Faith-based medical neglect

Foreword: Do Parents Have a Religious Right to Abuse or Neglect Children?

CHILD Inc. reports on and opposes religion-based child abuse and neglect. Some religious groups have justified severe beatings, rejection of medical care, starvation, forced marriages, child labor, slavery, isolation, exorcism rituals, and sexual molestation as religious practices. CHILD is best known for its work against religion-based medical neglect of children. Through lawsuits, amicus briefs, and limited lobbying, CHILD opposes laws that deprive children of health care on religious grounds.

The courts have consistently ruled that parents do not have a constitutional right to harm children. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious freedom, but does not confer a right to abuse or neglect children. The leading case is Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled, “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death. . . . Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”

Nevertheless, state and federal governments have created many religious exemptions allowing parents to withhold some medical care from children, almost entirely because of Christian Science lobbying.


For the most part, the listings below link to articles in the CHILD Newsletter Archive. Other sources are so noted. Each newsletter link should take you directly to the article; if it does not, it will take you to the first page of the relevant newsletter where you can find what you’re looking for in the table of contents. The newsletters are all keyword searchable.

Churches with religious beliefs against medical care A CHILD compilation
Child fatalities in Africa from ritual healing 11/18/2016
Suffer the little children Sandpoint Reader, Sandpoint, Idaho 3/11/2016
Why does God kill so many children in Idaho? 11/17/2014
Video: Surviving Faith Assembly: A Former Cult Member’s Story 11/14/2014
CHILD President’s letter: Protect children and faith with religion-neutral laws WHYY TV, Philadelphia 6/25/2013
Homicide charges filed in second child’s death: An open letter to the citizens of Pennsylvania 5/22/2013
Radio Times WHYY Interview: Should refusing medical care for children be considered neglect? WHYY, Radio Times 5/14/2013 Interview begins at 15 minute mark.
Philadelphia Inquirer Op-Ed: End religious exemption Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9/2013
Oregon Church of the Firstborn parents sentenced in son’s death 2012
Oklahoma mom sentenced to prison in son’s faith-death 2012
Washington State parents sentenced in teen’s faith death 2012
History of Washington state’s privilege for Christian Science 2012
Supreme Court upholds health insurance mandate 2012
Video interview: What’s it like to be the child of “faith-healing” parents? Patheos.com, 12/7/2011
Miracle vs. medicine: When faith puts care at risk Published by American Medical Assn. 9/19/2011
Fatal religious medical neglect in Alabama
Oklahoma mom charged in diabetic boy’s death
Firstborn toddler dies in Colorado
Alabama parents charged in starvation death
Jehovah’s Witness teen dies after refusing blood
Faith-based midwifery may have tragic results
Firstborn teen dies in Washington
Another Followers of Christ couple charged in death of baby
More Followers of Christ charged with manslaughter and criminal mistreatment of infants
Followers of Christ parents sentenced in Oregon
Guilt-ridden mom calls back 30 years later
Secrets, lies, and neglect in Christian Science
Wisconsin girl dies of untreated diabetes
Witness child allowed to die without transfusion
Policy on “mature minors”
More kids’ graves found in Colorado Firstborn cemetery
Yahweh baby dies of malnutrition and medical neglect
Tennessee pastor and mom charged for medical neglect
Charges dismissed in UK toddler’s death
Christian Science boy dies of diabetes
Federal court rules against religious exemption
Firstborn midwife won’t obey injunction
Indiana Firstborners sentenced in baby’s death
Robidoux convicted in baby’s starvation death
Firstborners violate parole, go to prison ’04
Firstborn parents sentenced for third child’s death
Indiana Firstborn parents charged in baby’s death
Massachusetts officials probe Christian Science child’s death
Philadelphia death shows need for reform
First Followers’ death in Oregon since religious exemptions partially repealed
Firstborn deaths in California, Indiana
Pregnant Christian Scientist refuses pre-natal care, delivers spina bifida baby
Doctors speak on Christian Science testimonials

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