Walt’s Soapbox: Religious Freedom to Abuse, Maim, and Kill

The rallying cry for conservatives these days is “Religious Freedom”; every GOP Presidential candidate has made it a point to bring up their dedication to this concept, and of course our own Governor Pence has made it a priority in his administration.

But what exactly do they mean by “Religious Freedom”? Usually, when people think about the concept, they think that the government doesn’t have the right to tell people what religion to belong to and that this nation will not have an official religion as per the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Well…no, not in the eyes of the GOP; when they speak of “Religious Freedom”, they’re talking about people’s right to deny services to others because God told them so. But does this concept have a darker side? Does it extend beyond bakers refusing cakes and photographers refusing pictures because their God told them that queers are second-class citizens?

I read an article in NUVO this weekend that disturbed me. It was an interview with this woman who is a survivor of one of those religious adolescent “therapy camps” and some of the things she described would make your blood run cold; kids doped up on lithium and Depakote without any apparent medical need, nor any proper logging of the doses (it’s very easy to overdose on lithium), brutal work details in blistering temperatures, water torture, the entire gruesome bit.

But here’s the most disturbing part, this facility had their license revoked by the state of Indiana in 2009 and instead of shutting down like what should have happened, they merely re-branded themselves as a private contract faith-based facility, which is completely legal under Indiana law. The facility did not change their methods of torture, they just hid under the umbrella of religion and the state looked the other way.

Horror stories from these adolescent camps are nothing new, I’ve been reading into them for the past fifteen years and there seems to be everything short of stone cold murder. I read an article a few years ago about a facility called Mountain Park Boarding Academy (since closed) some of the stories were horrendous, one I won’t forget was this bit about a kid collapsing from heat exhaustion while running laps and two “counselors” dragging the kid through the rest of his laps, tearing up his legs in the process and not giving two fucks about it.

 But it goes deeper than that; consider the practice of “faith healing”, which is when people refuse conventional medical treatment because of religious beliefs. There are numerous cases of parents refusing treatment for their children and their children dying in the process. Under Federal law, these parents receive immunity for their medical neglect of their children. As it reads in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974;

“As establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian; and to require that a State find, or to prohibit a State from finding, abuse or neglect in cases in which a parent or legal guardian relies solely or partially upon spiritual means rather than medical treatment, in accordance with the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.

Claim God as your excuse and you can pretty much get away with murder.

Seriously, think about it. I’m not a particularly religious person and if I denied my child medical care or sent them to a camp where they were abused, beaten, and drugged, I would go to prison for decades for gross negligence, reckless child endangerment, and gross abuse of a dependent. As well I should if I committed such vicious brutal acts.

So why do we allow the supposedly “religious” to get away it? I think it’s because for over thirty years, the Religious Right has become a powerful political force in America and they’ve essentially made themselves bulletproof because politicians are afraid to stand up to them. While their swing in a national election has been declining rapidly over the past twelve years, they still swing a lot of weight locally and that’s where this fight about “Religious Freedom” is.

The bottom line is, gross abuses are being committed under the guise of “Religious Freedom”, the lives of young folks are literally on the line and our government lets it be because they don’t want to offend a powerful voting bloc. I urge you to stand up against this sort of violence and close these loopholes so we no longer have to read stories of children being beaten, tortured, or killed and the state shrugging their shoulders and saying “Sorry, the parents or caretakers claimed God, we can’t do anything.”

Featured image credit: quotesgram.com

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