Wisconsin Lawmakers Introduce Repeal of Religious Exemptions for Child Abuse and Neglect

Madeline Kara Neumann died unnecessarily a couple years ago because her parents prayed for her recovery from ketoacidosis instead of taking her to a doctor. The whole tragedy shed light on the exemptions given to religious parents under Wisconsin law.

As it now stands, her parents have to spend a month in jail every year for six years.

Under current Wisconsin law, parents can’t be found guilty of child abuse if they choose spiritual treatment rather than medicine or surgery.

Now, that could finally change:

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow prosecutors to charge parents who refuse medical help for their children on religious grounds with child abuse.

Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) introduced a bill that “would eliminate a provision in state law allowing parents to withhold medical treatment if they believe that prayer is sufficient to heal their children.”

Yesterday, an informational hearing on the bill took place in the Committee on Children and Families.

It may have taken a tragedy to get lawmakers to act, but at least something positive can now come from all this.

[Berceau] tells the Assembly Children and Families Committee children shouldn’t have to die for their parents’ beliefs. Joe Farkas, legislative liaison for Christian Science churches in Wisconsin, counters the bill is vague and raises questions about whether parents can teach their children religious values.

No one is questioning a parent’s right to teach religion. This is about that religion causing parents to physically harm their children and then getting off the hook.

There’s another bill sponsored by State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) also going through the Wisconsin senate that’s similar to this one, except for a notable difference:

While Taylor’s bill would remove the religious exemption from child abuse and neglect laws, it adds the exemption to the medical practices section of the criminal code, a more expansive section of the criminal code.

State prosecutors, health care professionals and child care advocates, among others, fear this new exemption would further harm children by extending the religious exemption to an even broader category of crimes, including homicide, abuse, recklessly endangering the safety of a child and criminal neglect.

I’m hoping it’s Berceau’s bill that goes into effect.

In both cases, though, it’s very clear that the religious exemptions for child abuse and neglect need to end. Wisconsin lawmakers should not hesitate in voting for Berceau’s bill.

(Thanks to Glenn for the link)

  • Rick M

    The U.S. Center for Disease Control issued this report in 1991. It compared mortality rates over a 39 year period between Christian Scientists and 7th Day Adventists.

    For men, 40 per 1000(CS) and 22 per 1000(7D)
    For women, 27 per 1000(CS) and 12 per 1000(7D)

  • Ron in Houston

    Rick’s post is interesting but it needs context

    Here’s an excerpt:

    The doctrines of both religious groups require abstinence from alcohol consumption and smoking. Seventh-day Adventists are also required to abstain from consuming certain foods (e.g., pork and shellfish); in addition, the church recommends that its members use primarily a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that limits the consumption of meat, poultry, or fish to less than once per week. The groups also differ in that Christian Scientists reject medical healing in favor of spiritual healing alone (13), whereas Seventh-day Adventists accept both spiritual and medical healing (14).

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    How are “parents who refuse medical help for their children” not already guilty of child abuse? Religion is not and should not be a shield against prosecution but I fail to see how a new bill adds anything to protecting children from harm.

  • bryce (aka the third chimpanzee)

    “The declaration that religious faith shall be unpunished does not give immunity to criminal acts dictated by religious error.”
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, 1788

  • http://www.givesgoodemail.com Givesgoodemail

    Concerning Christian Scientists and like wackadoodles (from Stranger in a Strange Land):

    “When I break a leg, I want a sawbones.”
    “Then watch where you put your feet. Don’t bother me.”
    “Don’t worry. I don’t want a classmate of William Harvey.”
    “Harvey could reduce a fracture.”
    “Yes, but what about his classmates?”

    What some people do in the name of religion (like ignore their daughter’s diabetes) should be grounds for horsewhipping.

  • Alexius

    Excellent. I hope this passes; every day that I go to school I drive past a Christian Scientist church, right here in my home town, and I always have to wonder what they’re up to with their kids’ health.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/noblinksnake/ laviniaserpent

    Are we ready to hold birthing parents to the same prerequisites as adopting parents yet?

    …wait. DO anti-medicine maniacs get to adopt children?

  • Aaron

    How do the statistics in Rick’s post compare to the US average over the same period?

    And why do Mormon’s avoid cancer and heart disease? Is it the no-smoking/no-drinking thing?
    I suppose even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  • muggle

    Yay!

    And don’t give me religious freedom regarding this. We stop short of religious freedom when it comes to human sacrifice and that’s what this is plain and simple — human sacrifice.


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