Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Religion Skepticism/critical thinking

Idaho: The capital of the US for religion-inspired medical neglect of children, thanks to the Followers of Christ

In the US, there is an unfortunate attitude that the parents own their children. When the parents are religious zealots belonging to a church like the Followers of Christ, which believes in prayer instead of medicine, the results are tragic. Unfortunately, we as a society value religious freedom more than children.

Of all the cases of harm due to quackery that I regularly discuss, the stories involving children who die preventable deaths because their parents choose prayer over medicine are among the most infuriating. What makes them so infuriating is that parents rarely suffer serious consequences for their having, in essence, killed their children through medical neglect. Even more infuriating, for those of us of a secular bent at least, is how much protecting these negligent parents is “baked into” the law of so many states. This issue came to my attention again, thanks to an article in the Washington Post
In Idaho, medical-care exemptions for faith healing come under fire:

As Willie Hughes walked around the weathered plots and mounds of dirt at Peaceful Valley Cemetery, he remembered family that died too young and his brother Steven, who was born with spina bifida.

Steven never saw a doctor or physical therapist or used a wheelchair. He crawled around on his forearms and died of pneumonia at age 3.

“I remember his was the first body that I saw and touched. It was traumatic for a 4½ -year-old to see his little brother in a coffin. I can’t tell you how many dead bodies I’ve seen,” said Hughes, a Boise truck driver who grew up in the Followers of Christ church.

One of the very earliest cases of this sort that I wrote about involved members of the Followers of Christ, that of Ava Worthington, a 15 month old girl. Ava’s parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, let her die of a treatable pneumonia, which sepsis.

The Followers of Christ was founded as a church in Kansas by Marion Reece and was rooted in Pentocostal traditions, complete with a belief in faith healing and that God decides who lives and dies. The church moved to Oklahoma in the 1890s. During the 1920s Charlie Smith (the brother-in-law) and George White began missions to California. George White’s nephew Walter White became a minister in the church and moved to Oregon City, Oregon in the 1940s after a dispute with other ministers. The Followers of Christ is not a large church, with estimates of the Church’s Oregon membership ranging from 1,200 to 1,500., where the congregation is was known for child deaths. Indeed, it has been referred to—appropriately, in my estimation—as a baby-killing cult, noting:

If you take the word of the former members, most of them claim that it didn’t start to get bad until Walter White died. While White kept the same patriarchal and anti-scientific views the church has today, he left the congregation open to outsiders and tried to lead them to Christ. Now with no real ordained minister, they just gather and sing hymns and the leaders use scare tactics to keep the church members in line and afraid to leave or even think about leaving; and considering what keeps happening to their children, the choice is literally one of life and death.

It’s not just the Followers of Christ, of course. In my same post, which is nearly 10 years old, I noted an especially horrific case. The parents were not adherents of the Followers of Christ, but rather another Christian sect that teaches its members to rely on prayer instead of medicine to treat illness. An 11-year-old girl named Madeline Neumann died of untreated type I diabetes that led to diabetic ketoacidosis. Particularly horrible was the time period over which Madeline’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, let their daughter suffer, a whole month. She suffered from symptoms of nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, becoming weaker and weaker until she died. Even sadder was what this case represented at the time. Basically, it was unusual because the parents were actually prosecuted and convicted of second degree reckless homicide in 2009.

So what were their sentences? Consistent with what I’ve been saying, they were placed on ten years of probation with six months of jail time to be served over a six year period. In 2013, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld their convictions. At the time, they parents had not spent one day in prison. As of 2015, the Neumanns were reported to be opening a new coffee shop, their previous one having closed due to debt from their legal bills, although they did exhaust their appeals I could not find where they were in fulfilling their sentences. I do know, however, that their case is an example of how in our society religion is so privileged that parents whose medical neglect is based upon their religious beliefs rarely suffer much in the way of punishment when their children are harmed or due. Dale and Leilani Neuman basically viewed their daughter’s illness as a test of faith, a test they apparently passed by letting her die a slow, horrible death while they watched and did nothing to prevent it.

So what’s going on in Idaho? Given that Idaho is the capital of religion-inspired child neglect in the US, it’s nothing good:

Nearly one-third of the roughly 600 gravesites in Peaceful Valley Cemetery belong to a child, advocates say. Spotty records make it difficult to identify how and why the children died before their burial at the graveyard used by the Followers of Christ, a splinter sect that practices faith healing and believes that death and illness are the will of God. But coroner and autopsy reports gathered by advocates, and former church members’ childhood memories, tell a story of children needlessly dying from a lack of medical care.

