Religious Rights, Natural Law, and the Imperfect Pragmatic


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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168 Responses

  1. Avatar BradK says:

    This is going to be fun.

    First off, I see a chasm of difference between an adult’s access to contraception (at all, let alone a question of who pays for it) and forcing a helpless, dependent child to suffer a painful and completely preventable death.

    No one would suggest state action solely based on a disapproval of the religious teachings imposed in the household.  That’s what support groups and therapy are for when the child becomes an adult.  But if the child was severely undernourished, unbathed, or left to roam the streets at night, we wouldn’t suggest the parent’s “right” to bring their child up in such conditions is somehow being trampled upon, would we?

    Why do the rules suddenly change when someone uses the “g  word”?

    Whether a child is beaten, starved, molested, etc. by the intentional hand of a parent or whether “god” has stricken the child with some affliction, it is not the child that brings on the condition (or can even be expected to comprehend it) though it is exclusively the child who must suffer through it.  And as in this latest case, suffer then die.   I can only imagine the excruciating pain that an untreated urinary blockage feels like to any human being of any age.

    Adults are certainly free to choose any religious affiliation they wish, including none.  That’s religious freedom .  Dependent children are not.  Physical survival of a child trumps any highly subjective and personal (and adult) dogma regardless of what it’s based upon.

    Tod, I know your angle was more on what form of justice is applicable to the parents, though the way I see it the Monday morning quarterbacking should never need to come up.  We need to define a rational boundary between religious freedom and the basic human right of survival.  If a decision on whether to intervene needs to be made it needs to be made while something can still be done, not weeping over a casket.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to BradK says:

      Brad – First off, thanks for the detailed answer.  One of the things that has ceased surprising me over time is that the more I talk with people who have “competing” ideologies, the more I find the differences between us are pretty small.

      Still I feel like I should ask this – more out of a spirit of debate than snark: If we allow religious freedom (including the belief that this world is transitory and heaven is put at risk with outside intervention), and we allow that raising children in the faith is part of religious freedom, how is it not right to allow parents to do what these folks in Oregon have done?Report

      • Avatar BradK in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        No, no snark.  That’s what Tom is for.  [:~)

        The answer to your question, I believe, has already come up down thread.  It has to do with consent.  An adult can make the decision based purely on faith to simply pray and suffer.  But how can an 8 year old?  Further, we like to think that adults have had a least some exposure to competing belief systems or at the very least the capability of rational thought, and have made a conscious choice to follow a particular path.  A child raised in a cloistered, hyper-religious household is unlikely to even be aware of other belief systems.  Even if they were capable of making a somewhat rational decision on medical care, such as a 16-year old might be capable of, could we really call any decision informed?

        I often say when I hear parents squabbling about  their teenagers, how they don’t listen, think they know it all, yada, yada, yada, that every adult was once a teenager but no teenager has yet been an adult (since the parents of teenagers often develop complete amnesia concerning their own teen years).  The wisdom of perspective that adulthood grants is what makes personal religious decisions (even very poor ones) by adults acceptable (for lack of a better term).  A child has no such wisdom, perspective, or freedom of choice.

        And finally, shouldn’t religious freedom also apply to the child?  What if a 16 year old child raised in this particular faith does make the decision to see a doctor and is scorned and shamed by not only his/her parents but those of the the church as well?  Where is the respect for his/her religious freedom?

        As is all to often the case, those who demand freedoms for themselves are loathe to reciprocate.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to BradK says:

          Obviously, I agree with everything you say here.  Regarding this, though:

          “And finally, shouldn’t religious freedom also apply to the child?  What if a 16 year old child raised in this particular faith does make the decision to see a doctor and is scorned and shamed by not only his/her parents but those of the the church as well?  Where is the respect for his/her religious freedom?”

          THe more interesting question (from a talking point of view, not from a real life point of view) is what if a 16 year old chooses to maintain the faith and not accept treatment?Report

          • Avatar BradK in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            The more interesting question (from a talking point of view, not from a real life point of view) is what if a 16 year old chooses to maintain the faith and not accept treatment?

            Not accept treatment that is encouraged by the parents (exercising his own religious freedom), or acquiescing to the parents denial of treatment and embracing their wishes?

            I suppose it balances on whether the teenager (since it’s not fair to call him a child) is mature enough to make his own medical decisions and weigh the consequences of accepting Vs. rejecting treatment.  But such competency is best decided by a judge or other objective party that has the teen’s interests in mind (what’s the legal term, guardian ad litem?) and not a religious officiant.

            Has there ever been a case of child rejecting the church and demanding treatment yet having it denied?  I would think the criminal implications for that would be even worse for the parents.Report

  2. Avatar James B Franks says:

    There are 2 aspects to consider.

    1. Insurance companies pay less for contraceptives then live births, this is why you have not heard them complaining.

    2. Nothing forces a woman to take contraceptives. All the mandate states is that insurance polices must offer them. If someones beliefs are such they can’t use them, they don’t have to take them.


    • Avatar James K in reply to James B Franks says:

      Insurance companies pay less for contraceptives then live births, this is why you have not heard them complaining.

      I’m not sure that’s true.  It might be true, but it’s far from clear.  For one thing you need a lot of birth control pills to stop one pregnancy.  For another, a lot of women are using birth control anyway.  If you compare the costs to the insurance companies of paying for all those pills and way that against the number of incremental pregnancies prevented, I’m much less confident than you that paying for birth control stacks up.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to James K says:

        I think insurance companies would pay far less for miscarriages, and they would have a natural inclination from a profit motive toward that end.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James K says:


        remember the long tail. for every one woman who gets diabetes because she was pregnant… (in short: it’s not just the pregnancy, but also the risk factors for other things)Report

      • Avatar A Teacher in reply to James K says:

        I got this.

        $30/ month (what Mrs. Teacher pays) for 40 years = $14,800

        A single birth costs up to $15,000 when all figures are factored in.  That figure comes from the bills we’ve seen with our own births for our two kids.

        Of course if you’re doing the pricier BC that can fluxuate but that’s the cost to birth the kid, not do the well baby visits, immunizations and other necessary care.Report

        • Avatar aaron in reply to A Teacher says:

          But how may people go the whole 30 years without having any children.  Off of the top of my head, US birth rate is 1.8, so ballpark it at 9 of 10 women have a baby anyway.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to aaron says:

            You’re not comparing “no children” to “1.8 children”.

            You’re comparing the birth rate with pervasive birth control to the birth rate with less than pervasive birth control.

            Yes, it’s not quite as cut and dried as first look; for one thing, the elective cost of an abortion may be much less than either of those other two options – if a significant portion of the women who get pregnant but don’t want a baby get an abortion and the abortion is $100 at the clinic, you’d need to have an awful lot of abortions to make up for preventative contraception.

            However, if you’re looking at the birth rate, which is how insurance companies would look at it, you’re looking at the overall impact of pervasive birth control across their covered population.

            Let’s say you insure 100,000 women.  If all of them take birth control for 30 years and never have babies, you paid out $1,500,000,000 over 30 years (this is not chump change).  Now let’s say we stick with a birth rate of 1.8 -> assume you don’t pay for contraceptive coverage, and that’s the total yield.  Each pregnancy and delivery costs you X * 1.8 * 100,000, for X = the cost of labor and delivery (for the moment, we’ll ignore the insurance cost of the *baby* through age 24).

            If these are your two options, and X=15,000, then it is considerably more expensive to have the babies.

            But you’re not comparing 1.8 to 0.  You’re comparing 1.8 to 0 to whatever the modified birth rate actually is… which might be 1.7999985, but it might be 1.5 or less, as things roll out.

            The actuaries are crunching these tables.  That plus the fact that the insurance company is certainly going to charge enough to cover their total cost makes me think this is a non-issue, either way.Report

            • Avatar aaron in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              Thanks for the reply Patrick, and you are right, it is certainly not as simple as the numbers I threw out would suggest (like I said, just ballparking it.)  But I don’t believe that it is as simple as A Teacher suggests.

