34 States Protect Parents Against Child Abuse in Light of Religious Exemptions

state rulesAcross the nation, there are many federal regulations meant to protect children from child abuse and parent neglect. But new controversial exemptions concerning religious beliefs have caused debates in nearly every state.

In 34 states, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, there have been numerous state rules meant to protect parents from religious persecution if their child’s medical treatments conflict with the religious beliefs of the household. Additionally, according to the data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, some state rules have religious exemptions for criminal child abuse and neglect and six states have exemptions to manslaughter laws.

These state statutes have recently come to the public’s attention because of a recent scandal in Idaho. In May, the state police released a report saying that five children died unnecessarily in 2013 because their parents refused medical treatment. This disturbing report has caused some Idaho legislators to push to repeal these state rules that protect parents from criminal liability due to religious reasoning.

These legal exemptions, Idaho included, mean that if a parent chooses to opt for spiritual treatment through prayer instead of traditional Western medicine, they will not be prosecuted under the law, even if the child dies. Originally, these rules were put in place to accommodate the religious teachings of some prominent groups, including the Christian Scientists and the Idaho-based Followers of Christ. Not only do these groups urge prayer in lieu of traditional medical treatment, most ban medicine as a whole.

Currently, there are only 19 states and territories that do not have religious exemptions to child abuse and neglect statutes. Tennessee most recently repealed their religious exemption laws after a child died of cancer because her mother opted out of treatment.

With a wave of unrelated religious freedom laws being passed all over the country, many state lawmakers are conflicted about where to go from here. One thing is for certain, because of the unique U.S. legal system, it’s more important than ever to practice proper law research. Each state has its own unique laws, requiring lawyers to perform extensive legislative history research on state rules before going to court.

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