Child advocates estimate that 183 Idaho children have died because of withheld medical treatment since states across the nation enacted faith-healing exemptions in the early 1970s. They say many of those victims are buried at Peaceful Valley.

“We assume that a lot of deaths can be prevented,” said Bruce Wingate, founder of Protect Idaho Kids Foundation.

Wingate estimates that three to four children will die this year in Idaho alone if lawmakers fail to lift the state’s faith-healing exemptions.

Nowhere else in the country is the death toll from religion-inspired medical neglect so high. There’s a reason for that. It turns out that in Idaho and more than half of the other states, there exists some form of religious exemption that allows parents to withhold medical treatment from a child if their religion forbids it. Only sixteen states have no religious exemption, and it took decades of lobbying for child advocates to finally succeed in overturning religious exemptions in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon and Tennessee.

Oregon is a particularly interesting example that I wrote about in 2011. The bill that was passed into law then was inspired by the deaths of three children and appeared to be targeted at the Followers of Christ. At the time, I noted that I was surprised—pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless, given how rare it is for “religious freedom” to win out in these cases. It removed spiritual treatment as a defense for all homicide charges so that now, if found guilty, parents are subject to mandatory sentencing under Oregon’s Measure 11. One motivation of lawmakers to pass this bill was the hope that the possibility of long prison sentences might persuade members to reconsider their tradition of rejecting medicine in favor of prayer. Instead, it prompted a number of Followers of Christ church members to move across the border to Idaho to avoid that new law.

So what are the prospects of such a law ever passing in Idaho? Not good, by the sound of it:

Former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice turned child advocate, Jim Jones, said the GOP reluctance to legislate on religious issues stalls efforts to push a repeal of the law forward.

“Some people look at the Bible as applicable law,” Jones said of state lawmakers. Plus, he said, it’s an election year.

The deep religious veins that run through Idaho and Utah make it especially difficult to lobby the state’s lawmakers to drop religious exemptions, Swan said.

“And it’s also the independence of the Western culture. They don’t like government telling them what to do,” she said. “There’s this feeling that parental rights are absolute and religious freedom rights are absolute.”

And there you have it, the reason why this insanity continues in Idaho and some other states. Children are viewed not as autonomous beings but rather the property of their parents during the time they are being raised. I’ve written about this attitude more times than I can remember, encapsulating it with a quote by Senator Rand Paul that sums up this attitude about as close to perfectly as I can. It’s an attitude that permeates every discussion about the health care of children. He said it three years ago at the height of the Disneyland measles outbreak, when calls were just starting to be made in California to ban nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates, calls that ultimately led to SB 277, the law that did ban nonmedical exemptions in California:”The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.”

Let me repeat Senator Paul’s words again: “The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.”

This is the attitude we have to counter, the attitude that children don’t have rights of their own as autonomous beings apart from their parents, that their parents have absolute power over them, and that the state should never interfere with that power, no matter how much it is abused. Add to that the privileged status of religion as a non-rational justification for the medical neglect of children, and you have a near-unassailable set of “parental rights.” After all, freedom of religion is one of the core bedrock values upon which this nation was founded and one of the great freedoms guaranteed us in the Constitution. However I would argue that even that freedom must not be absolute. It is the parents’ duty to provide their children food, shelter, and proper medical care. If their religion leads them to deny any of these necessities to their children, particularly in such egregious cases the ones above, then they should forfeit their right to be their children’s parents, as they have demonstrated themselves in the most egregious and unequivocal way possible to be unreliable guardians. We generally view faith as a virtue, but when that faith leads parents to let their children suffer and die of straightforward-to-treat medical conditions, then faith becomes an evil. I fail to see how anyone can view it otherwise, particularly when parents like the Neumann’s viewed their child’s suffering as a test of their faith.

This is what advocates like Rita Swan and Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) are up against. It’s also what a lot of those of us engaged in combatting the medical neglect of children whose parents forego medicine in favor of quackery for life-threatening illnesses, because many of the belief systems leading to such choices are infused in religion.