              I think that there are as many variations on a birth control schedule as there are women, and for many women, this revolves around having children at some point,  My wife went off the pill 6 months after my vasectomy, in her early 30’s.  My friend Jen never used the pill, didn’t like the idea of hormones.  I am sure that all of us can think of exceptions to the 40 years of birth control.Report

  3. Avatar Renee says:

    Although I appreciate your pragmatism and (relative) unconcern for ideological purity, I think a big difference in the cases is consent.  The Catholic church case is entirely in the arena of consenting adults (well almost entirely – abortifactants are part of the issue – but I refrain from heading that direction).  The Followers of Christ situation is different.  I have zero problems with adult members of the Followers of Christ deciding to forgo medical treatment.  But they have legal duties, including medical care, for their children who are not of age to truly consent to the faith.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Renee says:

      “I think a big difference in the cases is consent”

      Actually, as is pointed out by backers of the Church, the kids in the congregation are taking the side of their parents, and do not ask for medical attention.Report

      • Avatar Renee in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Right.  A minor can also say that she desired to have sex with an adult.  But we still charge the adult with rape because we don’t consider the minor’s consent to be enough.  I would make the same argument here.  If we are talking about minors, then they are unable to give legal consent, regardless of what they say they want.  It isn’t a perfect situation and it disregards the will of the children, but there is precedent for that.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Renee says:

          I understand what you’re saying, and I’m not in disagreement.
          I just want to point out that acceptance of the faith knowingly is a big part of several protestant denominations.
          Some dunk, some sprinkle.
          The sprinklers are usually out to get them as soon as possible, while the dunkers tend to wait for a bit.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Depends how old we are talking about. In the case of the Begley’s 15-month-old granddaughter who also died, surely she was to young to ask for medical attention or to take her parents’ side?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    For the record: when I call the beliefs “silly” in this particular context, I’m more doing a callback to Griswold v. Connecticut.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

      I thought it was just a semantic device device, which I find compelling in the Catholic argument and less so here. IOW, I was more poking at me than you.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

      JB, I have always read your use of “silly” charitably.  RTod: Yr below is wise, and has been my only point in all of this mess.

      And so I, a principled pragmatic, stand for the Catholic church when being asked to pay a paltry sum that the government and/or end user could pay just as easily when it goes against Church doctrine.

      My own view of church and state has been accommodationist—as opposed to strict separationist, the latter I think is totally out of sync with the Founding principles.

      In the Oregon case, we are necessarily faced with an either/or.  The kid won’t definitely die without medical treatment, but his reduced odds are pretty easily quantifiable.

      In the Obamacare v. the Catlcks case, there’s no necessary either/or.  If the state indeed has a compelling interest here, then it can finance it with a half-hour’s worth of our annual deficit and we have one less political football to kick.


      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        So, I’m probably going to ask you at some point to walk through this with me.  (I get you may not have time today/tonight).  Because I know you well enough to know that what I’m about to say isn’t the way it goes through your mind, but to my mind it looks a lot like “we grant religious freedom except when we don’t>”  What am I missing?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        My own view of church and state has been accommodationist—as opposed to strict separationist, the latter I think is totally out of sync with the Founding principles.

        But, interestingly, a strict separationist (like me) can come down on the same side of the contraception issue (as I sortof, without being absolutely sure) do. While an accomodationist approach might get you there, too, I don’t think a strict separationist can easily end up elsewhere.Report

  5. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Seems to me the argument against “sacrificing your children” swings the other way as well for abortion.  The state here, and pro-lifers in the latter, argue there’s more than one person’s life and liberty at stake.  The rest follows.

    As for “natural law,” I would say the Followers of Christ position is fideistic, i.e., depending on divine intercession, anything but “natural.”  Natural law is quite reasonable, for its tenets must be proven out [or at least not contradicted] in real life to qualify as a “natural” law, that is, subject to a posteriori verification.

    If you don’t medically treat your kids and they die more often, that’s a violation of natural law, not an embrace.  Natural law theory holds first and foremost that human reason, although flawed, is natural, and is to be used, not shunned in favor of fideism.

    [Had G-d let Abraham kill Isaac, we’d be on a whole different trip.  But He didn’t and that’s why Jews are reasonable, not fideists.]Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Yeah, I was going to say that I think (could be wrong) that one of the important ideas in natural law is that you have a right to survival that can’t be taken away from you without violating the natural order. Granted, by your actions you can forfeit that right, but that sure aint applicable here.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Natural law theory holds first and foremost that human reason, although flawed, is natural, and is to be used, not shunned in favor of fideism.

      Now that’s a natural law theory I can get behind!Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        Asimov wrote about that extensively. I forget what his examples were.
        The premise is that the ethical considerations before us inevitably become more complex as technology advances.
        Actually, I scared myself in typing that last sentence. I suppose I’m really not that optimistic.
        At any rate, say there is some new heart procedure developed. Before that time, ethical considerations as to its use would be null. The development of that technology brings ethical questions concerning its use. We can take either side, but the issue simply wasn’t there before without the technology.

        There’s more to complete the thought, but I’m tired of typing and want to finish reading through the thread. These are the notes of what I was going to touch upon:
        New ethical concerns predicated upon older ones
        No new liberties, rights, or freedoms, but older ones being recognized in new form
        Possible overemphasis on certain aspects of mental function
        Consciousness, rationality
        Apes used in lab experiments taught to sign
        Intelligence, sentience, and being

        If I didn’t hate outline form so much, I might try commenting in it.
        In fact, now that I’ve thought of it, I’m beginning to like the idea.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        That’s all a “natural law” could ever be, Kyle. If it can’t stand up to reality and reason, it’s toejam.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My take on the Followers of Christ is that this is somewhat straightforward.

    The child has rights. The parents, by withholding medical care, are causing harm to their children. It seems to me that we, as a society, should be able to intervene in the same way that we intervene when a parent withholds nutrition (we are *WELL* past “give that kid some chicken nuggets!” territory here).

    Let them turn down health care when they turn 18.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      I don’t think it’s that easy. The Beagleys aren’t monsters, after all; I’m sure this was unimaginably hard for them, and that they wept many bitter tears, and perhaps prayed as their son  weakened that he take them instead.  They were doing what they thought was right, obeying God’s law and ensuring their son’s eternal life, rather than trading that for a few extra years here on Earth.  If the state intervenes, it asserts that their beliefs are false and their practice forbidden.

      Were this up to me, that is the decision I’d make, and I’d lose no sleep over it.  But I wouldn’t shy away from what it really means.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

         he take them instead

        Should be ” He take them instead”.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        This sort of sums up my thoughts.  The parents were engaged in what is probably best described as a misguided act of love.  To bring it full circle, I have trouble characterizing the Church’s actions as such.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Let’s ask instead “Who told the Beagleys treating their child was against God’s laws?”

        That question might bring this problem into the proper scope of action.   When LDS was just about to lose its tax-exempt status over the issue of blacks in their congregations, seems the Lawd suddenly revised his opinions on the subject of the Sons of Ham.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t think that they’re monsters and wouldn’t argue that they are. However, one of the reasons I consider abortion morally wrong is because I do tend to think that there are rights of the baby that deserve protecting. Additionally, in any given discussion of the importance of a social safety net, the thing that always comes up is “the children” and their importance.

        The kid is not old enough to make an informed decision on his or her own behalf and the parents, as wonderful as they are, are being negligent with regards to the individual they chose to put in their own care.

        This is one of the reasons we have a state. If it fails here, then we’re stuck with stuff like “shrimp treadmills” and “the war on drugs”.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

          I don’t understand your last paragraph?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

            I found myself almost writing a rant, pared it down into that, and dumped the comment before I started yelling.

            Here’s an attempt at the non-crazy version of the rant:

            The state sticks its nose into every area of our lives without regard to a right to privacy. There’s a war on drugs that shoots people over marijuana, wastefraudandabuse that is divorced from oversight, spending divorced from taxation, the people divorced from representation. Every year, the ratchet tightens rather than loosens, the tax code gets more complicated, the TSA gets more funding, and the executive kills more people without trial.

            Libertarians, more often than not, get mocked and told that if they don’t like it, they should just move to Somalia.

