Christian Fundamentalism is putting American children in danger, as ever greater numbers of parents are refusing to seek medical treatment for their children, believing only in the power of prayer.
The most high profile case in recent times was that of Herbert and Catherine Schaible. The Pennsylvanian were jailed in 2014 for allowing their 8-month-old son Brandon to die a slow and painful death from diarrhea, rather than seek medical attention. They argued their religious beliefs stipulate that illness is a sign of ‘spiritual lack’, and only prayer can cure it.
The father, Herbert Schaible, defending their decision, said:
“We believe in divine healing, the Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power,”
What makes the case all the more shocking, is that the couple were already on probation for the involuntary manslaughter of another child. Their two-year-old child died of pneumonia in 2009 after they refused to seek medical help.
The couple were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 death, and sentenced to 10 years probation. A condition of their probation was that they sought medical attention if any of their surviving children became sick. Yet, within that probationary period, the couple allowed another child to die from a treatable illness. This time, their eight-month-old son Brandon.
Addressing the couple of court, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said:
“You’ve killed two of your children … not God, not your church, not religious devotion – you.”
The couple has seven further surviving children.
The Schaibles are part of a small Pentecostal community which, similar to the Quiverfull Christian Conservative approach to family planning – leaves the treatment of illness in what they believe to be God’s hands.
In 2015, 18-month-old Hope Delozier died of a treatable ear infection because her parents “were against antibiotics and other chemicals associated with modern medicine.”
A further 12 child deaths have been linked to the Pentecostal church, just in Idaho alone.
Yet Idaho, and 31 other states, have built-in legal protections for parents who allow their children to die this way. These states have religious exemptions to felony or misdemeanor charges involving children.
The Schaibles and their peers seek to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions by hiding behind this bogus ‘freedom of religion’ argument. Which is why we need to strike down these exemptions to support a common principle:
No one’s freedom of religion should be honored to the extent that a helpless and vulnerable child is left to die of neglect. Let alone two.
Yet Republicans lawmakers are failing to back the repeal of these exemptions, with arguments epitomized by Idaho State Rep. Christy Perry, who said:
“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,”
“This is about where they go for eternity.”
This has nothing to do with freedom of religion. When people become parents, they accept the responsibility to ensure the health and safety of that child through to adulthood. The Schaibles and those who think like them, choose to put their personal interpretation of their faith above their duty of care as parents. In doing so, they are turning their own children into human sacrifices. That has no place this century, let alone this country.
Featured Image via Flickr Creative Commons