Last year, for example, Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of First Century Gospel Church, were sentenced to prison in Pennsylvania for up to seven years after their son Brandon died of pneumonia without receiving medical attention. But their incarceration for third-degree murder came only because this was the second child the Schaibles had lost: A previous son died of bacterial pneumonia, also without treatment. For that they received only probation. It took two faith-based deaths before the judge finally declared, “You’ve killed two of your children … not God, not your church, not religious devotion—you.”
A study of 172 deaths of children when medical care was withheld on religious grounds. They found that 140 of the children would have had at least a 90% likelihood of survival with medical care. Deaths of Christian Science children between 1974 and 1994 from the following causes are in CHILD’s files: 5 of meningitis, 3 of pneumonia, 2 of appendicitis, 5 of diabetes, 2 of diphtheria, 1 of measles, 8 of cancer, 1 of septicemia, 1 of a kidney infection, 1 of a bowel obstruction, and 1 of heart disease. Between 1973 and 1990, 65 Faith Assembly children are known to have died of treatable illnesses without medical care. 78 children died between 1955 and 1998 in the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, a church opposed to medical care. Twelve children died in an Idaho affiliate of the Followers of Christ.
In 1983 the Centers for Disease Control and the Indiana Board of Health conducted a study of Faith Assembly members, who shun all medical care including obstetrics. Pregnant women in Faith Assembly were 86 times more likely to die than other expectant mothers in Indiana. The mortality rate for Faith Assembly infants up to 28 days old was 270% higher.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for the repeal of all laws allowing religious exemptions.
48 states have religious exemptions from immunizations. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that require all children to be immunized without exception for religious belief. Sects claiming a religious exemption from immunizations have had outbreaks of polio, measles, whooping cough, and diphtheria. In 1991 there were 492 measles cases in Philadelphia among children associated with Faith Tabernacle and First Century Gospel Church, which refuse immunizations. Six children died. Christian Science schools in the St. Louis area have had four major measles outbreaks between 1985 and 1994. The first included three deaths of young people.
The majority of states have religious exemptions from metabolic testing of newborns. Such tests detect disorders that will cause mental retardation and other handicaps unless they are treated.
Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Pennsylvania have religious exemptions from prophylactic eyedrops for newborns. The eyedrops prevent blindness of infants who have been infected with venereal diseases carried by their mothers.
Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have religious exemptions from testing children for lead-levels in their blood.
California allows public school teachers to refuse testing for tuberculosis on religious grounds. Ohio has a religious exemption from testing and treatment for tuberculosis. It lets parents use “a recognized method of religious healing” instead of medical care for a child sick with tuberculosis.
California, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and some other states offer religious exemptions from physical examinations of school children.
Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia, and some other states have religious exemptions from hearing tests for newborns.
Oregon and Pennsylvania have religious exemptions from bicycle helmets.
Oregon has a religious exemption from Vitamin K that is given to newborns to prevent spontaneous hemorrhage.
California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio have statutes excusing students with religious objections from studying about disease in school.
Delaware, Wyoming, and other states have laws with religious exemptions for both children and adults from medical examination, testing, treatment, and vaccination during public health emergencies.
B. Exemptions from providing medical care for sick children
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, largely because of a federal government policy from 1974 to 1983 requiring states to pass such exemptions in order to get federal funding for child protection work. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Additionally, Tennessee exempts caretakers who withhold medical care from being adjudicated as negligent if they rely instead on non-medical “remedial treatment” that is “legally recognized or legally permitted.”
Sixteen states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin
Fifteen states have religious defenses to misdemeanors: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, and South Dakota.
Florida has a religious exemption only in the civil code, but the Florida Supreme Court nevertheless held that it caused confusion about criminal liability and required overturning a felony conviction of Christian Scientists for letting their daughter die of untreated diabetes.
States with a religious defense to the most serious crimes against children include:
Idaho, Iowa, and Ohio with religious defenses to manslaughter
West Virginia with religious defenses to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death
Arkansas with a religious defense to capital murder
The scope of the religious exemption laws varies widely. Some protect only a right to pray or a right to rely exclusively on prayer only when the illness is trivial. For example, Rhode Island’s religious defense to “cruelty to or neglect of a child” allows parents to rely on prayer, but adds that it does not “exempt a parent or guardian from having committed the offense of cruelty or neglect if the child is harmed.” Rhode Island General Laws §11-9-5(b) Delaware’s religious exemption in the civil code is only to termination of parental rights, rather than to abuse or neglect, and does not prevent courts from terminating parental rights of parents relying on faith healing when necessary to protect the child’s welfare. R57Many state laws contain ambiguities that have been interpreted variously by courts. Some church officials have advised members that the exemption laws confer the right to withhold medical care no matter how sick the child is and even that the laws were passed because legislators understood prayer to be as effective as medicine.