            Here’s a case where an individual’s life is in danger and the state has opportunity to intervene. If there is a point to having a state in the first place, it’s for crap like this. If we, as a society, decide to not intervene here, then under what auspices do we kick in doors and shoot people for getting high? How in the flying fuck do we justify taking tax dollars from people and paying for shrimp treadmills?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

              Yeah yeah.  Our Gummint, Turrable Knuckleheads.   Would that the government did stick its nose into some people’s lives, especially their corporate financial statements instead of nestling that nose between the buttocks of well-heeled political donors to create the yawning chasms between spending and taxation in the form of subsidies for petroleum and sugar companies and tax loopholes big enough to drive a main battle tank through.

              Want a simpler tax code?   Want a stronger Fourth Amendment?  Maybe we need more government, not less.   The one we’ve got right now is bought and paid for by these wonderful corporations some folks think might solve our problems.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yes, we need a better government. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Genius!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                What a concept, eh?   One in which Conservatives and Liberals and well, just anyone might have have a say.   But as we all know, when it comes to the real world, the one where money talks and hoi-polloi get to wave placards and make silly noises in the park, some are more equal than others.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                Perhaps in deference to our Libertarian brethren, I should probably retract that More Government business.   But even they would say we need Enough Government, especially in the matters of Force and Fraud.

                In a world where BlaiseP ran the show, I would send the royal chariots up to Libertarianville to bring forth from thence platoons and companies of grim Ministers of Efficiency to go through the bureaucracy like a dose of salts.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The federal government is quite different from the states procedurally.
                Federal laws most often go unenforced. The federal authorities rely upon the local authorities until a certain threshold level is met.
                For most cases involving fraud, that threshold level is $60,000.
                I think that the threshold for fraud against the government is much higher.Report

            • Avatar BradK in reply to Jaybird says:

              We kick in doors and shoot people (and their little dogs too!) because society has decided, for better or worse, that we all must be protected from those to choose use non-socially acceptable drugs in the confines of their own homes.  It’s easier to just shoot them in the name of all that is righteous.

              I’m willing to bet that a lot of the same folks that support the WoD also support total and absolute religious freedom to the point of killing your children in order to save their souls, while the other lot who is bound and determined to use non-approved drugs whatever the gov’t tells them are fine with the very same gov’t intervening in the non-approved (that is, denying medical care) rearing of children.

              And neither side will give an inch to the other.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

          “shrimp treadmills” 

          Maybe that was dumb, but  I tend not to dismiss basic research because it can be made to sound silly.Report

  7. Avatar BSK says:

    Maybe I’m crazy, but this is not so cut-and-dry for me.

    What is the threshold that a parent must reach in seeking care?  There is a lot of real estate between what the folks did here and sparing no expense to get top notch medical care.

    First off, I’d draw a line between doing nothing and doing something actively harmful.

    Second, I’d look at what is known at the time.  The OP refers to the cause of death as “undiagnosed”, which seems to tell me that the parents did not know what was wrong.  We’re left to examine how the boy communicated his discomfort and what we can reasonably expect parents (who presumably lack any medical training or knowledge) to conclude from this communication.

    Third, I’d look at the wishes of the child, with the weight of their wishes proportional to their age/developmental stage.  If the 16-year-old sought medical care and was actively denied by their parent, that is a different scenario than if the child consented to the practice.

    I find it easier to be sympathetic to the parents in this scenario than the Church in the other.  Maybe I’m crazy, maybe my bias against my former Church is showing… who knows.  To me, I find it more troublesome for the government to tell parents they MUST pursue medical that violates their religion than to tell religious institutions that they must provide insurance coverage for medicines to their employees that violates their religion.

    There is an interesting book related to this subject here.  It is called “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”  It documents the real life story of a Hmong family whose daughter is afflicted with a seizure disorder.  Informed by their faith and culture, the parents view her disorder as a blessing and, when encouraged to seek treatment, turn to traditional methods.  Various state agencies intervene.  Conflict after conflict arise, exacerbated by breakdowns in communication (most of the members of the family speak little or no English), cultural assumptions, a lack of trust, and pretty much everything else you could expect in a traditional “clash of cultures”. Fascinating read that does a pretty good job of being even handed in its treatment of the involved parties.

    See more here:

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:

      First off, I’d draw a line between doing nothing and doing something actively harmful.

      This doesn’t work for me.

      It works fine for self-actualized adults.  If you jump off a bridge to kill yourself, I’m under no obligation to stop you.  If you’re standing on a bridge and I start yelling at you to jump and you do, I’m a horrible person but you’re under no obligation to listen to me and in any event, the active harm isn’t something the state should step in to halt.  We can go around that maypole forever, digging away at the weeds.

      Children are something else.  If there is no positive obligation on the part of the parent for the child, there is nothing to parenting that holds any status that is remarkable in any way.  I can’t square that, myself.

      I’d draw a line between doing nothing and doing something actively harmful when the two parties are unaffiliated adults.  I don’t draw that line between parents and children.

      You have an obligation to be more than just “not actively harmful”.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I have a problem with that second example, and I was trying to think of exactly why.
        I believe it has to do with self-actualization as a fluid state. While we know that, as persons, we experience times of vulnerability, the exploitation of those vulnerabilities can sometimes call into question ethical concerns, and at times those ethical concerns may arise to the level of criminality.
        In fact, I seem to remember the case of a man from Minnesota who got his kicks from meeting people on the internet and encouraging them to suicide.
        Some jurisdictional concerns with that one. May be found here.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I was unclear. The line I’d draw between a negative action and the lack of a positive action is not intended to separate good from bad or acceptable from unacceptable… More like bad from worse. Praying over your dying child who could be saved with a doctor’s help is problematic; pouring bleach down his throat is worse.

        Still, we need to draw a line. Would we prosecute parents who pursued less traditional and less effective means like accupuncture, herbology, or reflexology? What about parents who pursued highly effective but illegal means? In the latter, it seems a bit like the state trying to have it both ways: yes, you must treat your child in an effective manner but only if we approve of the manner. Would we be as likely to cry foul if the parents were immigrants or Native Americans utilizing thousand year old traditional methodologies just as ineffective as prayer? I suspect the answer to this might be no or, at least, might be treated differently, which says a lot about somthing I can’t quite articulate at this moment.Report

        • Avatar Matty in reply to BSK says:

          Surely the issue is what treatment the child didn’t get, not what they did get. I doubt you’ll find a case of people being prosecuted for taking a child to the doctor and also praying and laying on hands. That the parents refused mainstream treatment is the issue not what else they tried.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Matty says:

            “That the parents refused mainstream treatment is the issue…”

            The problem is that “mainstream treatment” is constantly changing for a whole host of reasons.  There was a time where prayer was a “mainstream treatment” and not (only) because of a greater prominence of faith but because there weren’t much better options out there.  It no longer is.  At least not here in America.

            Are you comfortable building a legal and moral code on a baseline that is relative by its very definition?Report

            • Avatar NoPublic in reply to BSK says:

              Are you comfortable building a legal and moral code on a baseline that is relative by its very definition?

              See also obscenity, torture, et al.Report

  8. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    The parents already had this happening in the family before, with the death of a granddaughter. I don’t understand how people can still hold so fast to a certain belief after an experience like that, to repeat the same thing again, and maybe again and again.

    The Beagleys are decent people who made a fatal mistake, said juror Robert Zegar. The couple should have known their son needed more than prayer, but they ignored warnings, including the death of another family member, Zegar said.
    Last summer, another jury found church members Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington not guilty of manslaughter in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava. Raylene Worthington is the Beagley’s daughter and Neil Beagley’s sister. Carl Worthington was convicted on a lesser charge.


    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Faith and meaning take people to different places.

      If you believe that human life has meaning beyond its end in this Universe, then the end is just a transition state; worthy of note, certainly, but not necessarily sorrow.  Celebration, in some cases.

      Celebration for life in others.  You find the meaning in the faith.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I get believing in an Afterlife. It’ just …well, when something like that happens in YOUR OWN family, you’d think people would take some time to reflect about the belief that causes that death (I’m not talking about belief in God, I’m talking about the belief that leads to refusal to seek medical treatment). I’m sure the Beagleys have seen plenty of children in their faith dying because of that belief over the years, but you would think that when one of those children was your own granddaughter, there would have been some doubts and reflecting over that belief. Instead, they holds fast, and lost a son.Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    For me, the Constitution, or at least the body of law that interprets and applies it, comes to the rescue here with a handy-dandy guide.

