Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Religion-based child neglect: Overdose of prayer

I'm not celebrating the National Day of Prayer on May 3. I grew up with nothing but prayer. We prayed every morning, we tried to keep our thoughts "above" mortal influences, we read and studied and went to church. And we prayed when we were sick or hurt.

My parents hadn't used anything else for most of their lives. Neither had our relatives. We'd all been healthy. We believed our prayers had kept us safe. I rode my horse and felt invincible.

But I never touched a horse the year I was fourteen. I lay in bed at home for ten months with my left leg rotting from a bone disease. And my Christian Science parents and practitioner treated me with prayer only. I guess you could say I was overdosed on prayer.
Nine years old and ready for my first horse show
At that time, Massachusetts law protected this right of parents. "A child shall not be deemed to be neglected or lack proper physical care for the sole reason that he is being provided remedial treatment by spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly-accredited practitioner thereof."  

My knee and much of my leg were destroyed by the bone infection. It was diagnosed years later as osteomyelitis. For thirty-five years I walked with a fused, bent knee. Then my leg was amputated.

I want to speak for the kids who died. The kids who were spanked to death by parents who believed Michael Pearl's logic. The baby boys who died after circumcision rituals. The dozens of children who died of treatable medical conditions in Oregon because their parents were Followers of Christ.

Religious extremism is alive and well in the U.S. Religious influence in our laws and a politically correct hands-off attitude create a smokescreen for fervent believers to keep on praying for children instead of immunizing, instead of seeing a doctor, instead of calling an ambulance. And kids go on hurting. They go on dying.

Except when people speak up. Rita Swan of  Children's Healthcare Is A Legal Duty (CHILD Inc) was instrumental last year in overturning the Oregon law. Parents in that state are no longer exempt from prosecution for faith-based medical neglect of children. For thirty years, Rita, her husband Doug and the non-profit CHILD organization have tackled laws in state after state. They've made changed happen. They've saved lives.

But currently, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia still have religious exemptions in their civil code on child abuse or neglect.

Think about the overdoses of prayer those kids receive. Beatings. Ignorance. Untreated injuries and diseases.

Seventeen states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children. 

Fifteen states have religious defenses to misdemeanors.

Three states have religious defenses to manslaughter.

One state has religious defenses to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death.

One state has a religious defense to capital murder.

I stopped praying twenty years ago. I have faith in the goodness of humans to reach out to each other, and to find strength within themselves. I'm celebrating the National Day of Reason. I hope to live to see a total separation of church and government. Kids' lives depend on it. 


  1. This is a cause I can definitely get behind, because child abuse is the most vile slur on humanity imaginable. I want to know more about Michael Pearl and the rest of this. Thanks Liz for this very informative post.

  2. hi LIz thanks for sharing it is very inspirational topic and i agree with that sometimes we think were overdose of prayer.

    1. Thank you for speaking out. I too was raised in a Christian Science home. I was fortunate to have parents who were not as radical as yours. I have only recently come to realize the negative effects of my indoctrination. Perfectionism is one effect for example.

      Have you found this to be a problem?

    2. Most definitely--setting the standard as Perfect teaches a child nothing s/he does is good enough & also gives that child NO practical tools for adulthood. I was a nervous kid with OCD tendencies long before I had the bone disease & I think this fearful childhood is common. It was tough to first learn to treat myself as human (let alone my kids) when I was in my thirties. It just seems like (on top of the anguish, pain & shame CS causes EVERYONE) such a waste of time to study Impracticality to a ridiculous level of expertise. & such a relief to find out we're human after all. :-D

    3. I also was a neurotic kid and am still working on ridding myself of the effects of a C.S. upbringing. (I was the poster asking about perfectionism.) Call me Rick. (Rick Covering- say it out loud if you folks don't get the joke.)

      All religions that I know of have detrimental effects, but the more common a religion is, the harder it is to notice those effects. C.S. has the additional detriment of making one feel like an outsider unless you happen to be among others of your religion, since it is so uncommon.

      Now that I am an agnostic atheist I am in the minority, but for good reasons.