Religious exemptions from children’s healthcare. Part 1: preventive and diagnostic procedures

November 11, 2013 • 11:55 am

CHILD, which stands for Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, is a great organization founded by Rita Swan, a Christian Scientist whose son, denied medical treatment, died a terrible death from bacterial meningitis—a curable ailment. Horrified at what she and her husband had done, Swan devoted her life to making sure other children don’t go through what her son did. (Needless to say, she left the Church—and also wrote a book about their experience, The Last Strawberry.) CHILD is devoted to overturning laws that exculpate parents from harming their children if they have religious reasons.  You could do worse than give that organization a few dollars!

CHILD also presents an informative page on U.S. states’ religious exemptions for preventive health care and medical treatment for children, which includes a list of injuries and deaths occurring to children subject to those exemptions (it’ll break your heart), as well as a slate of legal steps the organization is taking to overturn exemption laws.

Today I’ll simply re-publish CHILD’s list of religious exemptions for preventive and diagnostic measures for U.S. children. Tomorrow I’ll give their list of the laws that exempt children from getting medical care on religious grounds.

Many of these exemptions were the result of lobbying by the Christian Science Church, which works nationwide to keep religious exemptions in place.  That is, of course, because their church dogma prohibits members from getting medical attention. They see illness and injury solely as the product of faulty thinking, and believe that ailments can be cured by prayer.  That is is a dangerous, child-killing belief. It is child abuse on a nationwide scale.

Please read what’s below. It it doesn’t make you angry, there’s something wrong.

Religious Exemptions From Health Care For Children

A. Exemptions from preventive and diagnostic measures

  • 48 states have religious exemptions from immunizations. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that require all children to be immunized without exception for religious belief.
  • The majority of states have religious exemptions from metabolic testing of newborns. Such tests detect disorders that will cause mental retardation and other handicaps unless they are treated.
  • Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Pennsylvania have religious exemptions from prophylactic eyedrops for newborns. The eyedrops prevent blindness of infants who have been infected
    with venereal diseases carried by their mothers.
  • Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have religious exemptions from testing children for lead-levels in their blood.
  • California allows public school teachers to refuse testing for tuberculosis on religious grounds. Ohio has a religious exemption from testing and treatment for tuberculosis. It lets parents use “a recognized method of religious healing” instead of medical care for a child sick with tuberculosis.
  • California, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and some other states offer religious exemptions from physical examinations of school children.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia, and some other states have religious exemptions from hearing tests for newborns.
  • Oregon and Pennsylvania have religious exemptions from bicycle helmets.
  • Oregon has a religious exemption from Vitamin K that is given to newborns to prevent spontaneous hemorrhage.
  • California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio have statutes excusing students with religious objections from studying about disease in school.
  • Delaware, Wyoming, and other states have laws with religious exemptions for both children and adults from medical examination, testing, treatment, and vaccination during public health emergencies.

Bicycle helmets! Of course that’s the least of these harms, but it shows how crazy all these exemptions are.

One that really bothers me is the six-state exemption “excusing students with religious objections from studying about disease in school.” That’s ridiculous, for it gives children (some of whom may leave the church) an excuse to ignore modern science.  As far as I know, there is no religious exemption from learning about evolution if your parents belong to one of the many creationist churches.

These regulations were put in place by the U.S. government, i.e., people like me.  We need to get rid of such exemptions.  There’s something really twisted about being legally culpable for withholding medical care from your children, but not culpable if you do it on religious grounds.

59 thoughts on “Religious exemptions from children’s healthcare. Part 1: preventive and diagnostic procedures

  1. Religious exemptions should be abolished. After all why exemption only for the religious? Why not for communists or spaghetti-eaters? And can I get an exemption for murder, because my religion instructs me to sacrifice humans?

    1. The usual reply to that is that an exemption should only have consequences for the religious person in question, and not for any others. Therefore, religious grounds for refusing a heart transplant is acceptable, religious grounds for killing your neighbor is not.

      However, that argument is fundamentally flawed as it ignores the irrefutable fact that minors’ rights to basic healthcare are trampled by these exemptions, to say nothing of the general population being put at risk by those who refuse to get vaccinations.

      1. “However, that argument is fundamentally flawed as it ignores the irrefutable fact that minors’ rights to basic healthcare are trampled by these exemptions”.

