There is a dangerous element to the separation doctrine prohibiting government involvement in religion. When religious practices endanger children, does the government have an obligation to intervene?
Most would say yes, clearly the obligation exists.
What of an adult who chooses prayer over seeking medical attention for his or her own condition? Or that of another, consenting, adult?
Perhaps not so clear?
We have opened a Pandora’s Box of issues.
What constitutes “dangerous” religious practices? What constitutes harm? For whom do we choose to intervene? For whom do we accept the right to practice a faith in the manner of their choosing?
Some argue that imbuing children with rigid religious orthodoxy before they are old enough to understand the implications constitutes harm. The impressionable minds of children, inclined by nature to accept the words of their elders, absorb such information without question.
Many of us born into a predominately Judeo-Christian world, when exposed to other religious practices, are shocked but what we see as strange behavior.
One’s religious bent is much more a consequence of location of birth than the legitimacy of doctrine.
So, when someone believes fervently in prayer for the intercession of “God” as an equally effective treatment for illness or injury, how do we decide when that is wrong? How do we measure the appropriate level of acceptance to “Spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophies?
I said that most religious indoctrination takes place at a young age. Along with this, children also receive other “traditions” from those early influences. Ranging from things as innocuous as favoring a particular sports team to things of a much more ominous nature such as racial prejudice, misogynistic beliefs, or violence as a means to settle differences.
Should the government set standards for what constitutes benign traditions and prohibit what is unacceptable? How do we decide?
I find it interesting that many view choosing to pray over a suffering child, instead of seeking medical intervention, as abuse. They insist the government step in. Yet, in the same breath, they argue that prayer in school is good or, at worst, harmless. They demand that all political candidates embrace some form of religion, preferably of the Judeo-Christian stripe. They see no harm in government endorsement of faith-based initiatives.
This seems to be a case of I cannot explain the difference between faith and folly, but I know it when I see it.
There are a number of what we in the west consider non-traditional practices for treating illness and injury. Acupuncture leaps to mind, as well as mindful meditation. There are several billion Chinese in the world and the practice has existed for thousands of years, perhaps there is something to it.
The last argument in favor of government intervention into faith-based healing practices is a slick one. Those of a more benign faith argue that our knowledge of medicine is a gift from God and we have an obligation to use such gifts.
This, by its very nature, assumes the existence of such a being who bestows these “gifts” at his sole discretion. This begs the question; why not give us the cure for things like pediatric cancers, a way to prevent fatal or debilitating genetic conditions or a manner to regrow limbs for amputees?
The argument that God has given us skills, and expects us to pray to thank him for these abilities, is convoluted. Prayer works as thanks but not in practical results.
The government, under the close supervision of both the courts and the media, has an obligation to intercede in cases where there is evidence of harm to a child by misguided or extreme religious practices. Failure of anyone to seek medical assistance in favor of prayer is, in fact, harmful in the same sense as being the cause of the injury in the first place.
To do otherwise would be morally abhorrent. Our morality arising from our progress as rational beings with ever increasing scientific knowledge and abilities for medical intervention. Not from the decrees of a nebulous unknowable concept.