If you want to see just how bad things are, I will recount a case that I’ve discussed many times before, that of Kent Schaible, whose parents Herbert and Catherine Schaible chose prayer instead of antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia. Their son, two years old at time, had been suffering from a respiratory illness for two weeks. It worsened and developed into pneumonia, as his parents prayed. The parents were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment and were sentenced to ten years of probation and had to promise to take their children to a doctor when they were ill (i.e., not to do it again). That was 2009. Guess what happened in 2013? They did it again!

Their 7-month-old son Brandon Scott died of bacterial pneumonia and dehydration, and once again Herbert and Catherine Schaible did nothing but pray as their child’s condition deteriorated and he died. Yes, it took two dead children, both of whom died under similar circumstances, before the state acted to protect the Schaible’s other children by taking their children away and sentencing them to three and a half and seven years behind bars for third degree murder. It was not enough, in my estimation. Meanwhile, their pastor Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives.

Whether or not there was a “spiritual lack” in the lives of the Schaibles, their belief led them to reject science and critical thinking, and their children paid the price. Worse, we as a society, if not outright supportive of parental rights to decide as the Schaibles did, do not do enough to make sure that children do not die because of their parents’ beliefs.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

61 replies on “Idaho: The capital of the US for religion-inspired medical neglect of children, thanks to the Followers of Christ”

“The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.”
Are the parents allowed to sell them? I am pretty sure than in loco parentis does not mean property rights.

I thought the US had more or less abolished slavery. Though, IIRC, Mike Hucabee seemed to endorse slavery when he was running for president.

Seems to me that Idaho has decided that parents can let children die without helping them because they belong to the parents. So, I suppose the parents are free to beat them, torture them, rape them, or cook them for dinner. Idaho is not a safe place for children.

But Ellie **, you wouldn’t want the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT to interfere with their g-d given ( or is it sovereign) rights as parents, would you?

** sarcasm alert

-btw- some years ago at a hotel in the area of the Bundy ranch, I overheard ranchers from Idaho ( I was in the pool, they were having drinks) complain about how the government and liberals were taking away their water rights so that horrible LA and Las Vegas could thrive and other fear mongering. I didn’t speak so they wouldn’t label me as a non-local and perhaps burn me at the stake. I’m sure not everyone in Idaho is as right wing.

Idaho is definitely pretty darn right-wing, similar to Eastern Washington but more extreme.

Resentment over California with regards is pretty widespread among people of all political persuasions in the American West, though. Personally I resent Las Vegas more than LA, but one is just worse than the other.

Every time I see a swimming pool or a manicured lawn in the middle of the freaking desert I think of Dune.

@ Ellie:

I suggest you read Jonathan Swift’s short essay: “A Modest Proposal.” Fat little Irish kids, great for your dinner table as a main course, not dinner guest. LOL

It’s simple: is there criminal law? Yes? Then killing a child is a state matter, not a parental matter.

For freedom of religion to actually matter, a society also has to protect its flip side: freedom FROM religion. Unfortunately this seems to be far less popular with the usual suspects in politics as sophists often spin it into an intrusion towards freedom of religion – without any thought that maybe just maybe this is not the only protected right.

Co-sign. If Alice can impose her religion on Bob, then Bob does not really have religious freedom, no matter what the law and Constitution might say. That’s just as true if Bob is Alice’s son as it is when Alice and Bob are not related.

I don’t get this. Abortion is murder, but leaving the illness of a child untreated, so it dies, is allowed, because freedom of religion and parents own their children, to do with them as they please?

And why don’t these religious people consider the existence of medical science to treat their children, to be the will of god?

Diseases are “natural” and only God is allowed to act on them.

I’ve heard the same argument against abortion. Aborting a child is murder, but failing to use birth control when you have a condition that will almost certainly lead to miscarriage, is blameless. I asked this of a fundy outright, and even confessed that I once had just such a condition.

To me it stinks of selfish reasoning. On some level they chose to care less about the child than about some daft social network.

I had such a discussion with a fundie recently. He told me / gaslighted me by saying that, for pregnancies which have taken a bad turn, instead of having an abortion, women should have a c-section.
It’s just bizarre. The end result is the same. And in both cases, someone removed the fetus from the womb, hastening its death (if it was not already dead). I’m not even sure the distinction in terminology exists, aside from inside his head. I mean, a c-section could be used as part of an abortion procedure.
It’s like saying, shooting someone is murder, but pushing him off a cliff is not.

It’s also mightily convenient for hand-waving away the medical issues the mother may have.

On some level they chose to care less about the child than about some daft social network.


