Medical Neglect

Religion is never an excuse to neglect a child. Religious loopholes for medical neglect must be repealed.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that the right to practice one’s faith does not extend to the point where children’s health and safety are jeopardized. The Court ruled in Prince v. Massachusetts that parents’ religious beliefs do not give them a constitutional right to engage in practices that compromise a child’s health or safety.

However, after Congress passed the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 1974, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare required states to add a religious exemption for health care to their child protection laws in order to receive federal funding. In 1983, the requirement was removed but all 50 states and D.C. had passed religious exemptions for medical treatments. The current CAPTA reauthorization does not have a religious exemption, but states have been slow to repeal their statutes. Currently, 34 states and D.C. provide for a religious defense for caregivers who refuse medical treatment for children, and nine states allow religious exemptions to statutes criminalizing child abuse and neglect.

The Secular Coalition for America urges state and federal lawmakers to put an end to these dangerous loopholes. Religion is no excuse for harming a child.

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