    The state may interfere with the exercise of an individual’s fundamental rights in order to protect a compelling public interest and so long as it does so in a manner narrowly-tailored to realize that interest. The preservation of human life is a compelling public interest. The state may mandate that a parent obtain reasonable medical care to protect the life, health, and safety of a child — and indeed, if the child is the ward of the adult in question, the state may properly see to it that the person charged with such custody discharge that responsibility with a degree of care that it would not assign to a non-parent.

    Why not prohibit abortion, then? One, the state is not obliged to prohibit it; two, it remains unclear that the as-yet unborn fetus is properly considered a human.

    I’ve opined that the contraception mandate for insurance ought to be excepted in cases where the owner of the insurance policy, who ultimately pays the bills, ought to be given a narrow exception if that owner is a bona fide religious institution. I’m not so sure that a university or a hospital affiliated with a religious institution is, itself, a religious institution, so I lean towards making Georgetown University Medical Center comply with the mandate (favoring state intervention) but against the administrative apparatus of the Society of Jesus do the same.

    So on these sorts of issues, I turn out to be a statist, even though I like to call myself a libertarian. Perhaps I am not really a libertarian after all. So, like Tod in the OP, I find myself gloriously muddled rather than married to an ideological absolute.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I wouldn’t say you and Tod are muddled, Burt, gloriously or otherwise.  Navigating these moral/political conflicts requires phronesis.  Ethics can be complicated and situational without being muddled.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt, so is it the case that you think that a structure of exemptions to the enforcement of otherwise applicable laws is the way that the First Amendment was meant to, or otherwise should, be applied as a constraint on what the government may require of citizens?  In other words, you don’t believe it is that case that the First Amendment actually bars the enactment of a law that would “prohibit the free exercise of religion” so long as exemptions are given in the particular cases where that actually happens?Report

      • In general terms, I do not think that reading any right articulated in the Constitution as absolute is either a fair reading or consistent with the original intent of the authors. I do not think that interpreting any such right as absolute would be a good idea, either.

        As to original intent and the First Amendment: it is a fair extrapolation to say that defamation torts (libel and slander) were always intended to be part of the legal background by the Framers. But libel and slander clearly restrain absolutely free speech. State law claims, you say? Sure, except the Constitution authorizes exclusive Federal jurisdiction in the district set aside for the seat of government, which became D.C. It would be ridiculous to say that D.C. was intended to be a “safe for slander” zone. As to a fair reading of the term “freedom of speech,” again it would be ridiculous to say that we tolerate free speech in all cases without consequence. Some things must be enforcably unsaid — classified security information, for instance. For this reason also, it’s bad policy to have absolutely unrestrained speech. Easy enough; the question is where do we draw such lines and still preserve meaningful free speech. “Fighting words” are intellectually troublesome to me, for instance — the government has a compelling interest in preventing violence, but on the other hand people should be allowed to express their distaste for one another. So while I dislike the idea of bullying, I am wary of anti-bullying laws that reach speech alone.

        Your last question — “it is that case that the First Amendment actually bars the enactment of a law that would ‘prohibit the free exercise of religion’ so long as exemptions are given in the particular cases where that actually happens?” — I’m sorry to say doesn’t make much sense to me. (Granted that I haven’t been bringing my “A” game here at the League for a few days thanks to a lot of meatworld stress.) If exemptions are granted in every case where a law would otherwise ahve effect, it doesn’t strike me as much of a law at all. Such a law could be passed, I suppose, but I’d object to it — if on its face every time the law were enforced it worked a violation of free exercise, I’d probably agree that practical experience demonstrated the unconstitutionality of the law. Or, if exemptions are granted in a few cases and the law is otherwise generally enforced, then that makes more sense to me and we can look at whether the reason for granting the exemptions is proper and appropriate. I hope that at least addresses your question.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:


          Thanks – the second part of your response does substantially answer my question as to your view.  On the first part, I was actually just asking basically the same question, not anything about how absolute you think the provisions of the amendment are substantively.  Basically, I’m just intrigued by this practice of making laws pass constitutional muster by giving exemptions from enforcement (or applicability) to particular groups of people.Report

  10. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    I did find the White House’s original mandate to be wholly unacceptable. And I find that their subsequent compromise, while workable, still seems a potential intrusion with  which I do not feel 100% comfortable. However, there is no question in my mind that the Followers of Christ should not be allowed to sacrifice their own children to beliefs I find superstitious – or, as Jaybird might say to hammer home how prejudiced I am being, “silly.”

    This is more or less where I am, and there’s no necessary inconsistency in being here.  In both cases we have a conflict of values and principles, neither of which, generally speaking, always has or should have the high ground.  Therefore each case has to be assessed and judged on its own merits.

    So how are these two cases different?  In the conflict between the Catholic Church and the HHS, neither side is being morally unreasonable, i.e., contrary to reason given its moral premises.  The Catholic Church opposes being forced to materially cooperate with acts it deems immoral, acts that could receive material cooperation from elsewhere; whereas the HHS, in viewing contraceptives as a good and, for some, a real need, wants universal access to them.  Despite their differences and incompatibility, both positions make moral sense given their own terms.  The Church’s understanding of human sexuality and material cooperation with evil may be silly, even wrong, but it isn’t, in itself, harmful (which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be harmful in other contexts) when the support it is being required to provide could be provided from elsewhere.  In the case of faith healing, though, there’s really no getting around the harm (potential and real) and therefore the moral irrationality of the position.  In this case, the conflict isn’t only between secular reasoning and religious belief, but also between moral reasoning and immoral unreasoning.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      So Kyle, here’s the thing.  You, Tom, BradK and others argue pretty convincingly that it works like this:

      1. Man uses reason to create an ethical system

      2. Man observes world

      3. Man makes judgements based on reasoned ethical system

      That might well be right.  But I can’t shake the feeling that even though we tell ourselves that the above is true, what really happens is closer to:

      1. Man develops moral system over time without even realizing he is doing so

      2. Man observes world

      3. Man uses reason to back his ethics into a predetermined chosen political philosophy

      4. Man convinces himself that the political philosophy is the source of his ethics.

      (I freely admit that this is so bouncing around in my head that it may well make zero sense written down.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Reason is the slave of the passions?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

          Maybe not the slave.  But I think when the spouse is out of town, reason calls up passion and asks to be tied to the bedposts for a few hours.Report

        • “Reason is the slave of the passions?”

          That’s Hume, Stillwater.  Surely you toy with us here, you manifestly gorgeous philosophical beast.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            TVD, maybe a little. If the standard reading of Hume’s claim is right, most of the disagreements we’ve been engaging in over the last few days are intractable, no? There is a surface patina of rationality and what appear to be attempts at reasoned debate to convince others, but there really is no disagreement at all – just different emotions experienced by each party. And the justifications we offer for our own views as well as the criticisms of other’s are nothing more than our own attempts to subjectively rationalize our emotions and accompanying actions.

            I’m very sympathetic to the idea that to try to refute Hume lands a person in a particularly unpleasant realm of hell, but I can’t agree with him on this except at the most trivial of levels (which is what I think he meant – so I’m saved from the fires of perdition): that at root, emotions are necessary to cause actions since reason itself has no causal power. It seems obvious to me – and descriptively accurate! – that a person can make an emotional commitment to be guided by reason as a check, or constraint, on the passions. Reason, for example, is how a person comes to ‘know thyself’. And by doing so a person can realize that many of the passions he/she experiences don’t in fact serve their interests at all.

            To what degree this is the case is a subject for social scientists to explore, but it certainly seems possible, and in fact frequent.


        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

          No. Reason abets passion (or convention). She is a more supple actor than we would prefer her to be.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Or is it: reason is the slave of convention?Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        You missed “man cherry-picks observations about the real world to build the case that reinforces his ethical system to produce his desired outcomes.”Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        man develops moral system through his experiences. Man’s moral system is if not purely emotional, definitely using emotions to get its point across.Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        Overall, your sense of what really happens may be correct.  The two descriptions are not mutually exclusive: they could describe what’s really happening in the same person.  On some questions, I may be genuinely thinking ethically; in others, I may be subconsciously allowing my political/moral prejudices to set the stage for my ethical language.  Even on the same question, I could be doing both.