That sounds like a Catholic argument. If the “purpose” of the operation is to give the woman a c-section and you are pretending that the baby might actually live, it’s legitimate. Even if you know what’s going to happen, what matters is whether you wanted it to happen.

As if women want abortions just to be contrary, and never have them to accomplish anything.

Largely because not all branches of Christianity presume an omnipotent God as a distinct conscious individual entity who’s ultimately responsible for all actions. I don’t know much about this particular branch, but Christian Science for example is fairly gnostic, and believes sickness to be a sign of distance from the Divine Mind which underlies creation; that the material world is merely a projection of the spiritual, that it’s merely allegorical for the underlying true reality beneath, and sickness manifest in the physical world is merely a metaphorical representation of some sort of underlying “mental error” that’s causing a person to become further from the Platonic ideal of divinity.

That’s why the “well isn’t medicine just an expression of God’s will” argument doesn’t work against Christian Science theology; because no, it isn’t in their framework, it’s applying a physical solution to a spiritual ill, which is believed in their framework to increase distance from the Divine Mind, not reduce it. That the goal in the physical world should purely be to approach the spiritual, that the physical world is merely a metaphorical manifestation of a journey to approach God, not a manifestation of God’s will. That acknowledgement of the physical nature of illness could in fact itself cause illness, and that recovery is purely a mental act. (Ironically, this was a belief Eddy came to in part because she saw people who seemed to feel better after homeopathic treatment, which couldn’t possibly work medically, and so therefore must be a manifestation of mental healing. Which…yes [placebo effect, after all], but in entirely the wrong way as what she intended.)

If you’re going to make theological arguments against more obscure branches, arguments based on traditional Protestant or Catholic dogma will basically not work at all, because if they had the same framework they wouldn’t have branched off in the first place.

Rita Swan’s own story of losing her son because she decided to treat his bacterial meningitis with prayer instead of antibiotics is heartbreaking. And she was certainly a beneficiary of lenient legal treatment for the death. But she makes a compelling argument that she was a victim of her insular faith as well; having no experience with healthcare herself being raised in Christian Science. The loss of her son led her to repent of her ignorance and religious credulity. I would say that I wish it didn’t take a child’s death for the scales to fall from one’s eyes, but amazingly and depressingly, it seems that even that isn’t adequate for some.
Also, I highly recommend Offit’s book, “Bad Faith” about this same topic. Gut-wrenching, but eye-opening.

In actuality, it’s not enough for most. Rita Swan is almost certainly the outlier, the exception, in that losing her child opened her eyes. In every other story I’ve read of parents who chose prayer over medicine and lost a child, the parents don’t change. If anything, they double down. It’s very similar to the case of Ezekiel Stephan, which was more about belief in alternative medicine than religion (although a lot of the Stephans’ belief in their supplements was rooted in a particular subset of Mormonism). After their child died, they doubled down on their beliefs and now portray themselves as “persecuted.” The same has been true of every other case of children who died because their parents believed in prayer and faith healing rather than medicine that I’ve come across. The Neumanns, for instance, still portray themselves as being “persecuted” by the state, denying that they did anything wrong and saying that they did what their faith told them to.

This article is particularly poignant to me. I was searching for the right word there. My daughter was born just under a month ago, now. My wife and I have taken her to the doctor for every minor small thing, at literally the drop of hat, simply because we just don’t know what to expect.

I cannot imagine valuing an ideology so strongly that it would literally allow me to watch my daughter suffer to the point of dying when I know that there’s something that could be done to help her. She is the most beautiful, amazing thing I’ve ever seen and I totally get why Moms become Warrior Moms, as misguided as they are. It literally hurts me to try to imagine not helping my daughter be comfortable and healthy for a month. A god that demands that is cruel and sadistic.

Foolish Physicist: I have two little ones at home, and I feel the same way, but I have to remember that it is because I trust that our modern medical system is the best option for them. I’m willing to hold them down while they’re screaming bloody murder to ensure that they get their flu vaccination. I deal with the tears and the gagging when they complain about the icky antibiotics they have to take for their strep throat, etc. So I guess I’m willing to tolerate their minor suffering if that means that in the end, they’ll be healthy, happy children.

Now, if I was of the mind frame that my child’s “spiritual” health was the most important thing, more important than their physical health….how much would I want to ensure that they ended up near God, in the afterlife, which is all that matters anyways…

I don’t think that way and never could, but sadly, I can see for those who believe this, it would probably make sense for them to make those choices. On one level, it’s incomprehensible. On another, they are being consistent with their values, which I feel are objectively wrong and not based in reality. It’s all so tragic.