        Indeed, minors have just bad luck to be born to parents with certain beliefs. It’s the goverment’s job to protect the vulnerable against such injustice.

  2. Just out of interest do Muslims refuse medical treatment for their kids on Koranic grounds? I know that they refuse vaccination in remote areas of Afghanistan which is preventing the elimination of polio.

    1. I believe that they are refusing not on a general religious objection but because there is a crazy rumor that the vaccinations are an American plot to sterilize their children, or…something.

      1. There is probably a lot of nonsense associated with this, but I seem to remember that some people involved in the vaccinations were also serving as “intelligence” contacts for US soldiers in the vicinity.

        1. Yes, the CIA apparently does that. They supposedly used fake vaccination campaigns to investigate Bin Laden’s neighborhood in Pakistan (and they also did not do the vaccinations properly). Of course, hard to know if it is true.

    2. Boggy, the CIA had agents work their way into an NGO providing vaccinations in Pakistan in order to track down Osama bin Laden. So of course now all NGO attempts at providing medical care in the Muslim world are seen as a conspiracy by US military/intelligence to poison / sterilize / implant tracking devices in Muslims.

      When I was in stationed in Iraq in 2005, I met a local Iraqi who refused to believe that American soldiers were being killed by Sadam’s supporters or Al Qaeda using IED’s (homemade roadside bombs). He insisted that all American soldiers killed in IED attacks were orphans recruited by the US military, sent to Iraq and then killed by the US military to make it seem like there was someone who wanted to fight the US to give the US a reason to occupy Iraq.

      It’s easy for people in countries with corrupt governments and poor education to believe that other governments will do anything vile despicable and horrific to get what they want because they have seen their government do it. So they are more likely to believe just about any conspiracy theory about a government doing bad things rather than the truth.

      Other than medical treatment provided by NGO’s, Muslim’s have no problems with modern medicine that I’m aware of.

  3. There may be no religious exemption from hearing about evolution in schools, but creationists would like there to be one. It is only fairly recently that we started hearing about the tactic of pulling their children out of classes when evolution was to be taught. Muslim creationists in UK seem to do this too.

    They must be afraid that their children will be exposed to sensible arguments about science.

  4. I just spit feathers when I come across a post like this.
    Every time I try to explain to dickhead religious people that they can believe what they like just leave children alone they always come back that it is the parent’s RIGHT to bring their children up regarding religion as they see fit.
    And this is just it, they are NOT fit to bring up children if allowed to exercise these rights because of religion.

    Suffer children to come under me.
    Didn’t someone supposedly once say this?

    1. “Suffer little children to come unto me” is the phrase.

      However, this is just olde timey speake for “Let them come to me”. I think some people may misunderstand the “suffer” nowadays, but its original meaning wasn’t intended to have sinister undertones.

      1. Yes, but it’s not too hard to find Bible quotes to justify doing horrible things to kids:

        “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell”

        “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes”

        “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

        “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

    1. Ones that mandate special headgear. Sikh, miscellaneous Islamic/Christian/Jewish hat wearing types. Those things protect you from brain-spattering, no?

        1. and the pitiful people might survive when their buggies are hit. I live in PA, grew up near the western PA amish and now live near the ones in Lancaster Co.

          of course, the Amish aren’t as techno phobe as they claim. They use cell phones, ride in cars, use special lights to cure their self-promulgated genetic diseases, etc.

          Amish are some of the best hypocrites.

  5. Jehovah’s witnesses fight to make sure their children die instead of get blood transfusions. I grew up a JW and heard many experiences of parents trying to prevent doctors from giving their children, sometimes infants, blood transfusions that were needed to save their lives.

    The Watchtower society even brags about it. They put out an issue of their “Awake” magazine where the cover was nothing but portraits of children that died because “they” refused blood transfusions. You can see it and an article about it here

    “In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.”–AWAKE! May 22, 1994, page 2

    It’s sick what people can be convinced to do if you tell them a mute invisible man will be angry at them if they disobey.

    1. I knew a JW girl who would claim that she knew of people who got blood transfusions & afterword they were not the same person. Even as a kid I knew this was BS but even if it were true I thought I’d still want to chance the blood transfusion.

  6. Speaking as an Oregonian, this is outrageous.

    Why and how do otherwise rational legislators sign this bullshit into law?

    Time for action, my fellow Oregon humanists!!

