Ohio Exempts Faith Healing from Child Abuse Laws

image of kid getting ear tweaked

Recently a Pennsylvania couple was convicted of allowing a second sick child to die. They tried to use their religion as a defense for refusing to take two of their children to medical professionals. Did you know that Ohio also exempts religious beliefs of the parents from laws meant to protect children? This is the worst kind of religious privilege since it can lead to the death of a child. We need to demand our legislatures remove religious exemptions for child abuse and neglect.

The other day a friend of mine, from my local Humanist group, pointed out a section of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), Chapter 2919: Offenses Against The Family:

2919.22 Endangering children.

(A) No person, who is the parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control, or person in loco parentis of a child under eighteen years of age or a mentally or physically handicapped child under twenty-one years of age, shall create a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child, by violating a duty of care, protection, or support. It is not a violation of a duty of care, protection, or support under this division when the parent, guardian, custodian, or person having custody or control of a child treats the physical or mental illness or defect of the child by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets of a recognized religious body.

So if a parent or someone who is suppose to take care of a child violates a duty to care, protect, and support a child but does so because of their religious beliefs, then that person can’t be charged for the crime.

The endangerment section isn’t the only place one finds a religious exemption:

2151.03 Neglected child defined – failure to provide medical or surgical care for religious reasons.

(B) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as subjecting a parent, guardian, or custodian of a child to criminal liability when, solely in the practice of religious beliefs, the parent, guardian, or custodian fails to provide adequate medical or surgical care or treatment for the child. This division does not abrogate or limit any person’s responsibility under section 2151.421 of the Revised Code to report child abuse that is known or reasonably suspected or believed to have occurred, child neglect that is known or reasonably suspected or believed to have occurred, and children who are known to face or are reasonably suspected or believed to be facing a threat of suffering abuse or neglect and does not preclude any exercise of the authority of the state, any political subdivision, or any court to ensure that medical or surgical care or treatment is provided to a child when the child’s health requires the provision of medical or surgical care or treatment.

That seems great. If you neglect your kids and justify it for religious reasons, the state can still take your kids away….

Read the section again.

While you can have your kids taken away and you can lose custody of the children you won’t do any jail time for the neglect or abuse of the children if it occurred due to religious reasons. You might go to jail if you fail to report the neglect or abuse but the parents who do it would not. Short of death, the child can be abused as much as the parents desire as long as it is for religious reasons.

ORC 2151.03 and 2919.22 has been on the books since at least the 1980s.

According to Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty (CHILD), members of the Christian Science Church, the religion that believes only in faith healing, lobbied Congress in the 1970s to add religious exemptions to child abuse laws. The Federal government in turn forced states to add religious exemptions in order to receive federal funds for child protection laws.

In response to Christian Science church lobbying, the federal government began requiring states to enact religious exemptions from child abuse and neglect charges in 1974. CHILD founders Rita and Douglas Swan lobbied for several years against this regulation. The federal government rescinded it in 1983.

In 1996, however, Congress enacted a law stating that the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) did not include “a Federal requirement that a parent or guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or guardian.” 42 USC 5106i Furthermore, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, and Congressman Bill Goodling, R-Pennsylvania, claimed during floor discussion that parents have a First Amendment right to withhold medical care from children.

CHILD Inc. believes the present law discriminates against a class of children and endangers them. CAPTA mandates that states in the grant program have laws requiring parents to provide needed medical care for their children, but simultaneously allows those states to give parents in faith-healing sects the right to withhold all medical treatment from children.

Policy & Legal

CHILD, filed a federal lawsuit, in Ohio, against ORC 2919.22 and 2151.03 in 1994. Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. and Brown v. Deters, 92 F.3d 1412 (Sixth Circuit 1996). Unfortunately the court ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing and the court can’t force prosecutors to charge someone with a crime. Prosecutors can and have elected not to prosecute people who neglected a child because of religious beliefs.

Courts can’t rule a law unconstitutional unless someone is “injured” by that law and since the religious exemptions are a defence for a crime, I doubt anyone who is covered by the law will file a lawsuit demanding to be prosecuted for that crime.

The only way it seems these religious exemptions can be removed is through the legislature. We all need to contact our elected officials and demand those religious exemptions be repealed.


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One Comment

  1. February 20, 2014

    When you consider that many adult adherents consider themselves the property of God, then it’s no wonder that they don’t care about the rights of their children.

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