Prompted by the deaths of two children in the last two years whose parents relied on faith healing measures rather than medical intervention, the Oregon House unanimously approved a bill that removes legal protection from homicide charges for parents who choose faith healing rather than medical care for their children. Previously, Oregon parents choosing faith healing were protected from some homicide charges.
"Laws like this raise the question: Whose authority should be final, and when? Governments are responsible to God to protect citizens, and yet citizens themselves are responsible to God. What happens when a citizen is convinced God will heal, but the government is sure that faith healing will instead cause harm or death? If a child is involved, unable to make his or her own decision, the case for the government to step in is stronger. But there is every reason to be wary, given that our governments are increasingly less respectful of religious freedom—less inclined to respect homeschooling, the nurse who objects to abortions, Bible studies in homes, and adoption agencies that insist on placing children with mother-father families."
Stanley Carlson-Thies, president, International Religious Freedom Alliance
"To some extent or another it is the responsibility of government to watch out for its most defenseless citizens, so there is some way in which the government has to say, 'At this point we have to watch out for this child.' But that's a scary and slippery slope, because you don't know where that ends. What if they say, 'We have to look out for this child and it's wrong to take them to church'? The government is already on slippery ground—confused and conflicted ground within itself—because we have a bizarre paradox: the government says we won't protect the parents believing for the healing of the child when it dies, but we will protect the mother who kills the unborn deliberately."
Mark Rutland, president, Oral Roberts University
"These laws could be used as a club by anti-religious zealots and be open to misinterpretation. Religious people pray for healing often. What if parents prayed for healing and didn't realize the child was seriously ill and needed immediate medical attention? How will delay in medical treatment due to the parents' faith or prayers be interpreted? Will parents be liable? It is wiser to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis versus a blanket law that could be over-interpreted to the detriment of religious freedom."
David Stevens, MD, CEO, Christian Medical and Dental Association
"As a general matter, political communities should try to avoid imposing burdens on the free exercise of religion—even when the religion in question seems 'out of the mainstream'—and should seek to accommodate faith-based objections to otherwise applicable laws. Part of what it means to respect religious freedom is to avoid imposing such burdens and to make such accommodations. That said, it is the business of the civil law to protect the vulnerable and to promote the common good, and so not all religiously motivated conduct can be tolerated or protected."
Richard W. Garnett, professor, Notre Dame Law School
"A competent adult has the legal right to pursue faith healing rather than medical treatment, but when a child's life or basic health is at stake, parents should not be exempt from all legal sanctions. There is a legitimate debate whether prosecuting parents criminally for failing to seek medical care for the child is the best sanction, and what level of criminal charge is appropriate. It is sad to prosecute parents who have already endured the agony of losing a child, but perhaps the threat of prosecution will cause parents to seek medical care in the first place. Some states require not that parents with a seriously ill child seek medical care directly, but that they notify authorities so that the authorities can intervene."
Thomas C. Berg, professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minn.)
"Some people of faith forego standard therapeutic measures and pray for miraculous intervention. This seems comparable, in my mind, to praying for one's crops to flourish without cultivating or watering the seedlings. I defend the right of adults to forego standard therapy for themselves, whether based on their faith or personal values. I am very reluctant, however, to do so when an adult chooses this path for someone else, particularly a child, if the probable result will be death or disability."
Robert Orr, M.D.
"Everyone has the right to faith healing for themselves—as a matter of basic privacy as well as religious freedom. But in a case of serious illness, a child's right to life trumps a parent's right to religion. Faith healing should complement, not compete with, proper medical care."
John Witte, Jr., professor, Emory Law School
"A faith exemption involves lawmakers in saying when a religion is okay and when it's not, and that's the kind of judgment we don't want legislators making. We should stick to classic, common-law definitions of homicide, including defenses, and leave it to juries to decide whether the parents were negligent or not, and then let the parents try to persuade juries that 'we weren't negligent, we were doing our best—we were taking due care,' and let juries assess the parents. It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do; and the law all the time does the best it can."
David Wagner, professor, Regent University School of Law
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous topics for discussion included whether Congress should change pastors' housing allowances, Christians should share sacred spaces, Christians are stingy, Christians should resist the TSA, Christians should ban Christmas carols with questionable theology, when life begins, whether Christians should denounce believers who vilify others, Christians must pray in public forums using Jesus' name, whether they have a responsibility to have children, whether churches should increase their 2011 operating budgets, a Protestant-less Supreme Court, Mother's Day worship, incorporating churches, whether evangelicals are doing a good job at racial integration, whether Christians should leave the American Medical Association, the most significant change in Christianity over the past decade, whether the Supreme Court should rule that memorial crosses are secular, multisite campuses vs. church plants, and whether Christians should fast during Ramadan with Muslims.
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