There are two church-state issues that can be in conflict: 1. Freedom of religion requires government to keep its distance and let people worship the way their conscienses dictate. 2. But religion can’t give cover to practices that are clearly against the law of the land. It can be tricky to determine when the behavior is so unacceptable that the state is justified in stepping in. Remember the Santeria members who got in trouble for killing chickens because it violated laws against “animal sacrifices”? They should have just fried and eaten the chickens afterward — no problem! And doesn’t the fact that so many jurisdictions are enacting medical marijuana laws weaken the prohibitions against using weed in religious ceremonies?
And the raid on the Texas compound of course has given us lots of fodder for the debate. The state upped the ante when it took the unprecedented step of confiscating all 462 children and separating them from their mothers. Even if we accept the premise that maintaining a polygamous community somehow creates the potential for harm, how can what the state did not be called child abuse?
Then there is this couple, who let their 11-year-old daughter die of untreated diabetes while they prayed over her:
According to court documents, Leilani Neumann said in a written statement to police that she never considered taking the girl, who was being home-schooled, to a doctor.
“We just thought it was a spiritual attack and we prayed for her. My husband Dale was crying and mentioned taking Kara to the doctor and I said, ‘The Lord’s going to heal her,’ and we continued to pray,” she wrote.
They have been charged with second-degree reckless homicide and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I can’t say I have all that much sympathy for them. They don’t belong to any organized religion or faith but are said to be religious “isolationists” involved in a prayer group of five people. The mother, especially, seems to be in some kind of twilight zone between fanaticism and severe mental illness.
But we don’t have to make that judgment to say: Don’t kill the kids. You have the right to believe whatever you want to, even if that causes you to take actions that end up harming you. But there is a line you can’t cross when it involves children who don’t yet have the capacity to make reasoned judgments. We can debate whether that line was crossed in Texas. Here, it most certainly was.