Bless the beasts and the children

18 11 2014

Why one law for all?

Yes, I have and will continue to bang on about principle and theory, but sometimes concrete examples work best.

Such as dead children.

Jeez louise, you might be thinking, do you really have to get all extreme about this? I mean, aren’t you exaggerating just a wee?

Nope.

Despite the deaths of least 12 children from “faith healing” Christian families in their state, lawmakers and public officials in Idaho have refused to challenge a state law providing a religious exemption from manslaughter and murder charges, Vocativ reported.

There is little push to change the laws.

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” state Rep. Christy Perry (R) said. “This is about where they go for eternity.”

The move from doctor-centered to patient-centered decision-making has, on the whole, been good for patients, and one of the most important powers which has migrated to patients has been the right to refuse treatment.

I am foursquare in favor of such a right—for an adult, for herself, for any reason.

When making decisions on another’s behalf, however—especially a child whose care the state has charged one with providing—the exercise of such power ought to be scrutinized.

Or, to put it less abstractly, parents ought not be able to refuse life-saving care for their kids, especially when such care is routine and effective, because God said so.

Parental custody is conditional, not absolute.

This shouldn’t be a controversial statement: parents who starve or beat or neglect—including medically neglect—their children may be charged with crimes and have the kids taken away from them.

But throw a veneer of religiosity over such neglect, and well, whatcha gonna do?

Jackson Scott Porter, a newborn girl. . . lived for just 20 minutes before dying in her grandfather’s home. The girl’s mother did not receive any pre-natal care. Her cause of death was listed as untreated pneumonia.

“That’s the way we believe,” the grandfather, Mark Jerome, told KATU at the time. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things.”

KATU also reported that local officials believe that another minor, 14-year-old Rockwell Sevy, had undiagnosed Down’s syndrome before he also died from pneumonia, in 2011.

Sevy’s father, Dan Sevy, refused to discuss his son’s death with KATU last year, citing his right to freedom of religion.

“I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take ‘a’ freedom away,” Dan Sevy said. “It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”

This is the dumbest goddamned argument about freedom this side of Galt’s Gulch, which dumbness would make it pathetic were it not pernicious—which is to say, had it not resulted in a boy’s death.

This religious exemption necessarily removes the children in these homes from protections of the law, specifically, of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment: in allowing parents to neglect their children for religious reasons, the children in these religious households are given fewer protections of the law than children in other households.

I had thought such exemptions were narrow (confined to vaccinations, say), but they are, dismayingly, widespread.

The right of the parent to inflict her religious beliefs on the child, even if it kills him, apparently matters more than the child himself.

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Free free, set them free

3 03 2014

I’ve banged on and on and on on the necessity of one law for all. Not this time.

In the interest of not repeating myself on purpose (I do enough of it by accident), I’m not going to outline yet again why broad religious exemptions from laws of general applicability are a bad idea, and simply jump to the conclusion: Religious institutions and their affiliates which hire and treat/educate/work with solely their fellow co-religionists? Fine: clear First Amendment exemption. Places of general accommodation? Nuh-uh.

Anyway, these proposed laws based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs” seem like a very bad idea for a very basic reason: who the hell is to determine what is a “sincerely held religious belief” and how is it to be determined?

Courts generally don’t want to have to deal with this, not least because they don’t want to be in the position of having a government body determining what is a religion, much less sincerely held beliefs about them. Yes, there are cases in which this occurs—conscientious objectors from the draft, IRS tax-exempt status, rights of prisoners—but beyond that, not so much.

More to the point, if I sue you for denial of service and you claim a s.h.r.b. defense, then my attorney is going to question you about your beliefs, how consistent you are in their application, your level of knowledge about your religion, and on an on. State legislators might think they’re handing you a get-out-of-court-free card, but if you get that card due solely to the sincerity of your belief, well then, that gives me incentive to challenge both the sincerity and the belief.

If you are in any way inconsistent—which is to say, human—it’s just possible that a jury of your peers will find that you don’t, in fact, believe what you say you believe. And even if you win, you and your beliefs will in the process have come under sustained official scrutiny.

It’s tough to see how that in any way advances the cause of religious liberty.