Tennessee legislature repeals religious defense for parents who hurt their children by withholding medical care

April 20, 2016 • 9:45 am

We have two pieces of good news today from the American South—both from Tennessee. One refers to the subject of reports in The Tennesseean and the Knoxville News Sentinel: the Tennessee legislature has repealed a state law that gives parents exemptions from hurting their children by withholding medical care in favor of faith healing. As do many states, Tennessee has such an exemption on the books, though it’s a felony crime to hurt your kids if you don’t have a religious motivation. As The Tennessean reported previously,

It is a crime in Tennessee to fail to provide medical care to children, with an exception, known as the Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act, for parents who want to rely on “spiritual means through prayer alone,” according to state code. State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, filed SB 1761 to repeal the exception.

The current code reads: “Nothing in this part shall be construed to mean a child is abused, neglected, or endangered, or abused, neglected or endangered in an aggravated manner, for the sole reason the child is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner of the recognized church or religious denomination, in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.”

The bill applies to treatments and does not apply to vaccinations, although that may come up in the course of debate, Briggs said.

A Republican! How unexpected!

These laws are not uncommon. They were originally put in place by the states in 1974 as a result of a new federal policy mandating that states would not receive government money to prevent child abuse unless they also enacted laws allowing these religious exemptions. That was unconscionable and, in fact, the requirement was rescinded in 1983. But in many states the laws remained on the books. As a result, many children died, and still die, from religiously-based medical neglect; and their parents are either let off the hook or given only a slap on the wrist. As always, as with vaccination—47 of the 50 states allow religious exemption from getting children vaccinated before attending public school—religion gets an exemption that endangers people’s lives.

The exemption laws were buttressed in 1983. As the estimable organization Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty (CHILD) notes,

In 1996, however, Congress enacted a law stating that the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) did not include “a Federal requirement that a parent or guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or guardian.” [42 USC 5106i] Furthermore, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, and Congressman Bill Goodling, R-Pennsylvania, claimed during floor discussion that parents have a First Amendment right to withhold medical care from children.

Unbelievable! And Bill Clinton signed that law! But the results stand: in most places if you injure or kill your child because you deem conventional medical care contrary to your religion, you don’t get punished. As I noted in my Slate piece a year ago, “Faith healing kills children,”

Forty-eight states—all except West Virginia and Mississippi—allow religious exemptions from vaccination. (California would be the third exception if its bill becomes law.) A similar deference to religion applies to all medical care for children. As the National District Attorneys Association reports [JAC: link no longer works, and I can’t find the document, so go here], 43 states give some kind of criminal or civil immunity to parents who injure their children by withholding medical care on religious grounds.

Well, make that 42 now, for six days ago the Tennessee House concurred with the state Senate in repealing the noxious Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act. As the News Sentinel reports:

The repeal bill, Senate Bill 1761, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, a lawyer. It won unanimous Senate approval in March and an 85-1 vote Thursday in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who’s expected to sign it into law.

. . . Briggs and Farmer introduced the bill this year in an attempt to repeal the exemption. Briggs cited his experience with a similar case years ago, when he was a general surgeon in another state and a teen boy was brought to see him with a ruptured appendix. His parents initially opposed surgery on religious grounds but later agreed to treatment.

The bill was backed by a Kentucky-based group, Children’s Healthcare Is Legal Duty (CHILD), that works for repeal of similar spiritual treatment exemptions across the country. Its President Rita Swan issued a statement thanking lawmakers for repealing the exemption in Tennessee.

Rita Swan is a hero, and has been recognized as such by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (they also filed a brief in the Tennessee case), which gave Swan its Lifetime Achievement Award. Swan and her husband, once Christian Scientists, let their son Matthew die of meningitis in 1977 because they were obeying the no-doctors tenet of their faith. Since then, Swan, horrified at what she did, founded CHILD and has worked tirelessly to get these religious laws overturned. But progress is slow.

I’m hoping now that a Southern state has removed its medical-exemption laws (or will when the governor signs the bill, as he surely will), other states will follow suit. It’s absolutely unbelievable that over 80% of American states allow parents to injure their children—children too young to enact their own decisions—by favoring religious healing over treatment that works. To me, this is one of the most noxious and injurious results of America’s privileging of religion. It kills people! Can any person, even a Regressive liberal, be in favor of those laws?