Meanwhile, their pastor Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives.

As usual, the faith cannot fail, it can only be failed.

Actually, it could be said that Mr. Clark is right for the wrong reason. Failing to seek medical attention for a seriously sick kid is arguably a “spiritual lack” on the Schaibles’ part, especially since it happened more than once. One instance could simply be bad luck. A second instance makes that much less likely.

The joke about the praying guy in a flooded area comes to mind. His god sent him an ambulance, a rescue boat and a helicopter. What else did he want?

But as the punchline in the stories reporting here is the guy’s child dying, I don’t feel like laughing.

“Let me repeat Senator Paul’s words again: “The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.” ”

And also said in the same approximate time “ . Paul was asked “whether he believes the issue of abortion is more best handled by the states, or by the federal government under the 14th Amendment,” according to The Daily Caller.

“I think best by the states,” Paul said.

Then, he added, “I think the question that still divides us, and it’s a difficult question, is when does life begin. I think we go down all kinds of rabbit holes talking about other stuff, but I’m an ophthalmologist, and I see 1-, 2-pound babies in the neonatal nursery. I look into their eyes to try to prevent a form of blindness that is now preventable…and everybody agrees that that a 1-pound baby has rights. If someone were to hurt that 1-pound baby in the neonatal nursery, it’s a problem. That baby has rights. But we somewhat inconsistently say that a 7-pound baby at birth or just before birth has no rights. And so I think these are questions we have to sort out. We just have to figure when we agree life begins.” ( )

The consistent theme seems to be how far, how quick the goal posts can be moved and sound creditable like the weather forecaster.

@ JP:

Ohhhh, I certainly agree: Las Vegas is the worst and LA is only marginally better primarily because of the Pacific Ocean.
Can I rant about faux destinations ( casinos) that are supposed to be like NY, Paris or Venice ( NOT!) How freaking Disney park with gambling is that? Shows I wouldn’t see. Buffets for the gluttonous. Bad clothes.
And golf courses everywhere ever green.
I had to be there twice ( and once more in the airport only for 4 hours, thank the non-existent lord) and the best thing was leaving to go to elsewhere ( Big Bear Lake or on a desert car tour). Highlight of trips: getting on the I 15 out of town.

Getting back to Idaho: libertarian ideas but perhaps scenic if you can ignore right wing loons who don’t condemn child neglect.
That would ruin the natural beauty for me.

As far as scenery goes in Idaho, the panhandle is gorgeous (I’ve gone through it on the bus) and the rest has appeal to some (it’s similar to parts of Eastern Oregon and Washington; prairies and desert) but it’s not really my bag. The climate can be quite severe

Unfortunately it’s the nicest part of Idaho (the panhandle) where the white supremacists have their camps and so on.

I’ve only been to Las Vegas to change planes at the airport there, but I agree that its only attraction is as a jumping off point for seeing some of the scenery in that region (the national parks of southern Utah, the Grand Canyon, etc.). The city itself is entirely fake: contrast the lush greens of the Strip with the desert scrub in the I-15 right-of-way immediately to the west. The casino with the fake pyramid is visible from some of the gates at the airport.

LA is a bit better due to having some actual culture, and the Pacific Ocean helps. But there is a lot of fakery in LA as well. Hollywood: need I say more?

Idaho does have some nice scenery in the area between Coeur d’Alene and Moscow. But it seems to get the right-wing religious types that are too wacky for the neighboring states, which themselves have no shortage of right-wing religious wackos (Eastern Washington is very right-wing; the only reason Washington has a liberal reputation is because there are enough people in the Puget Sound region to outvote the Drysiders). In addition to the Followers of Christ, Idaho has a large Mormon population and, as noted above, a disproportionate share of white supremacists and survivalist gun nuts.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. — Matthew 4:5-7 (KJV)

I have always thought of these people as giving in to this particular temptation of the devil. If God lets you live in a time and place where medical science is so advanced, is it not equivalent to casting yourself down from a pinnacle of the temple to refuse these blessings of advanced medical science when you are seriously ill? It is not the Lord who is giving them a test, but they who are testing the Lord! And worse yet it is not they themselves who are at risk but their own children whom they are pushing from the metaphorical pinnacle, testing the Lord to catch them even as they fall to their deaths. Their hypocrisy is sickening.