        A little quibble with your list: I would say that the former, at least, begins with observation.  Ethics needs a referent.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Your second series is closer to the way psychologists and anthropologists view morality and moral psychology, for what it’s worth. Much work has been done since then, but the basic outline of the way psychologists see things, can be found in “The emotional dog and its rational tail“.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I really hope that my ethics are not derived from a political philosophy, the other way round maybe but to treat opinions on the proper role of the state as prior to opinions on how I ought to behave sounds very wrong somehow.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    In thinking about it some more, I began to wonder “what would intervention look like *IN PRACTICE*?”

    At which point I started to waver.

    It’s easy to say “something needs to be done!”

    “So we need to hire someone to go to these peoples’ houses and physically look at each child. If a child looks sickly, we need to hire another someone to grab the kid and another person to be the driver to take the kid to the doctor. Then take the kid back home and kick him out of the car as you go past the driveway. Easy peasy!”

    Children dying is easy to get outraged about. It’s also easy to create cures worse than the disease. We weren’t able to save Deamonte Driver despite setting up Medicaid. I doubt that a government program would have saved this poor child. No matter how well-intentioned.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      That’s nonsense.  Society has every right to intervene in a situation where a child is being abused.   You posit some wretched scheme where the Cure is worse than the Disease, in this case some cultish adherence to unscientific nonsense.   I’ve seen this all my life, as dying children were finally hauled into my mother’s dispensary for maganin kufr, the heathen’s medicine, after the local shaman’s cure, to wit, an amulet containing a written verse from the Qu’ran, had failed to produce the desired results.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Blaise, you’re justifiably fond of the old saw to illustrate a point, so let me throw one atcha.

        When I was younger than my children are now, we lived in what would charitably be called a marginal neighborhood.  Time has turned it into a neat little middle class place, but at the time the folks on the block were those not of great means.

        One guy used to beat his kids.  My mother, the liberal, called CPS.  They came out, did an interview, and left.  In retaliation, the guy seriously beat up his daughter.  Horribly.  I can imagine the words out of the guy’s mouth…  “Take this, you rat, whoever you are in my neighborhood.  I’m doing it again, because you stuck your nose in my business, and I dare you to call CPS again because I’ll straight kill this child of mine if you do.”

        Nobody called.  The idea that CPS might come out, and do another interview, and not find cause to take the child out, or get some b.s. excuse that they might accept, or maybe the guy in charge of that local office didn’t like paperwork… who knows what everyone in the neighborhood was thinking.

        I know what they weren’t thinking.  They weren’t thinking, “I’m going to go over there and tell that son of a bitch that I’ll kill him myself if he ever puts another hand on that child, and then beat him with a tire iron to make sure he gets the point, and go to jail over it if I have to.”  Not that I recommend that as a course of action, mind you, but when you get right down to it, there’s a corollary to “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  The good men have to know what to do.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          I support extralegal action in extreme cases. Note, though, that extralegal action need not be violent.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          My ancestors have been here in the USA almost twice as long as it’s been a country.   My ancestors, upon hearing of a particularly bad incident, took to their horses and paid a visit to just such an abuser, tied him to a pillar of his front porch and whipped him with a chain in the sight of his wife and children, whom he’d been abusing.

          There’s my old saw to illustrate how things used to be.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

            That’s a good one.

            Now that “way things used to be” came with a lot of baggage.  And the way things were 37 years ago came with a lot of baggage, too.  Putting the two things together in toto and lookin’ at ’em from a vantage point of totality, I’m inclined to pick 37 years ago over 200.

            This sucks an awful lot for that kid, though.  We trade her pain for a lack of honor killings, and a lack of lynchings, and a lack of vigilantism, and a lot of other things that also suck.  I can’t claim that its better.

            I hope I’m never faced with such a dilemma, myself.  I’m sure I’d not like the outcome.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              I favour the rule of law in such things.   I don’t want vigilantes running around with tire irons.


              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Me too.  But as a creation of Humankind, the Law is incomplete, imprecise, and incorrect.

                This leads to small children being beaten, and the Law won’t cover all those cases.  And the more we try, the more false positives we’ll catch.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Oh, that’s such an ivory tower pantload at terminal velocity, Patrick.   Because the best is the enemy of the good, therefore society ought to do — what, exactly?


              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Oh, I’m not saying nothing should be done, Blaise.  I’m just acknowledging that whatever is done is going to produce a mixed bag of results, and that someone should keep testing that mixed bag to make sure it doesn’t get too imbalanced one way or the other.

                I’m not a fan of, “Put clamps on everyone’s genitalia by law until they are licensed to be a parent,” nor am I a fan of, “Just beat the guy with a tire iron”.

                But when you get down into the practicals, you have to keep your eye on the ball.  Far too often these policy areas people get too focused on “parental rights” or “protecting the children” and I’m sitting in the middle wishing both of those groups of people would pull their head out of their ass and put their eye back on the ball.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                We know what you’re Not Saying.   Once again, it’s Quotation Disease.

                Now I’d appreciate it if your next comment would explain what you Are Saying. With some of those Practicals of which you keep talking.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Are you asking what I think CPS  should look like?

                I think that’s a fair question.  I will ponder.

                I expect I will come down pretty hard on some things that will make both the “rights of the parents” and the “protect the children” people very angry at me.Report

        • Avatar Renee in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          ‘”All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  The good men have to know what to do.’

          This is awesome Patrick. And it captures a lot of my wariness with US foreign policy.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Society has every right 

        If we begin by reifying and anthropomorphizing the concept of society, there’s nothing that isn’t justified.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

          Interesting word, reify.    My Dad dug those kids’ graves.   Those kids were my age.   What a load of pernicious old crap, James:  this wasn’t theoretical.

          In the face of death, we are left, like Job, speechless.   That you can find it in your heart to say everything is justified by anthropomorphizing Society implies you YOURSELF believe not-intervening is even more justified.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Individuals are capable of a lot. They are capable of things that institutional programs are not.

            Now, of course, programs are capable of doing things that individuals aren’t (large scopes, for example) but… using the outcomes of the one as justification for the other is well-trod ground.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

              More bogeyman finger-wriggling.   Individuals comprise your much-hated Institutional Programs.

              And any sentence with “But” in it might as well start with “No.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Let me think about this, actually…

                I am a big fan of saying “if an individual has the right to X, then a collection of individuals would similarly have a right to X”.

                Rights don’t work like results, though.

                Institutions have different incentives than individuals and the assumption that because an individual is capable of achieving X, therefore, an institution is capable of delivering multiples of X is not necessarily the case. (It’s also not the case that since an institution of 4000 can provide 4000X, that a single person should be able to provide 1X.)

                It depends on what we’re trying to deliver in each case. If we’re trying to deliver staples, economies of scale are FM. Friggin’ Magic, baby.

                When it comes to something like “raising children”? This requires no more than a village (and often much, much less).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                It all comes down to individuals, Jaybird.   But an individual can only do so much without an organization to support him.   Organizations don’t help anyone.   Someone has to set the bone.   Someone has to administer the antibiotic.

                Bonhoeffer said action doesn’t arise from thought.   Action emerges when we’re ready for responsibility.   We are our brothers’ keepers.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                .. and someone has to intervene when a child’s being abused.   Your definition of an Organization is so deeply flawed I hardly know where to start.   The fact remains, abusers ought to be separated from those they abuse by lawful means.   If you can’t get that far, welcome to Laputa.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Read the original post again. We’re already there.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                No we’re not.   Wherein lies this Dreadful Cure, so much worse than the Disease?

                Now you may doubt that a government program would have saved this poor child, no matter how well-intentioned.   Have these doubts somehow been assuaged?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Your definition of an Organization is so deeply flawed I hardly know where to start. 

                I have a good friend who always uses that phrasing.  Invariably it turns out that the real meaning is, “That sounds really really wrong to me but I don’t understand the topic well enough come up with any actual specific critique.”

