How your tax dollars support faith healing

November 19, 2013 • 11:52 am

It would seem unconstitutional for U.S. taxpayers to support religion, but of course we do, giving tax breaks to churches and exempting ministers from being taxed on their housing allowance. Still, all religions are treated equally in those respects.  But there’s one way a few religions are given even more unconscionable tax breaks: those religions, like Christian Science, that practice faith healing.  Faith healing does not work, of course: tests of the efficacy of prayer and “distant healing”, which are multiplying, show no positive effects Yet the government continues to subsidize them, as I suppose the UK government does for homeopathy.  In my view, if the taxpayers are going to support medical care, there has to be some evidence that it works.

Here’s material taken directly from an official page from the Church of Christ, Scientist: “Where is Christian Science care covered in public and private insurance?

The question of how Christian Science care will fit into a post-health care reform landscape can be partially answered by examining the experience of existing coverage for Christian Science nursing/practitioner care in public and private insurance. That’s right – some insurance companies already pay for this type of care. In fact, it has been covered by insurance for over 90 years. (Please consider providing the information we request below.) More specifically . . .

  • 17 Christian Science nursing facilities are Medicare providers. So, individuals who are eligible for Medicare Part A coverage can receive reimbursement for Christian Science nursing care at those facilities. This system has been in place for over forty years. [JAC: you can see the list of those facilities here.]
  • If you work for the federal government as a civilian employee you have the option of choosing from four Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) plans that cover Christian Science nursing/practitioner care: 1) the Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) plan; 2) the Mail Handlers Benefit Plan; 3) the Association Benefit Plan; and 4) the Special Agent Mutual Benefit Association (SAMBA) plan.
  • If you are a member of the armed forces or a dependent of a member of the armed forces, you may qualify for the TRICARE insurance program, which covers Christian Science nursing/practitioner care.
  • If you are a state employee in the following states, then Christian Science nursing/practitioner care may be available to you under your state employee insurance plan: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas.
  • Christian Science practitioner and nursing services also qualify as tax-deductible medical expenses under the medical expense income tax deduction under Section 213(d) of the IRS code. Because of this designation, individuals who have health savings accounts (HSA’s) and contribute money to them, may use those pre-tax dollars to pay for Christian Science practitioner and nursing care.
  • Several private insurance plans and self-insured companies include Christian Science nursing/practitioner care as a reimbursable benefit.

No real medical care is provided at Christian science nursing facilities. The “practitioners” have only two or three weeks of training, and their main instrument of healing is prayer. Ashley King, the girl whose story is below (a story I’ve told before) received no care beyond prayer, food and water, and dressing of her tumor. Her pain was terrible, but of course such facilities offer no pain medication. After all, they say, pain is just an illusion, the result of faulty thinking.

This is the kind of “healing” that we subsidize, though in Ashley’s case her sanatorium was not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.  I have no idea whether the King family received a tax break on any payments for Ashley’s “care.” What I do know is that Christian Science healing is quackery.

The U.S. government, or for that matter the British government or any government, has no business subsidizing “medical” care that hasn’t been shown to work. It’s an incentive that keeps people ill, and, in the case of people like the Kings, promotes the abuse of children.

(Thanks to author Caroline Fraser for the reference and the UC library for getting me the scan.) The reference is at bottom. Read the story of a tragedy that, but for religion, could have been avoided or ameliorated.

Picture 2 Picture 3I’ve showed this picture before but I’ll show it again. This is Catherine King, Ashley’s mother, who displayed cardboard cutouts of her late daughter at the press conference she held after being convicted for a misdemeanor (reckless endangerment) and given three years of unsupervised probation and 150 hours of community service for making a martyr of her child.



Brown, J. W. Oct. 21, 1988. “I’m in so much pain.” Transcripts describe young Christian Scientist’s agonizing death. Pp. A1, A4. Phoenix Gazette, Phoenix, AZ.