If you’re an American, it’s likely that your state has such exemptions (see the CHILD list to check). Do what you can to repeal them, and, if you can, donate money to CHILD, which is fighting the good fight.

And now—on to vaccination.!

Here are the states with religious exemptions (from CHILD); click to enlarge:


Aren’t we doing it already?

January 3, 2016 • 2:00 pm

More Republican madness, courtesy of Matthew Cobb, who found this on Twi**er. I do NOT think it’s a joke; have a look at his other tw**ts and judge for yourself:

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 5.42.55 AM

That reminds me of the old quote, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me,” variously attributed to the benighted (including Michele Bachmann); but the quote is fabricated.

In case you’re wondering who old Grover is, he has a long Wikipedia page detailing his conservative politics (in case you hadn’t guessed he’s a Republican), PuffHo has called him “The most hated man in Washington D.C.,” and here’s his Twi**er descriptor:

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 5.43.21 AM:

Kim Davis and the Pope, Volume MCMDXXVIII of ‘I am not a homophobe’

October 2, 2015 • 8:15 am

by Grania Spingies

Regular contributor Pliny The In Between has created a new satirical poke at the strange logical contortions from the school of Special Pleading.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

As Jerry noted recently, there is nothing particularly liberal about the Pope’s position on anything; not unless you apply a really low standard to what liberal is: his organization bars women from all high level management positions, in spite of his saying “women are more important than men because the church is woman” (whatever that is supposed to mean). Uttering the phrase “who am I to judge?” is on charitable interpretation only basic human decency on the question of homosexuality, it is not liberal. When put in context of the entire of the entire comment the tone takes a certain slide towards the Right:

A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation—we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.

That is not a liberal position. That is a I’ll tolerate you so long as you don’t ask for legal equality position. Not so liberal now, eh?

I’m still unsure if I understand exactly why the media fawns so much over religious leaders; but then they also fawn over the Kardashians (and I hate that I had to investigate who they are, thanks America) so perhaps that isn’t the right question.

Perhaps the question is: when did sounding like a mostly decent human being rather than a Westboro Baptist Church representative suddenly get re-branded as liberal?


Obama gets praise for pulling out the religion card

June 27, 2015 • 12:46 pm

by Grania

There is nothing like a heartfelt appeal to God to stir the loins and get the heads of the voters nodding in approval. In an otherwise admirable speech about gun violence, poverty and race relations in the USA, Obama referenced God on a number of occasions.

I never quite know whether politicians are truly cynical opportunists or whether they really believe the stuff they spout (probably either or both, depending on the person); but this quote strikes me as kind of cold, even for a seasoned politician who is a masterful public speaker.

 “As a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us,”

It’s a conclusion that many theologians come to when considering theodicy, that God allows tragedy to bring about an ultimate good. It is a bizarrely masochistic mindset that thinks it is permissible or moral even; for a personal, intervening and all-powerful God to patiently tolerate unspeakable acts of violence, hatred and then unbearable suffering and grief all to slowly nudge a population vaguely towards a somewhat nebulous goal.

At times like this, no doubt that speeches need to be about comfort, reconciliation and support. So it was inevitable that a number of God references were going to be made, although the isn’t God great for letting so much bad happen so that there can be good afterwards approach is one I wouldn’t have chosen. But then, I am not a politician. And it seems to have worked.

Over on Slate there is an entire column of salivating and praise for the powerful new direction Obama’s speechifying has taken.

The president was no longer giving a speech about a tragedy; he was trying to leverage the grace displayed in the wake of that heinous act into a nation’s purpose. “As a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us,” he said. “He has allowed us to see where we have been blind.” It was that grace, the president argued, that helped South Carolina lawmakers conclude that the Confederate flag should come down.

And again:

The thunderbolts of change that struck this week seem to have energized the president. He might have given the same eulogy had he not had his opinions affirmed by the Supreme Court. But given the sense of vindication that he feels, it was easy to see how those secular victories gave him the confidence to make that soaring religious speech and to wipe away the intimations toward capitulation and defeat from just a little more than a week ago.

