fever, they paid a Christian Science practitioner to come to their home and pray over him. She told them fever was just fear; and indeed, Matthew recovered.