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How should the law respond when religious faith leads to the reckless homicide of a child?

Kara Neumann

Kara Neumann

Kara Neumann, age 11, died last March of treatable juvenile diabetes after her Wausau, Wisconsin, parents chose to pray for her recovery rather than take her to a doctor. Her parents face criminal charges. Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb, addressing how the law might react, writes:

. . . There is no justification for child abuse and neglect, no matter how sincere the parent’s religious motivation. To take an example from the Bible, Abraham should not have prepared to kill his son Isaac, no matter what he believed the divine will to be. Though he may have “passed” the test of his faith, in other words, he would plainly fail the test of parenthood and of membership in any civilized modern community.

Beginning there, we have three courses of action the law may follow:

  • First, attack the legitimacy of religious exemptions in laws that prohibit child abuse or neglect. That would expose parents like the Neumanns to the full force of the law.
  • Second, excuse or partially excuse (perhaps reducing the severity of the charge) the parent who fails to seek out medical care for his child because of a faith in prayer or other divine agency. That does not to justify a parent’s action, but it does temper justice with mercy.
  • Third, agree that when people believe in good faith that they are carrying out the mandates of heaven, they should not be punished, thus opening children to all manner of abuse in the real or imagined name of faith.

Writing for FindLaw, Colb says:

If our focus is on the future, it might seem most prudent to prosecute the Neumanns to the full extent of the law and send the message that parents must care for their children. The very existence of the Wisconsin prayer exception to the child abuse or neglect statute arguably invites what most of us would view as intolerable misconduct.

More merciful and more likely, as she suggests, is an outcome which takes into consideration the parents’ obvious religious faith. Whether the other children of that union are left in their parents’ potentially deadly care may yet be the principal question the court answers.

To fully appreciate the complexity of the issues raised in this heart-rending case, please read the entire piece.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Law, Religion | , , , | 1 Comment

Evolution weekend stalks the wild religionist

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The Clergy Letter Project celebrates Evolution Weekend on Feb. 13 through 15. It is an auspicious time, for it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin’s birth is Feb, 12. This is also the year of the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

The letter has been signed some 12,500 clergy who agree, in essence, that:

Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information, but to transform hearts.

There are three versions of the letter: Christian Clergy, Rabbi and Unitarian Universalist. Although there isn’t a specifically Muslim letter, the project is promoted by The American Muslim. Some argue with good reason that the project should be extended to Hindus and other faiths as well.

Some 929 congregations are signed up to participate. They hail from all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and
14 countries.Michael Zimmerman of Butler University.The project has three goals:

  • To elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites.
  • To demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.
  • To make it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

To sign up a congregation or if you are clergy, to sign one of the letters, contact Professor Michael Zimmerman of Butler University at mz@butler.edu.

Articles, sermons, recommended readings, volunteer scientific consultants to assist clergy in their efforts and other resources are available.

A rejection of creationism and intelligent design, the project has attracted both praise and the ardent criticism typically directed at such efforts.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Religion, Science | , , | 1 Comment