                Maybe that doesn’t apply here, but that’s been my experience.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Once again, folks be getting Quotation Disease.   First symptom is a Straw Man Erection.   An organization is composed of people.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                An organization is composed of people.

                Who said otherwise? As far as I could tell, Jaybird was distinguishing between solitary individuals and bureaucratically organized groups of individuals. There’s not much wrong with that distinction as far as I can tell.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Here’s where:

                I doubt that a government program would have saved this poor child. No matter how well-intentioned.

                Now, using a bit of algebraic substitution, we pull “government program” and substitute its equivalent  “someone empowered by law to act on behalf of a child at risk of dying from an untreated disease” and apply a name, “Neil Beagley”  in place of “this poor child” and we arrive at one person saving another from dying.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Interesting word, reify.    My Dad dug those kids’ graves.   Those kids were my age.   What a load of pernicious old crap, James:  this wasn’t theoretical.

            Appeal to emotion.

            That you can find it in your heart to say everything is justified by anthropomorphizing Society implies you YOURSELF believe not-intervening is even more justified.

            No, it doesn’t. It just means I think you’re coming at it from the wrong angle; from the rights of society rather than the rights of the children.  One of those ways doesn’t provide an open-ended justification; the other does.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              Wrong-o.   I’m not reifying anything.   Some organization isn’t going to save a child.   An enforced law might save that child, provided someone enforced it.   I’m not going to wade into that situation as a civilian.   I want the law on my side and an officer of that law on duty to act.   I want that parent to be found guilty of neglect, perfectly reasonable statute, and a guardian ad litem to manage the welfare of that child until such time as a court sees fit.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Perhaps if we invaded the countries where such amulets were handed out, painted schools and such, we’d be greeted as liberators.

        With flowers.Report

  12. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I don’t see any contradiction at all, but I don’t really see the contraception issue as an issue of religious freedom, but rather of economic freedom. An employer’s money is his own, and it’s none of my goddamned business what he chooses to buy or not to buy with it. If he wants to use it to provide his employees with health insurance that covers contraceptives, great. If he wants to use it to provide his employees with health insurance that doesn’t cover contraceptives, that’s fine, too. Or if he just wants to pay them cash, I have no objection to that, either. It’s not my money, so it’s not my decision to make.

    I don’t think we should make an exception for people with strong religious convictions–I just don’t think it should be required at all.

    So I’m not even tempted to make an exception for people with strong religious convictions when it comes to incontrovertibly necessary medical treatments. You don’t get to withhold food from your children, and you don’t get to withhold necessary medical treatments, either. If your religion says otherwise, that carries about as much weight as if your religion says you have to ritually sacrifice your children. Which is pretty much what withholding necessary medical treatments is.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      If your religion says otherwise, that carries about as much weight as if your religion says you have to ritually sacrifice your children. Which is pretty much what withholding necessary medical treatments is.


    • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I don’t see any contradiction at all, but I don’t really see the contraception issue as an issue of religious freedom, but rather of economic freedom. An employer’s money is his own, and it’s none of my goddamned business what he chooses to buy or not to buy with it.

      Exactly when does employee compensation become the employee’s money and not the employer’s?  Because that’s what we’re talking about here, employee compensation.  I don’t see how it is the employer’s money any more than my pension or my salary are.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to NoPublic says:

        Exactly- My employer provides me with an insurance plan, and also a monthly rail pass.

        If the company purchased the rail pass and gave it to me, would it be “their money”? Or if they reimburse me for the pass is it “my money”? Or if they just added that amount to my monthly paycheck whose money would it be?

        Its funny how executive level employees understand full well that everything that the company provides- a company car, a vacation condo, tickets to the luxury box- these are all “compensation” just as much as if they were cash.

        The contraceptive covereage is part of the employees compensation, and the employer’s religious beliefs have nothing to do with it.Report

  13. Avatar Will H. says:

    I have a basic distrust of government. I could add, “…and for good reason,” though I seem to trust that the function of government will perform as stated at the time in question.
    It seems to me like everyone that is all happy with the President’s compromise have all their eggs in one basket: that the policy of an administrative agency under the executive branch is binding on future administrations.
    I see another movement, one to tie health care even more tightly to the employer. I believe the long-term movement must be away from employer-based coverage, and so I see this as regressive in a number of ways.
    As for the churches in particular: What concerns me the most is that when government is given power, they very rarely concede that power. I don’t want the government to be involved in the workings of our churches.
    I don’t care if it’s not their primary mission. Churches provide valuable social services to their communities. A lot of people would be more happy if government were the only provider of services to the community, but I don’t trust that (and for good reason).

    I see as a related issue:
    Are 501(c)(3) groups bound by OHSA standards?

    But the mere mention of contraception/abortion/birth control changes the dynamic so out of whack the real underlying issues are very unlikely to see much daylight.Report

  14. Avatar BSK says:


    Would you support prosecuting a family who used accupuncture to ineffectively treat a child? Would your rsponse waiver at all if the family were recent east Asian immigrants as compared to hper religious American Christians?

    Would you support prosecuting a poor family living in deep Appalachia who used prayer because there were too many damned hurdles and/or they didn’t know how to acquire proper care?

    I ask because I wonder if at least part of the outrage felt is based on, “THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER,” which itself is based on, “They don’t seem all that different from me and *I* know better”.

    These are genuine questions/musings and are not meant to accuse anyone of anything… Only to encourage reflection on the possible source of our reactions to this story.Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

      I ask because I wonder if at least part of the outrage felt is based on, “THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER,” which itself is based on, “They don’t seem all that different from me and *I* know better”.

      I’ll cop to that sentiment, at least on an emotional gut level. Maybe that’s deplorable, and says something bad about me. But yeah, I would feel differently if the family uses prayer because they lack access to medical care.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:


        I’m offering no judgement on the having of that reaction.  Not here, not now at least.  But I do think there is value in examining why we feel the way we do about a given situation, which I think was Tod’s larger point: why does he feel one way about the one and a different about the other.  What I’m positing is that he may be generalizing in a way that is inappropriate: his feelings about state intervention in a parent’s care of their child might vary.  If so, this might be part of the reason for the “muddled” thinking.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BSK says:

      I support prosecuting people who use mercury as part of faith healing to the fullest extent of the law. No matter what religion/ethnicity they’re from.Report

  15. Avatar Chris says:

    Tod, I don’t think your positions here make you a “muddled thinker.” The two cases represent different, though substantially overlapping issues. It’s sort of like murder and killing in self-defense: different issues with substantial overlap. It’s possible to have different views on the two.

    In cases involving parents not seeking medical care for minors, we’re dealing with neglect and abuse, even if it’s in the name of religious beliefs (beating the shit out of a child with a stick because one’s religion says that’s what you do doesn’t mean beating the shit out of one’s child is not abuse). That neglect resulted in a child’s death. If states have any purpose, protecting those who cannot protect themselves should be a central part of that purpose, and in this case, that’s what the state needs to do.

    In the case of the contraception mandate, neglect and abuse of a minor isn’t at stake, nor anything remotely comporable to it. Instead, we have, on the one hand, religious liberty, and on the other, privacy, employee rights, and the medical status of prescription contraceptives. These are the issues that must be weighed, balanced, and decided on, and only one, religious liberty, is present in the other case.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Chris says:

      But the contraception issue still effects minors via family health-care plans offered by an employer with a religious affiliation. So the relevant scenarios are:

      1. A child is denied prescribed treatment because her parents’ religion forbids it.
      2. A child is denied prescribed treatment because her parents’ employer’s religion forbids it (and her parents cannot afford it otherwise).

      Ignoring the difference of cost/risk in these two specific situations (contraception vs. urinary blockage), the moral dilemma is: if I can only receive insurance through my employer, how culpable is the employer for the services they choose to exclude from the policy. Traditionally, if the service is deemed necessary enough we would simply have the state pitch in to cover it (as we do with food, housing, etc.); but our current system does not allow such a fix because insurance is wedded to employer.

