Thursday, March 27, 2008

Freedom of Religion or Neglect?

An 11-year-old girl dies of diabetes after parents prayed for healing instead of seeking medical care. She died of a common treatable form, but her parents refused to get medical care. Government officials are investigating the case, and family claims that if charges are filed they will claim freedom of religion under the first amendment. Is this pure parental neglect and abuse against this child? Or another case of cultural relativism, in which we should respect an individual’s beliefs?


Ryan said...

One could certainly make the cultural relativism argument, but I believe that you have to "draw the line" somewhere. In other words, every society creates norms, and the US' norms are reflected in our laws. Does the first amendment apply here? There's a gray area on the border of legal-illegal or constitutional-unconstitutional, and I'm inclined to view the family's neglect being illegal or unconstitutional. The fact that the family is not part of an organized religion does not bother me. They could invent their own religion, and that'd be protected under the constitution. But what if some religion -- organized, unorganized, unrecognized, fake, whatever -- allowed for or encouraged other things that are generally considered crimes, such as illegal drug use, ritual beatings, etc? The concept of religion as a means of justifying behavior has its limitations, regardless of the first amendment. Any religious act (or behavior that is deemed necessary by a religion) should be in line with the country's norms, and in this case the parents deviated from those norms. I believe that the parents' actions (or lackthereof) constituted neglect and abuse. I also believe that the cultural relativism argument SHOULD be made but not be used to exonerate the parents and spare them punishment. Indeed, there is a slippery slope in allowing such behavior to go unpunished based on religious grounds -- if these parents go unpunished, that line of reasoning allows for many other people to claim religious freedom as a justification for various other crimes.

aditi said...

When it comes to FGM or dowry related atrocities, most people agree that they should be against the law but understand that as it occurs in other countries as part of their tradition, it may not be in their place to interfere. However, if these acts occurred in the US, it would be against country norms and could be deemed punishable. In this case, the people were living in the US and should thus be expected to follow US norms. If such treatment is indeed seen as child negligence then they should face the consequences accordingly. However, Christian Science, which is estimated by independent organizations to be followed by 100,000 students in over 60 countries worldwide, is also largely followed in the US. Christian Science teaches that disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health, an ignorance of God's power and goodness. Hence, as this religious teaching is prevalent to a certain extent in the US, should it be part of the norms that are portrayed in US laws? And in that case are the parents right when they say that they have the right to do as they did and are protected by the First Amendment?

Anonymous said...

I think my biggest issue with this incident is the lack of agency this girl had over her own body. An eleven year old girl was forced to adhere to her parents' religious beliefs and died as a result. I'm not saying I have an answer, or that an eleven year old would have been capable of making a serious medical decision on her own; however, she was not even given the chance to grow into an adult who was, in fact, capable of determining her own religious or medical practices. I have similar feelings related to Aditi's comment about the practice of FGM. If women in the cultures that perform FGM consent to the practice then I think that's fine, but the inability of most of these women to refuse the act is a problem.