Well, isn’t that nice? Opium of the people indeed, and evidently a great tool for a politician needing to rally citizens to the cause.


An open letter to Ben Affleck from a Pakistani woman

October 26, 2014 • 10:16 am

Now here’s a brave woman: a Pakistani who goes by the name of “Eiynah” and is described in Pakistan Today this way:

Eiynah is a Pakistani-Canadian blogger/illustrator who writes about sexuality in Pakistan. She dreams of a progressive motherland and is also a children’s book author. She blogs at http://www.nicemangos.blogspot.com, and tweets at @Nicemangos

And in yesterday’s issue of Pakistan Today, you’ll find her piece: “An open letter to Ben Affleck“. As a few quotes below will show, she goes after Affleck for trying, as she argues, to minimize the plight of Muslim women like her. Just a bit to give you the flavor:

Noble liberals like yourself always stand up for the misrepresented Muslims and stand against the Islamophobes, which is great but who stands in my corner and for the others who feel oppressed by the religion? Every time we raise our voices, one of us is killed or threatened. I am a blogger and illustrator, no threat to anyone, Ben, except for those afraid of words and drawings. I want the freedom to express myself without the very real fear that I might be killed for it. Is that too much to ask?

When I wrote a children’s book that carried a message of diversity and inclusivity for everyone, my life changed. My book, ‘My Chacha (uncle) is Gay’ has the innocent anti-homophobia message, ‘Love belongs to everyone’. This was not palatable to many of my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Since that project I have been declared an ‘enemy of God’ and deemed worthy of death. All because I want to help create a world where South Asian children too can have their stories told, so they too can know that love comes in all forms, and that that’s okay. My Muslim brothers and sisters were hit hard by this work because it addresses the issue of homophobia within our own community. It is not something they can pass off as ‘Western’ immorality. Just like they deny that any issues exist within the doctrine of Islam, many deny that homosexuality exists amongst good, ‘moral’ Muslims. Just like that, millions of people’s existence is denied. Please do not defend people who think this way, and let me tell you Ben, many ‘good’ Muslims do think this way.

What you did by screaming ‘racist!’ was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. . . You became an instant hero, a defender of Islam.

Well, maybe Affleck became a hero to those who willfully overlook the excesses of Islam that are not confined to only a small percentage of Muslims, but to me he’s an ignoramus—and a dangerous one. A 2013 Pew Poll showed that 76% of Pakistani Muslims who favor making sharia the law of the land (and that’s 86% of those Muslims) favor the death penalty for those who leave Islam. That’s at least 50% of all Pakistani Muslims.  89% of that 86% (a minimum of 77% of Pakistani Muslims) favor stoning to death as punishment for adultery. And 88% of that 86% (minimum of 76%) favor corporal punishment for crimes like theft. This is not a small minority or a “fringe,” at least in Pakistan. And Eiynah hits that point hard.

In your culture you have the luxury of calling such literalists “crazies”, like the Westboro Baptist Church, for example. In my culture, such values are upheld by more people than we realise. Many will try to deny it, but please hear me when I say that these are not fringe values. It is apparent in the lacking numbers of Muslims willing to speak out against the archaic Shariah law. The punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, etc, are tools of oppression. Why are they not addressed even by the peaceful folk who “aren’t fanatical, who just want to have some sandwiches and pray five times a day? Where are the Muslim protestors against blasphemy laws/apostasy? Where are the Muslims who take a stand against harsh interpretation of Shariah? These sandwich-eating peaceful folk do not defend those suffering in the name of Islam, Ben, and therein lies our problem.

This is just part of her letter, but I also wanted to put up the ending, because it’s snarky—but in a good way:

If I were allowed to meet a man that is not my father, brother or husband unchaperoned, I would have loved to discuss this over drinks (which I am also not allowed to have) with you. So, you see, things must change.


The website is apparently produced from Lahore, so I’m at a real loss to understand how this letter got published (Eiynah must be a pseudonym) given the state of Islam there. But I’m also chuffed that it got published.

h/t: Marcel ~