      In such cases, we as a society accept that there are limits on what an employer can demand of their employee, even if the demand is not pure coercion: an employee cannot volunteer to work below certain minimum safety and wage conditions, or offer their life in exchange for salary to their descendants, for example. We consider these conditions to be beyond acceptance, and so we forbid an employer from demanding them. Likewise, if religious parents are amoral in volunteering their child to forego a medical procedure, then an employee must be amoral in volunteering to accept such a restriction from their employer; or, conversely, the employer is amoral in demanding such a restriction.

      So all we’re left with really is the cost/risk basis – is contraception necessary/expensive enough? As someone with no physiological skin in the game I can’t really answer that question without bias.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to trizzlor says:

        trizzlor, I think you’re right, ultimately, but I think in order to get there, there are things you have to consider in the mandate case that you don’t in other case. They are not strictly analogous for this reason, and therefore it’s possible to come to different conclusions in the two cases (again, I come to the same conclusion in both, but I see the routes to different conclusions, and they don’t involve muddled thinking).Report

  16. Tod,

    I don’t think what you describe is a mark of “imperfection” in a pragmatic.  I think it’s a feature, a reminder that anyone who claims to be pragmatic (in the ordinary sense of “pragmatism,” not necessarily in the philosophical sense, which I confess to knowing too little about) needs to, or implicitly does, subscribe to a prior set of values of what is good and what is bad, and what is important and what is less important.  (For the record, I share your dislike of people playing the “philosophy card,” but here I think the issue I bring up, whether or not it counts as according-to-Hoyle “philosophy,” is relevant to the discussion.)Report

  17. As is known, my position agrees with Burt’s above – but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. This was, incontrovertibly, an exercise of religion. As others point out, we can clear the moral hurdle here simply by pointing out that minors can’t grant consent in these scenarios (and so, therefore, can’t meaningfully have exercises of their own religions, although that seems like it will take us to a fun place). Kuznicki already thinks I’m a mouth-breathing statist because I don’t consider the traditional parent-child arrangement a particularly compelling reason to let children suffer, but I’m confident that this case is sufficiently horrific for even that not to matter much.

    The problem, of course, is that this case raises some of the specters I alluded to at the end of my previous long post on contraception – namely, once we agree there’s a line (i.e., we don’t accept a pure “statist” or “religious liberty” position, where those terms are in scare quotes precisely because I consider them both terrible descriptors of the positions being taken), how in the world do we draw it? Your position, and I suspect most everyone else’s in this thread, is “I know it when I see it”. Which may be a terrible way to run a moral philosophy, but’s it not obviously the wrong way to run a government.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to Ryan Bonneville says:


      This has been my repeated question.  Clearly a line exists… but where?  As I’ve mentioned in a few different parts of this thread, I think there is a lot that is going into what we are “seeing” and “knowing” about the given situations that do not properly get at the conflict between religious liberty and the state’s interest in the welfare of children.  For example, I know many liberals (I myself am a liberal but have worked hard to avoid such chicanery) who would quickly bash these folks as “Christian crazies” but would take a very different tact if they were a Native American family using century old practices of their ancestors (that were just as ineffective as prayers and hands); our very own TVD attempted to touch on this phenomenon when he highlighted the racial/ethnic breakdown of people who believed in divine intervention on behalf of Tebow.  Another commenter referred to “mainstream religion”, which in and of itself means that our line is arbitrary, culturally specific, and ever changing.  These seem like very unsound foundations for a moral code.

      Which doesn’t necessarily get us any closer to where to place that very important and very necessary line.  But I think the questions implied therein are ones we must seriously ask and consider before giving in to our “gut”, which a “I know it when I see it” approach does almost by definition.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to BSK says:

        Not much to add, because I think this is all good, but it’s also worth considering how often our decisions about what to take seriously go the other way. Perhaps the only reason we’ve wasted so much breath on the contraceptive issue is because we all think of Catholics as the “right” kind of religious people. If Muslims were the only group objecting to the contraceptive mandate, I have a very hard time imagining we’d still be talking about it.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to Ryan Bonneville says:

          Oh, no doubt!  Those who know me ’round these parts know that I am the first to point out the ways in which white, Judeo-Christian, straight privilege influence our responses!  In this particular instance, I think it is likely that being Christian and white might actually be working against them, at least in some circles.  To quote myself:  “I ask because I wonder if at least part of the outrage felt is based on, “THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER,” which itself is based on, “They don’t seem all that different from me and *I* know better”.”  It is far more often the case that “They don’t seem all that different from me” or “They do seem VERY different from me” is used to further white, Judeo-Christian, straight etc. etc. etc. privilege.  But it is right to point out when it is not.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

        No matter where the line is, dead kids with no ability to consent to refusal of medical treatment, regardless of whether we’re talking about Christians, pagans, Native Americans surely fall on one side, right? We can argue what constitutes the age of consent – maybe this dead 16-year-old boy should be considered old enough to refuse medical treatment, I don’t know – but 15-month-old babies like the Beagley’s grandchildren surely aren’t. I guess I don’t see the “I know it when I see it” approach as by definition wrong and misguided.Report

        • It’s only “wrong” in the sense that it’s fundamentally sort of half-logical. As I said, I think this mostly works for making laws – you have bright-line cases on either end, and you vote on the stuff in the middle.Report

        • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

          Sorry, it should be “granddaughter”, not “grandchildren”. And I’m not using the word “dead” here as some sort of emotional blackmail, emotional appeal, only to emphasise that in this case, we are talking about the loss of life, not just religious parents doing things to their kids that non-religious people find offensive or stupid.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:


          I agree that it ought not matter whether the child in question is Christian, pagan, or Pastafarian.  But if we are going with the “I know it when I see it approach” those facts are likely to play a role in our response.

          The question is… does it and should it matter if the parents did this because of a completely secular distrust for modern medicine versus doing it because of a religious distrust or rejection of modern medicine?  If we do decide that the state’s response should be different to the religiously motivated than to the non-religiously motivated, is that truly a separation of church and state?Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

            The question is… does it and should it matter if the parents did this because of a completely secular distrust for modern medicine versus doing it because of a religious distrust or rejection of modern medicine?  

            Well of course it shouldn’t matter, but as someone who is not religious myself, it’s possible I’m being biased in my reactions, sometimes without realizing it. The other thing is, except for the anti-vaccination crowd (ughh!), I don’t know that there a lot of people who refuse medical treatments for their children because of non-religious reasons. Now maybe this could be due to bias from the media as well, and these types of stories exist but are not reported, but most of the time when we hear something like this, it’s for religious reasons. So it’s hard to really evaluate whether our reactions would be different.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:

              Where do the Amish stand?  And how much of their lifestyle is religious and how much is more cultural?

              (These are genuine questions… I don’t know much about the folks.)Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

                The Supreme Court considers it based on religion, since they got a waiver from compulsory education based on the First Amendment.


                This part from the ruling is interesting:

                • Not all beliefs rise to the demands of the religious clause of the First Amendment. There needs to be evidence of true and objective religious practices, instead of an individual making his or her standards on such matters. The Amish way of life is one of deep religious convictions that stems from the Bible. It is determined by their religion, which involves their rejection of worldly goods and their living in the Biblical simplicity. The modern compulsory secondary education is in sharp conflict with their way of life.


              • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:

                Does this not, in a way, raise religious beliefs above non-religious beliefs?Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

                Well, that’s a side effect of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, no? Or how it is being interpreted anyway. I don’t find this case really troubling because, well, nobody’s dead in this scenario. That’s more an emotional response rather than logical, I know. If you read the dissent, Justice Douglas did touch on the rights of the children as opposed to purely the rights of the parents, but the other Justices thought that was not relevant.

                “I agree with the Court that the religious scruples of the Amish are opposed to the education of their children beyond the grade schools, yet I disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the matter is within the dispensation of parents alone. The Court’s analysis assumes that the only interests at stake in the case are those of the Amish parents on the one hand, and those of the State on the other. The difficulty with this approach is that, despite the Court’s claim, the parents are seeking to vindicate not only their own free exercise claims, but also those of their high-school-age children…. On this important and vital matter of education, I think the children should be entitled to be heard. While the parents, absent dissent, normally speak for the entire family, the education of the child is a matter on which the child will often have decided views. He may want to be a pianist or an astronaut or an oceanographer. To do so he will have to break from the Amish tradition. It is the future of the students, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today’s decision.