Perhaps a more relevant Biblical story is that of Abraham, who had been told by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18):

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” [New International Version]

The Biblical version of the story has a happy ending, but too many people follow the much darker retelling by Wilfred Owen:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Musical aside: The Offertorium from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem sets the Wilfred Owen version, especially those last two lines, against the liturgical “Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus”, to devastating effect.

Like most stories in Genesis, there are two versions of this one, J and E. The J story does not end with the convenient ram, and J never mentions Issac again. It may be that J originally ended with the sacrifice, but someone took it out and let E have the last word.

No, God is not ordering them to sacrifice their children to him, and for them to so presume is the height of hubris. On a lighter note it is more like a foolish man starving to death as he waits for an apple at a tree to fall into his mouth, because he believes God will provide for him, or someone incessantly praying to God to let him win the lottery, while not bothering to buy lottery tickets.

Regarding parental and religious freedom rights the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

Article 14
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal
guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent
with the evolving capacities of the child.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are
prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the
fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

I’ll sign up to that.

Even more to the point here:

Article 24
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:
(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;
(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;
3. States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.

And over here in UK-ia the legal position in England and Wales (pretty sure Scottish law has something similar, but I’ve never lived or worked in Scotland), as per the 1989 Children Act amongst other things, is that children have rights of their own, separate from those of parents, and that parents have a responsibility and duty to ensure that their children are not harmed nor abused by their actions or inactions with no “spiritual” – whatever that means – cop outs.

Parents who have used “spiritual” healing methods on their children have been successfully prosecuted for murder and manslaughter (first and second degree murder would be the rough Merkinanian equivalents).


I hope the UK will follow Iceland’s direction of travel and prohibit non-medical genital mutilation of all children.
Adults should safeguard for children the same rights they expect for themselves.
How may adults would hand over the right of deciding whether or not their bodies should be mutilated for whatever reason to someone else? How can it be right to deny children this basic right?

I hope the UK will follow Iceland’s direction of travel and prohibit non-medical genital mutilation of all children.

Oh, G-d, not intactivism. What about ear piercing?

@ Narad: Despite the blatant whataboutery, piercings should be banned for kids as well.

Currently, 196 countries are party to it,[ including every member of the United Nations except the United States

And it’s my understanding (citation desperately needed, I know) that the reason the cruel and magnificent Unistat Empire hasn’t signed on is precisely because it would interfere with the Gawd-given “right” of parents to abuse punish “discipline” their children in the ways attributed by the priests of old as commands from the Gaseous Patriarch of Astronomical Heft.

My aunt and uncle lost 3 children at birth. The only one to live past birth died at 10 yrs old from untreated diabetes. My family are Idaho Followers of Christ. I have watched 3 generations of children suffer horrific deaths. I started the effort to change laws in Idaho in 2013. Idaho religious exemption laws amount to state sanctioned murder. In Idaho kids are nothing more than property. They lose their rights once they are born. A member of the Followers stated that children are property with no rights during his testimony during an Interim Committee hearing. This man lost 3 children. The Senate Co-Chair of that committee allowed this man to draft and present a bill to the State Affairs Committee. This bill would more than likely have gotten a hearing except the man’s third son passed away during the time of the hearings. These people are allowed to break laws that prevent proper investigations. Elected officials are friends with cult members and IMO are pulling strings to keep the laws from changing. I have asked for investigations and the Idaho AG swept it under the rug. At least 4 more children have died since Nov. 2016.

Linda, keep working at it, you will eventually change enough minds to pass a bill.

I’d also suggest talking with someone at your nearest FBI Field Office. FBI agents are rotated geographically so they don’t become compromised by local factors, so it’s very likely that the person you speak with will have come from another state.

One thing FBI agents take very personally is anything having to do with child abuse rings and particularly where sexual abuse is involved. If you have transcripts of testimony where FOC member(s) said that children are property, that’s a red flag. If you can get a recording of anyone from FOC saying “property” and then, by questioning, get them to say that it includes a right to do things that are unquestionably statutory child abuse, that will be helpful to getting an investigation started.

Idaho is a “one-party consent” state for recording conversations, in person and by telephone:
per Idaho Code Ann. § 18-6702(2)(d), you have the right to record an electronic, oral, or wire communications to which you are a party, and you do not have to inform the other party/parties that you are recording them. That means you and others can walk up to FOC members in public (such as at rallies about legislation), with a cellphone with a recording app, and have a little chat with them about their beliefs.