28 thoughts on “How your tax dollars support faith healing

  1. How many medical plans cover chiropractors? They have a whole ridiculous legacy of quackery and now they do the same thing except now they take machines that buzz and make light noises.
    I don’t of anyone who actually uses Christian Science but I know of many people who regularly see a chiropractor.

  2. “We finally have come to the point where you place God before your own life”.

    Sounds familiar. Very familiar.

    1. I’ve actually heard this excuse coming from someone who was studying faith healing, uniting New Age nondualism with Christian Science. Life and death are illusions; the child doesn’t really die because he or she isn’t physical.

      The ultimate reality wasn’t Consciousness, though — it was Love.

      1. Strange how the wish-thinkers gravitate towards the nicey-nice when getting cosmic. It would make more sense to me if the ultimate glue holding the universe together was either suffering or stupidity. (as you may know, F Zappa contended that scientists were wrong in thinking that hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe… FZ contended the most plentiful element was stupidity.)

      2. “. . . the child doesn’t really die because he or she isn’t physical.”

        I guess that justifies, or excuses anyway, the pain, agony, humiliation, hopelessness, revulsion, and abandonment they inflicted on their daughter by making her ly there in her own shit and rotting flesh while the disease ravished her body over a period of months. All readily avoidable. What is the disconnect with these people? It seems like a massive failure of being capable of empathizing with the victim. Which seems a great irony considering that “lack of empathy” is surely very high on any card carrying New Ager’s list of the failings of materialists.

        It makes me nauseous to think of how so many people defend the likes of this poor child’s parents. Or at least their right to do things like this with no significant consequences. Unsupervised probation indeed. These people are a danger to everyone and should not be free.

        1. In the case of the fundamentalist Christian parents, I suspect that thoughts about how Jesus had to suffer on the cross — and how this suffering was necessary (and worse than any other suffering anyone else has ever undergone on earth) — are regularly brought forth and ruminated over. God loved his Son and HE watched Him suffer through worse. That sort of thing.

          People have referred to Gibson’s movie “Passion of the Christ” as snuff porn. I think that’s a good description of the fetishising of the crucifixion in general. Religion can warp people into having the mindset of someone in a war zone.

          1. The thing of it is, I’m sickeningly sure that what this poor girl went through is vastly worse than the deranged imaginings Christians invent for their martyr.

          2. How was Jesus’s suffering any worse than any of the thousands of other victims that the good ol’ Romans crucified?

            Not that it would justify the sadism of these parents even if it had been. To make it plain – if Jesus’ suffering had been ten times worse than anyone else, ever, it still wouldn’t justify someone inflicting so much as an ingrowing toenail on anyone else.

            1. According to the Gospels, Jesus suffered far less than most crucifixion victims. They generally lingered for days, as their shoulder muscles slowly tore and they finally expired from thirst. Jesus lasted less a day, before being mercifully stabbed by a watching soldier.

  3. Less than two months ago I was at the funeral of the only daughter of a good friend of mine. She was 11, and had osteosarcoma as well. She lived less than ten months after her initial diagnosis, non-stop chemo and having a leg amputated did not slow the disease down. Just hearing about her ordeal from her parents is something that will live with me forever. And she had all the medical and palliative care she could get. Imagining Ashley King’s parents forcing their daughter to go through all that suffering without proper care is simply horrifying. Religion poisons everything, even parents’ love for their children.

  4. It is absolutely absurd that an individual like Catharine King would be given such a small sentence. It is conceivable that she could have pleaded insanity–anyone who follows Christian Science to that degree is either psychotic or inherently sadistic. She might have been sent to a mental asylum or suchlike. But 150 hours of community service is mind-boggling; at least I hope this is community service at hospitals.

    1. Christ! I hope like hell it isn’t at hospitals. That would be unlikely to help her with her reality and lack of empathy issues and it would be unkind, and risky, to inflict her on patients.

      1. I kind of like that idea. She’d see modern medicine at work, actually curing people.

        And who said anything about patients? I’m thinking bed-pans, colostomy bags, filing down fungusy toenails, etc.

