Tenn. lawmakers approve repeal of ‘spiritual treatment’ exemption

Apr 26, 2016

By Richard Locker

The House gave final legislative approval today to a bill repealing a controversial 1994 law that was at the center of a long court fight over the 2002 death of a Loudon County child whose mother refused medical care in favor of “spiritual treatment” and prayer.

The bill repeals the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption was intended to provide a shield from child abuse and neglect prosecution for parents and others if a child “is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner” of the church or denomination in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

The repeal bill, Senate Bill 1761, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, a lawyer. It won unanimous Senate approval in March and an 85-1 vote Thursday in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who’s expected to sign it into law.

The exemption came into play less than a decade after its enactment, in the death of Jessica Crank, 15, of Loudon County in 2002. Her mother, Jacqueline Crank, was a follower of Ariel Ben Sherman, who conducted religious services under the name of the Universal Life Church in a rented house in Lenoir City.

Jessica became ill with what was diagnosed later as Ewing’s Sarcoma. Her mother and Sherman declined — after an initial visit with a chiropractor and later a walk-in clinic — to pursue doctors’ urgent referrals to hospitals for treatment. After the child’s death, her mother and Sherman were indicted on child neglect charges. Both were eventually convicted after courts ruled that Sherman’s group was not a “recognized church or denomination” covered by the exemption.


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14 comments on “Tenn. lawmakers approve repeal of ‘spiritual treatment’ exemption

  • exempted / recognized vs. not-recognized (church or denomination)

    The child ends up dead either way; and wtf is a “duly accredited practitioner”.



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  • That would be the correct spin on Christianity right? Or does the practitioner have to be worth over $10,000,000.00 or something . Yes,what is the criteria ???



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  • @OP – The bill repeals the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute.

    This simply shows that the wish-thinking mental aberrations of the previous deluded legislators have now been corrected.



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  • In Western Australia, where I lived for many years, the medics simply went to the duty Justice of the Peace, who resided in the police HQ, 24/7, and had the child made a ward of court. A simple and quick procedure, which allowed the treatment to be commenced immediately.

    But then, in the Land of the Free, children tend to be seen as property, not citizens.



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  • “spiritual treatment”

    Anyone can claim that, and put it on a shop sign.

    Just as with “snake oil salespersons”, beware of “sh*t on a shingle” (derided fare during WWII).



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  • In British Columbia we have a ‘legal duty to report’ any suspicion of abuse or neglect. This may be what Australia also has. Their laws on child protection are far ahead of many other countries. When we have unstable people making ill informed decisions the results are never good. I would hope that the definition of ‘a duly qualified practitioner’ would be those who have been certified by whatever state/province medical boards they are practicing in, and that would not include the likes of Ernest Angley or Benny Hinn or Franklin Graham, or ………. Talk about snake oil, as previous commenter has! Prayer may be a strong supporter of false hope, but it is not a replacement for medical intervention, period. Spiritualism / faith healers cannot resuscitate a drowning child, or reattach a severed limb. A vote of 85-1 in favour of repealing the law sends a pretty strong message that civilized people do not condone child abuse through the use of ‘spiritual treatment’ as a alternative to medical treatment.



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  • @OP -The bill repeals the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption was intended to provide a shield from child abuse and neglect prosecution for parents and others if a child “is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner” of the church or denomination in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

    Hopefully action will also be taken against the “snake-oil practitioners”, as in the case on this other discussion!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/03/this-churchs-cancer-curing-elixir-is-really-bleach-federal-authorities-say/#li-comment-200087



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  • You could word such a law that you must use “treatments medically recognised at effective”, and sidestep the religious issue.

    There are no evidence spiritual treatments. Homeopathy etc. have no effect.



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  • They can have, and I’m sure pay through the nose for, any quackery they like…BUT they must allow all the procedures and imputs that medical science provides, and any other treatment must be cleared as harmless by qualified practitioners in mainstream, scientific PROVED western-capitalist-imperialist-whatever-cliché-you-want-to-call-it medicine.



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  • How about passing legislation that minors cannot be treated by homeopaths or naturopaths, they must be seen by licensed “normal” physicians until they reach the age of majority. After which they can do what they like, on the assumption they are old enough to know the full impact/risks of their choices.



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  • @ #12
    You did read that it was Tennessee, right? Things seem to be moving in the right direction on many fronts, but the wheels of progress turn very slowly, indeed. Nowhere slower than Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina…. what we repugnantly call “the bible belt”…..



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