    1. Maybe you’ve heard of that religious group up in the Portland area that’s famous for the high profile deaths of the children of several followers because they refused to seek medical treatment?

      It’s really, really hard to find people who actually condemn the parents for doing so.

  7. Reblogged this on Club Schadenfreude and commented:
    From Dr. Coyne’s blog. As if you needed any more evidence that some theists are utterly ridiculous. God doesn’t want my children to have bicycle helmets! (then why does he require helmets for his soldiers in armor?) God won’t let anyone get tuberculosis from me! (as false as could be)


  8. You have got to be shitting me.

    Religious exemption for TB vaccination and treatment?

    It’s one thing to endanger your own health or even that of your child by refusing blood transfusions.

    But TB is a serious public health hazard, of the type that warrants instant quarantine of anybody found positive, or even those suspected until test results are in.

    And those goddamned Jesus freaks think they have the right to send their plague-riddled spawn into the public schools to infect everybody else’s children?

    Fuck that shit. Give ’em a choice: the jab, or an isolation ward. With enforcement ensured by burly men with guns if need be.

    (Of course, the usual exceptions for those with severe allergies or compromised immune systems or the like apply. They’re not the problem — they’re the ones who need protection from the two-legged disease-spreading vermin.)


    1. And TB is on the comeback too. Used to be you never heard of people getting TB – it was something from the developing world or something people got in the old days, like The Plague but more recent.

      Delaware, Wyoming, and other states have laws with religious exemptions for both children and adults from medical examination, testing, treatment, and vaccination during public health emergencies.

      During public health emergencies!? WTF! This is exactly when you need to get looked at & treated!

      1. The worst part of the return of TB is that part of the reason for its resurgence is its increasing antibiotic resistance, and the only way to treat once anyone gets it, is with antibiotics. The more antibiotics that medicine has to use, the more resistant it becomes, a vicious circle which plays into the hands of these religious fuckwits, who than say “See, your fancy medicine don’t work – the only way is prayer”.

        I’m not sure whether that constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a self-inflicted tragedy.

  9. “Religious exemptions from children’s healthcare, part 1”? If this is the hors d’oeuvre, I’m not sure I can look forward to the main course.

    Membership of the Church of Christian Science is very much a minority (Wiki estimates worldwide membership at about 85,000), from what I have read and I can’t really see them working in tandem with any of the other lunatic ‘healing’ fringe churches, as they seem to be regarded as mavericks for some of their other doctrines, such as the denial of Jesus as a deity and of g*d being the creator of all material existence, or is it a case of ‘my enemy’s enemy’?

    One wonders, therefore, how they can have such a strong influence on State law. I’m all for supporting the rights of minorities, but draw the line when such rights can cause harm to people who have not claimed those rights in the first place. I know that wisdom and politics do not usually go hand-in-hand, but laws requested by a minority that can cause harm to others outside of that minority, would be opposed by the majority and that, in such cases, the majority view should be the top trump.

    The most alarming exemptions cited by our host those that provide exemptions from vaccinations and those in Delaware, Wyoming, and other states, providing “religious exemptions for both children and adults from medical examination, testing, treatment, and vaccination during public health emergencies”, which have the capacity for repercussions that are very scary.

    1. Yeah, that “public health emergencies” exemption scares the shit out of me, too. We get the next 1918 flu pandemic, or somebody weaponizes smallpox, or that sort of thing…well, once word gets out that Christian Scientists aren’t getting vaccinated, I can easily imagine all sorts of soccer moms and their ilk deciding it’s open season on them, and shooting on sight, just like a scene out of a zombie flick.

      Very stupid, short-sighted thinking all around, both from those who don’t think they should get vaccinated and from those who granted them the exemption. If the shit ever hits the fan, the resulting mayhem will be one of the tragic / ironic “human interest” stories that makes the news stories and docudramas.


      1. I wish they developed a booster for small pox. I got this cool scar for getting the vaccination in the 70s & its protection is probably worn off.

        1. I don’t think I ever actually got a smallpox vaccination. I don’t know that I’d be able to find it today, and I shudder to think of the reaction from the NSA / CIA / etc. if I inquired too seriously about it.


  10. I was surprised to see Oregon listed twice. Did Oregon not pioneer the practice of doctor
    assisted suicide about 20+ years ago, but give a bicycle helmet exemption – Oregonians do indeed work in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.

