Most states allow religious exemptions from child abuse and neglect laws

Aug 12, 2016

By Aleksandra Sandstrom

All states prosecute parents whose children come to severe harm through neglect. But in 34 states (as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico), there are exemptions in the civil child abuse statutes when medical treatment for a child conflicts with the religious beliefs of parents, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, some states have religious exemptions to criminal child abuse and neglect statutes, including at least six that have exemptions to manslaughter laws.

These exemptions recently drew renewed attention in Idaho when, in May, a state task force released a report stating that five children there had died unnecessarily in 2013 because their parents, for religious reasons, had refused medical treatment for them. The report has prompted some of Idaho’s legislators to begin pushing for a repeal of state laws that protected the parents of these children from civil and criminal liability when they refuse to seek medical treatment for religious reasons.

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3 comments on “Most states allow religious exemptions from child abuse and neglect laws

  • In US law children seem to be the property of their parents, perhaps this is due the history of slavery, and the absurd over emphasis on the sanctity of private property. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem to be thought of as odd that one person can have proprietary rights over another.
    Parents rights over their children should be seen as something like a trust, the rights belong to the child and the parents administer them. When the administration of parental rights falls short of prudent care, then in normal societies the state has a duty to intervene.

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  • My answer to the concept of Faith based exceptions to secular laws has always been, “If I was an Aztec (or follower of any one of many other ancient religions), I should be allowed to carry out human sacrifice as this is a central part of my religion.” If followers of any one religion are to be allowed exceptions, then all religions, from Pastafarianism to the most obscure (and possibly extinct!) ancient religion must be allowed similar exceptions. In fact if I disagree with a law, what is to stop me founding a religion that specifically teaches the opposite of the law? Who has the authority to decide what is a genuine religion and what is not?

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