Saturday, May 16, 2009

Religious Freedom versus Parental Responsibility

For generations, free nations have recognized the individual’s right to believe and worship as he or she sees fit. In the United States it is considered to be among our most sacred constitutional protections. Our own Declaration of Independence makes a direct and undeniable link between our nation’s religious heritage and the basic human rights Americans hold dear:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How unfortunate it is then, that in recent times we have seen an upswing in cases where religious freedom and human rights have come to be at loggerheads.

In spite of its numerous flaws, the USA has one of the better healthcare systems on the planet. Why then, do some parents subject their children to the twenty-first century equivalent of witch doctors and faith healing? What part of “Thou shalt not kill” do they not understand?

Certainly, parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit must be protected. It is not the business of government to dictate what values a child is taught in the home, how they are disciplined (excepting abuse), and what spiritual teachings parents share with their children. But as in all facets of a civilized society, lines must be drawn. And when parents step over those lines, authorities must step in to protect the children.

Such is the case with respect to two children currently in the news.

Thirteen year-old Daniel Hauser, of Sleepy Eye, MN suffers from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Due to their religious beliefs, his parents stopped his chemo-therapy and decided to pursue “alternative treatments” as defined by a Native American religious group called the “Nemenhah Band” to which they belong. As a result of this decision, Daniel’s tumor is growing. Daniel’s parents claim their affiliation with the group does not conflict with their Catholic faith.

Fortunately for Daniel, a Minnesota judge has stepped in to save his life. According to an article at

In a 58-page ruling Friday, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser of Sleepy Eye, Minn., has been "medically neglected" and is in need of child protection services. Rodenberg said Daniel will stay in the custody of his parents, but Colleen and Anthony Hauser have until May 19 to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.
For Daniel, there is hope.

The same cannot be said for Madeline Kara Neumann of Weston, WI. The personable, popular eleven year-old girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis in 2008. Diabetic ketoacidosis is completely treatable if one acts promptly. I know: I am a diabetic and developed the same condition in 2007. When I think of the nausea, the loss of control of bodily function, the thirst and the sheer blinding pain I went through, I cannot bear to think what this innocent girl must have suffered. That she did so needlessly only makes it worse.

In an AP article from 2008, Police Chief Dan Vergin had the following to say:

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing "was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray," he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.
Madeline’s parents now face charges of reckless homicide and could end up spending the next twenty-five years in prison. But no prison sentence can resurrect their daughter.

A worthy question at this point is: “When are authorities justified in usurping the religious rights of parents to protect their children?”

To me this is not a complicated question. Here’s why:

Refer back to the excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. Our founding documents recognize that we are guaranteed - not by our government but by our Creator - “certain unalienable Rights, [and] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

By allowing a dependent child to suffer or die, a parent is in direct conflict with this most important line from the Declaration. It is the parents’ charge to protect the God-given life and liberty of their children. Should they fail in that charge and place their children in harm’s way, they have effectively forfeited their rights as parents by defaulting on their responsibilities.

Mainstream Christianity and Judaism have no reservation about protecting the lives of the innocent, including those still within the womb. But groups like the Nemenhah Band and others have become more prevalent as the years go by.

Regardless of one’s faith, common sense should tell these people that anytime a so-called “spiritual leader” deviates wildly from well-known and established teachings, questions should be asked. There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Christians are in fact warned of this in Second Peter:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”
Minor children are for the most part unable to speak for themselves in legal matters. They cannot make major decisions regarding their own healthcare. They have neither the legal authority nor the necessary life experience to make such decisions. It is a parent’s most basic responsibility to make those decisions in the child’s stead. When a parent, through either malicious intent or outright stupidity puts a child’s life in danger, the rights of the child must take precedence over those of the parents.

Any parent who allows a child to die for “religious reasons” is as guilty of murder as one who puts a gun to the head of a toddler, and deserves to be dealt with accordingly. Hell isn’t hot enough for people like Leilani Neumann.

UPDATE (May 17/09):
Check out the story of 10 year-old Hannah Powell-Auslam. Try to imagine being only 10 and having breast cancer. Her parents are seeing to her medical care (which unfortunately included a mastectomy) and she's doing well.

Photo Credits:
Daniel Hauser & Madeline Neumann: The Associated Press
Cross & Declaration of Independence: & public domain image combined