    1. Euthanasia is illegal in all states of the United States. Physician aid in dying (PAD), or assisted suicide, is legal in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont. The key difference between euthanasia and PAD is who administers the lethal dose of medication. Euthanasia entails the physician or another third party administering the medication, whereas PAD requires the patient to self-administer the medication and to determine whether and when to do this.

      So, while PAD is, essentially, illegal across most of the USA, religion assisted suicide (or should that be suicide enforced by religious dogma?), remains legal in 48 States. Something is very, very wrong here.

      In the case of children, of course, death resulting from the denial of medical intervention for religious reasons is nothing short of murder. The same applies to others who do not adhere to such insane doctrine, but who might die as a result of contact with those who do.

  11. Coincidentally in the Globe & Mail (a Canadian national newspaper) today we had an article, “The vaccination problem can’t simply be prayed away…” by André Picard.

    An nice quote from the article:

    “We have to balance the right to religious practice with the rights of the collectivity to be safe and healthy; we cannot let traditional folkways take precedence over 21st-century cultural and medical norms.

    We do not, for example, tolerate corporal punishment even among the “spare the rod and spoil the child” set. Nor do we allow the invocation of religious belief to deny children lifesaving medical treatments such as blood transfusion and chemotherapy.”

    So why should we allow parents to refuse child vaccinations based on religious beliefs? Is that not a form of child abuse?

    1. It’s a good article. I’m glad people are starting to address religious harm unabashedly and associating it with woo as this article does by mentioning the Jenny McCarthy anti-vaxxers!

  12. It is organized child abuse on a nationwide scale.

    On the assumption that Jerry’s assertino that the Christian Science church is/has carrying/-ed out formal lobbying on this point, which I think is entirely plausible.
    How, on the scale of child abuse, does death by disease or injury rack up against paedophile priests being shuffled around the country and the world by the Catholic Church? (Who’re the others with form in this field? Jehovah’s Witlessnesses? And others, I’m sure.) With multiple million dollar cases against the Catholic Church, is this a possible attack vector on the finances of several other bunches of god-botherers?

  13. The Center for American Progress posted an item titled The Effect of Childhood Vaccine Exemptions on Disease Outbreaks, which features a link to a report on the subject.

    The summary of the report is this:

    “While the issues of nonvaccination and undervaccination must be addressed to protect children and their communities from significant health risks, this report focuses solely on children who are not immunized due to parents’ use of nonmedical vaccine exemptions. We survey the research on state childhood vaccination mandates and exemption categories, focusing on the role that nonmedical exemptions play in reducing immunization coverage in communities throughout the United States.”

    The report contains sections titled, Current vaccination and exemption policies, The growth of nonmedical vaccine exemptions, The impact of nonmedical exemptions on disease outbreaks and Potential state and federal responses

    I shall re-post this on the related WEIT pages.

  14. The bible teaches that we shall keep the blood pure and keep the seed from being mixed.
    when genetic materials from bacteria, viruses, yeast, animals birds, and other humans (aborted fetal cells) are injected during vaccination, the blood gets contaminated!
    I have done research on vaccinations and children’s health for over three years now! And for those of you who think eliminating an exemption is okay, your wrong, it is the parents job to protect there child ( gods law )! Keep your nose out of other peoples business!
    My son was vaccinated, 38 vaccines till he was 4, he slept for six months straight, I had to wake him up for feedings and changings, when I told the doctor he said I just had a really good baby!!! I couldn’t understand what he was saying until the age of three, he is now 10 years old and in third grade, he is supposed to be in fifth, he has a learning disability( he is behind a couple years)!
    My second child I also vaccinated and he developed a heart defect at the age of fifteen months old, I stopped vaccines after that, he is 9 now and his heart defect is gone!
    I had my third child almost three years ago and decided no vaccines, she started walking at 10 months old, she started talking clearly before the age of one, she’ll be three in febuary and knows all of her shapes, colors, body parts, can count to 15 and also some of the alphabet!
    It is MY job as there mother to protect them from harm not the governments, if the government decides to eliminate exemptions, my children will be tooken out that same day and will be homeschooled !

    1. Is this horseshit for real or is someone putting us on? If someone moves to a deserted island, then their idiotic health beliefs only affect themselves (and any unfortunate family members who move with them). However, if they live in the real world, they have no right to endanger other people with their ignorance.

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