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.