Check with a lawyer first about how to word your questions. If you can record them making excuses for statutory child abuse, you could get the FBI interested in pursuing them. One possible angle is violation of federal civil rights laws, something that is commonly used to go after hate-criminals who are unlikely to be successfully prosecuted under state charges. (The hate crime violates the civil rights of the victim. Yes this works to get convictions.)

If/when you talk with FBI, just present the plain facts without interpretation or legal theories. Bring the newspaper clippings about the graveyard full of kids, and the names of others who have lived to regret the deaths of siblings etc. An attorney can advise as to how to present your information effectively and time-efficiently.

Fortunately this is a relatively small group as these things go. It would be substantially more difficult if they were much bigger and more powerful on the national stage, in the manner of the Moonies who own the Washington Times and have had friendly relations with a handful of elected officials in the past (and may still do, I don’t know).

“Letting” a child die is equivalent to “making” a child die; homicide is homicide; and using religion as an excuse only gives religion a bad name. Sooner or later the law will catch up with that deadly little cult.

“And it’s also the independence of the Western culture. They don’t like government telling them what to do,” she said. “There’s this feeling that parental rights are absolute and religious freedom rights are absolute.”

Yeah, there’s definitely an fiercely independent streak in Western American culture, and I’m not immune. I remember the uproar (which I didn’t disagree with) over proposed federal ID cards. I’m generally paranoid about the government, but I sort of have reason to be, I guess, what with my political beliefs. And I freaking hate the cops and prisons and so on.

But there have got to be limits to “freedom.” Although actually, we aren’t talking about freedom here in a meaningful sense; if the argument is that parents own their children, we’re really talking about a form of familial fascism. Children ought not be chattel; doesn’t the freedom of the child have some importance? Specifically, in this case, the freedom not to die of neglect (which I guess would be more of a right), but in the case of older children and teenagers, I think they should have freedom of belief and religion, including the right to reject their parents’ religion. This is most likely colored by my religious upbringing after my mom converted, I suppose.

Anyway, I just wonder if one could actually appeal to the Western personality by framing issues of freedom differently.

Gubbmint telling folk what to do is bad, but being told what to do by what it says in some book that is thousands of years old is good?

Someone owes me a new irony meter…

But there have got to be limits to “freedom.”

It’s a moldy oldie, but there’s a difference between freedom and liberty, and the latter was the idea in the Declaration. Along with life and the purſuit of happiness. No, it’s not the Constitution, but the two seem to be conflated in these cases in any event.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought. ~ Charles Kingsley

“There’s this feeling that parental rights are absolute and religious freedom rights are absolute.”

I sure hope most of these people will be outraged at parents who directly abuse their parental rights in a physical or sexual way.

Now, if some forms of abuse do outrage them, that leads to an interesting contradiction:
We bystanders, or the state, are not supposed to judge and decide that parents can do to their children, provided that it is something that defenders of parental rights have judged and decided that it is something that parents can do to their children.

The same seems to hold for religious freedoms.

I hate to point this out, but it is NOT a right wing issue. It is a religion interfering with reality issue. In the US, Democrats and Republicans both pander to the religious. President Trump does, President Obama did, President Bush (v1 & 2) did, President Clinton did, President Reagan did, and I can almost guarantee that every president since Washington has done the same damn thing. Canada has the same idiocy, you are not electable if you don’t have faith. All of our Prime ministers have been religious types going back to confederation. We branched out a bit with one who was a Christian/New age nut case, but religious none-the-less. In both our nations, religion has been largely a detrimental influence on our societies. Religious groups claim to have moral superiority, but like all groups of humans, tend to self-aggrandizement and abuse.

Freedom of religion is great, but freedom from religion should be applied just as strongly. Who knows, it may even save some lives.

President Obama did,

Indeed, Obama was just on Twitter posting an elegy for Billy Graham, that homophobic, anti-Semitic SOB.

Canada has the same idiocy, you are not electable if you don’t have faith.
Eh? News to me but I have only lived in Canada for a bit over 60 years.

jkrideau I eagerly await you pointing out any Atheist or Agnostic MP or MPP. We have the full spectrum of Abrahamic’s, Sikhs, Hindi, Buddhists, etc. Maybe I missed the Agnostic or Atheist ones, but I doubt it.

