Religious Exemption for Children’s Homes Results in Rampant Abuse

They told him his mother didn’t want him. They shaved his head. They made him carry two 5-gallon buckets of dirt everywhere he went, and at night, run laps around the dorm with a tire tied to his waist. They let him speak to no one but staff, and only if he was spoken to first, and they made him sleep on the floor of a mudroom for a week or more, giving him a bucket to use as a toilet.

I’ve said this so many times before: Just because you’re religious doesn’t mean you’re good. And we can’t trust religious organizations to do the right thing, left to their own devices. They need oversight.

This heartbreaking story just makes that point as clear as ever.

30 years ago, Florida legislators passed a law saying that the state government didn’t need to look after children’s homes run by religious groups.

The Tampa Bay Times recently released an investigative report on a number of those homes. And then another. What they discovered is awful. Really, sickeningly awful.

Today, virtually anyone can claim a list of religious ideals, take in children and subject them to punishment and isolation that verge on torture — so long as they quote chapter and verse to justify it.

Among the cases [the Department of Children and Families] “verified:” a 16-year-old girl in Orlando pressured to perform oral sex on a counselor she considered a father figure; a 15-year-old boy in Punta Gorda forced to lie facedown in the dirt for three hours as a 220-pound counselor lay on top of him; and a 16-year-old boy in Port St. Lucie, shackled for 12 days and berated by staff with racial slurs.

The Tampa Bay Times spent a year investigating more than 30 religious homes that have housed children in recent years across Florida. Some operate with a religious exemption, legally regulated by a private Christian organization instead of the state. Others lost their exemption and operate with no legal accreditation at all.

What did they find in these homes? Evidence of sexual abuse, extreme physical injury, corporal punishment, name-calling (“faggots,” “whores”)… and that’s only what they could find. I can’t even think about what may have been covered up. Some parents sent their kids to these homes because they were using drugs. Others, because their kids were gay or lesbian and needed “fixing.” Some children were there because they were recipients of McKay scholarships, awarded to special needs students to help them pay for tuition at private schools.

These homes lacked legally recognized credentials yet they were still allowed to operate because, you know, religion.

Amazingly, none of the children in their care died, but I’m sure some of those children wished for that alternative.

There is a solution to this. Florida legislators can pass laws requiring these homes to be regulated or shut down. Belief in God doesn’t mean you should be able to get away with abuse.

(Thanks to Annie for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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