        1. She’d see modern medicine at work, actually curing people.

          I think it would only help to turn her even more against modern medicine. Remember, these people want their god to take care of things, directly, not through modern medicine. No human meddling around with operations, therapies, drugs and all. All this going against her gods will would only serve to make her reject it even more.

          Seeing her picture, I wonder why she doesn’t pray to her god to do her hair for her, for instance. Shouldn’t he/she/it be taking care of that for her as well?

  5. To play devil’s advocate, isn’t it better that these sick people are encouraged to recive even minimal dressing and bed care, rather than go without? If you make these services taxed/uncovered, the result will NOT be Christian Scientists suddenly deciding they want real medical care. The result will be they do it themselves, and decrease the survival rate for their congregations even further.

    Now, I am not okay subsidising prayer. I don’t think the public should be paying the priest who sits beside the ill person and does nothing but pray. And I am not okay with subsidising help by some untrained idiot (at least, not at nursing wages; if they want to charge minimum wage rates to have a barely-trained teen wash their wounds, okay).
    But if someone wants a medical tax break for bandage-changing services provided by a trained nurse, I’m okay with that – even in cases where I think they ought to be getting an operation or penicillin in addition to the bandaging.

    I’ll also note that this is an entirely separate issue from child medical care. This posts’ issue is about what services public health care should pay for; the child issue is about when you force health care on (the child of) someone who doesn’t want it. On the latter, I am pretty much in complete agreement with JAC and others.

    1. Actually, I can’t find any record of the facility actually dressing her wounds; I may have mistakenly assumed that based on the fact that such dressings are done at some Christian Science such facilities, and that Ashley did have rotting flesh, bedsores, and the like. What I do know is that there were 71 calls for prayer in the several weeks that Ashley was in the hospital. One site says that “At Upward View, a facility that was not state-licensed and was staffed by Christian Science nurses, who provide only nonmedical care, Ashley lay in bed in conditions that must have been similar to those she had endured at home. When she cried out, a nurse reminded her to remember the feelings of the other ‘visitors.'” It’s possible she got no care beyond food, water, and prayer.

      1. If that’s the case I’m in agreement that the public should not be subsidizing it. You’re essentially paying someone to sit by the bed and watch her die.

        But if (and I stress if) these places are providing basic medical care for things like bed sores, cleaning wounds, supplying fresh bandaging, etc… using trained medical professionsals, I’m okay with subsidising that. Its medical care; not as much as they should be getting, but what they’re getting is legit.

    2. “decrease the survival rate for their congregations even further.”

      So – what’s the downside? I’d say a survival rate tending to zero would be a jolly good thing. Practical Darwinism in action. Can’t we encourage them to take up snake-handling and Russian roulette as well?

      Sorry if this comment seems a shade – cynical.

  6. I was nursing an elderly lady at hospice who was a Christian Scientist. She was there because she had a basal cell carcinoma on her cheek that she refused to have treated. She was convinced that she was going to be healed, although she was already in hospice. Her face was grotesque as the tumour had taken over her face, eyes and nose. It had begun pushing its way through the roof of her mouth. She was in enormous pain, and her suffering was unimaginable. I would cleanse and bandage her face daily; it was badly infected and pus would run down her face when I washed her. She finally succumbed to sepsis.
    Ironically, she had breast augmentation done in the past.
    While she was at hospice, a few Christian Scientists would come and pray with her. They would march in, and ask not to be disturbed. They would pray and sing, then they would march out, proud as could be, letting that poor woman alone to suffer. There was ample room, and they were encouraged to stay, but they never did. As a nurse, her method of treatment I had to respect, but as a person I wanted to slap the smug looks off their faces.

  7. A little push-back here: tax-breaks are not really support of religion, they are support of Religious Liberty. One of the new Atheist Mega-churches could take advantage of these tax-breaks too if they wanted.

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