Anonymous Pseudonym / I eagerly await you pointing out any Atheist or Agnostic MP or MPP

How would I know? Nobody in Canada would even think of asking. (For American readers, this is literally true. Asking someone about their religion/lack thereof would be incredibly gauche)

If you want to disprove the existence of Atheist or Agnostic MPs that is your job. Show me all the religious affiliations of all our MPs. I cannot remember anyone braying on about their faith, not even Harper and he was a religious nut-case.

At a guess, Harjit Singh Sajjan (for Americans, etc, our Minister of National Defence ) is a Sikh but whether culturally/religiously or both I have no idea and could care less.

I have mentioned the case of Alex Radita a few time before. Alex died at the age of 15 and at a weight of less than 40 pounds because his parents failed to treat his type 1 diabetes. In my opinion his parents tortured him to death over a period of years. His suffering would have been horrendous. His teeth were rotted away and he had deep ulcers on his neck and elsewhere. I never got a good sense of how much religion played into his parents’ treatment of him. They belonged to the Romanian Pentecostal Church, the existence of which was news to me. There was some mention of it in press coverage, but I think the press has some inclination to skirt around such things. His mother said that Alex died and came back to life. Had social services known of Alex, I have zero doubt he would have been promptly taken from his parents, leaving them in a position of having to try to plead their case for his return before the courts. But his family kept him hidden. He had been removed from his parents, then returned, when they lived in B.C.
His parents were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison (25 years before parole eligibility).

I think the Clark case is going to trial sometime this year. It is alleged that his parents caused his death because they adhered to some extreme dietary views found within the Seventh Day Adventist community.

My impression is that a large majority of even very religious people in Canada will not support parents who fail to seek medical help for their children. The Stephans have supporters, but not a whole lot of them. “The government can’t tell me how to raise my child” is probably a bigger factor than religion, as such, among the followers.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put Alex out of my mind as long as I live in Calgary. I drive within a block of where he died, and probably did so many times while he was dying. I ride my bike past. I think of him.

Anonymous Pseudonym just to add some to the response of jrkrideau.

You are asking to prove a negative

In the 338-seat House of Commons, there are: 11 Muslim Mps, 17 Sikh MPs, six Jewish MPs and three Hindu Mps, because they all declared as being so. It’s estimated the rest would be Christians, (or of no faith) but it is unclear because Parliament does not track religion and Parliament is secular. There are 45 foreign-born MPs that come from everywhere: 16 from Asia, 10 from Europe, eight from the Middle East, six from the Americas, five from Africa. In relation to their share of the population, South Asian, West Asian and Arab-Canadians are over represented, while Chinese, black, Latin American and Southeast Asian Canadians are underrepresented. No info on all their religions thou and noted no declared Buddhists.

Calgary’s thrice-elected mayor is Muslim. I’ve never seen the slightest hint he’s made any sort of issue of it. Those who hate him try to make an issue of it, but they hate him because he isn’t right-wing. Calgary’s perennial mayoral candidate who makes an issue of his Christianity got some tiny fraction of the votes in the last election.

I’m not asking to prove a negative, I’m asking for the names of the MPs or MPPs that state they are Agnostic or Atheist. As he pointed out, Canadians arn’t as overt about requiring our politicians to be believers, but when you look at the politicians, there has been no overt Atheists or even self-proclaimed agnostics. The last survey I saw, Canadians viewed non-believers in near the same light as our American cousins. The wikipedia page for Atheist politicians is kinda crappy, but the only one of the four they claim to be Canadian Atheist MP/MPP, who was overtly a non-believer never got elected, while the other three could arguably be considered lapsed or holiday Catholics. I know that at least two of them were photographed by journalists regularly attending mass. Is politically expedient Catholic a thing?

Yes, Canada claims to be a secular society, but even things as simple as the “normal” work week show a decidedly Christian bias. Our self-proclaimed feminist PM is a devout and practising Catholic. The only way the cognitive dissonance could be any worse would be if he was a member of the Easter Orthodox church, where the leader is titled Patriarch. Unfortunately, Harper did allow his religious beliefs to interfere with Canadian affairs. No support to abortion providing organizations, muzzling scientists, etc.

Now you are begging the question. If politicians that do not appear to be a visible minority, do not openly declare a religious preference in the majority, just why would those that are atheist or agnostic do so? Just not part of the political landscape. Did anyone really take notice when around half of the current Federal cabinet left out the “god” part of the oath?

Like most everyone that voted otherwise, I do agree on Harper letting religion get in the way.

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