                I wonder if people like the Beagleys can bring a suit to say they should have never been prosecuted at all, based on this case law. But maybe there’s a more recent Supreme Court ruling on this, this one is from 1972.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:

                There is an interesting parallel between the school case and this one, insofar as both involve the future of the child.  As the Judge rightly points out, the child ought to have a greater say in such matters.

                To the original point, the quote cited in your previous comment does what I think the government ought not do, which is decide what religions or religious believes rise to the level of 1st Amendment protection.

                “There needs to be evidence of true and objective religious practices, instead of an individual making his or her standards on such matters.”

                That sentence means that the Church of BSK, membership of one, founded 19 seconds ago, does not enjoy the same protections and freedoms as the Roman Catholic Church, membership in the millions or billions, founded about 2 millenniums ago.  How is that not in and of itself a violation of the 1st?Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

                Of course the source is Wikipedia and teh Google, and I’m not a lawyer, so we’re probably not seeing the whole story there. The person we realy need is Mark Thompson. Mark? We’ll be very grateful 🙂Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

                Church of BSK sounds like an awesome place, BTW. As long as no tithing is required.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to sonmi451 says:

                Church of BSK has one tenet: Do your damned best to treat people in the manner they wish to be treated.

                Oh yea, one more: Don’t root against the good lord’s teams (those being the Eagles and Red Sox, with the latter possibly being under the direction of the dark lord).

                Hopefully Mark or Burt can weigh in.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to sonmi451 says:

                One important difference between the education case and the medical care case is that you can still life a happy and fulfilling life without a high school education, whereas that’s hard to achieve if you’re dead.

                As to the Amish, they do go for medical care, even immunizations, although their immunization rate reportedly is lower than in the general population.  That is, they’re somewhat less likely to get immunized, but there’s no religious proscription against it.  The lower rate may have to do with not being participants in insurance plans, so that they have to pay out of pocket for medical care.

                I think the Amish in general provide some difficult legal lines, because while they are religiously mandated to live simple lives that are set apart from society in general, specific applications of that are based on local rules and are pragmatic applications, so there’s much variation among them and it’s difficult to say that any particular rule is religiously required.  For example they can use telephones, or equipment that requires electricity or gas power, but they generally abstain as a pragmatic way of distancing themselves from the temptation/tendency to slide into a fully modern life.Report

              • Avatar BradK in reply to BSK says:

                Very interesting doc on Amish teenagers, Devil’s Playground.  Saw it some time ago so I don’t recall many of the details except the mail point:

                Unlike Christ Church, the Amish at least encourage their teenagers to experience the non-Amish world (I think for a whole year) and then to decide for themselves which life to choose.  Now that’s what I call religious freedom.  How many other faiths are so secure not only in their beliefs but in their appeal that they would suggest to potential congregants to first “sample other wares” before signing on?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BradK says:


                Yes, and no.  First, it’s not necessarily as well-defined a time period as one year.  The concept comes from their particular belief about the nature of the Christian community, which is that one has to voluntarily choose–as an adult–to join.  Theologically, they have a very strong free will and choice of redemption model.  They’re categorized as anabaptists, which originally was a pejorative term meaning “re” baptizers, because they disavowed infant baptism and required adult baptism as a conscious choice.

                Living in a relatively closed community (less so than Hutterites and assorted whacko cults, but still pretty darn insular), it’s hard to say someone’s made a conscious choice if they haven’t seen what the real world has to offer.  That’s why in adolescence they encourage a bit of looking around, preferably not too much–some of the stuff in the world isn’t a sin in itself, and that’s ok, but some things clearly are sinful and ideally should be avoided (but of course aren’t always).  But there’s no hard and fast deadline, along the lines of “you have one year to make your choice, in or out.”  Individuals being what they are, some are going to commit a lot faster than others, some will screw around longer, and of course some will never come back.

                But it’s not necessarily about confidence in their beliefs.  One the one had, their beliefs sort of require it, whether they’re very confident or not. (But I guess on that grounds just having the belief makes them more confident in it than, say, cults.)  But also, to not return to the community means to sever ties–it’s not just not going to church with them but still getting together for cookouts on Saturday or chatting on the phone once in a while–it’s a pretty complete disconnect.  And the difficulty of leaving one’s community and family in that way kind of undermines just how “free” the choice is–i.e., are those who return necessarily committing to the community of faith or just the community of family and friends.  Socially that may not matter much (I suspect it doesn’t), but theologically it sort of does.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to sonmi451 says:

              I know people who will not, under any circumstances, let their kids take medication for psychological issues and mental illness. I suppose it’s a little different to say “I don’t believe ADHD exists and do believe that depression is all in mind” than to say “I know such-and-such would help but I won’t allow it anyway”… but it’s a modest distinction, in my view. Especially when the first is tied with the belief that “Even if it does help, it’s just a crutch.”

              There is a more solid distinction when it comes to life-ending medical conditions and the treatments that would save them, I will grant.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to BSK says:

        I think this is how you do applied eithics, period. There are people here, I know, who are going to be absolutists about certain issues, but I think that has less to do with ethical than with political, and specifically partisan considerations (as evidenced by some of the language they use, such as talking about “wars” on various things). But if we’re going to discuss these things seriously, then those who are arguing that religious liberty should be the overriding consideration need to make that case by, among other things, showing how it outweighs the other considerations. On the other side, those who are arguing that medical or other considerations (privacy, employee rights, etc.) should be the overiding consideration(s) need to make that case by showing how it outweighs the religious liberty claims. This is why, as much as some people might want to deny it, considering how contraceptives are actually used in the real world is important, and it’s why it’s important to understand the extent to which the Church’s religious liberty is being violated.

        When it comes to gray areas like this, I always assume that the people who take a hard line on one side or the other are avoiding actually engaging the issue.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

          When it comes to gray areas like this, I always assume that the people who take a hard line on one side or the other are avoiding actually engaging the issue.

          Isn’t it possible to both a) consider the relevant arguments in a fair and impartial way and b) take a hard line one way or the other? Does the mere existence of counter-arguments mean that somone’s commitment to their view ought to be tempered by uncertainty?Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Stillwater says:

            It is certainly possible, but I think it tends towards being the exception.  As a rule of thumb, Chris’s assumption isn’t the worst one in the world.  People who exist in and insist upon a black-and-white world tend to not have explored the mushy gray area in the middle.  In some ways, the inverse is true: people who exist in and insist upon a totally gray world, wherein lines are never drawn and everything is sort of relative likely never had to draw a hard line in the sand or otherwise operate at the margins.

            What colors does that leave us?!?!

            My two cents: some things are black and white, some are shades of gray.  Sometimes I’m surprised by people who insist the world MUST be one way or the other, but not both.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to BSK says:

              BSK, right. I didn’t mean to imply that people can’t ultimately come to a conclusion, and then feel strongly about it. I just meant that people who suggest that only X matters, or only Y matters, in a situation where X and Y are anything but clear, are probably not considering either X or Y but making the decision for unrelated reasons (e.g., partisanship).Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BSK says:

              My phrasing involves matters of taste and matters of morality.

              It is true that many folks (everybody?) regularly mistakes one for the other.

              This should not be used as evidence that everything is a matter of taste (or, less often these days, that everything is a matter of morality).Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to BSK says:

          But I think the questions implied therein are ones we must seriously ask and consider before giving in to our “gut”, which a “I know it when I see it” approach does almost by definition

        Which is why I think that there is a systematic way to approach this. But first you have to pop in behind the veil of ignorance an ask what you would do if you had no idea about what the corrrect moral or religious doctrine was.

        To cut a long story short, your conclusion is going to be something like this:

        Ultimately, the purpose of the basic structure of society is to provide a framework in which a person (as an adult)can pursue his own conception of the good consistent with everyone else similarly pursuing theirs. Very straightforwardly, the duties that we would then owe to eachother are to first of all not interfere with eachother’s pursuit of the good and secondly,without interfering with the first, provide the means for everyone to pursue their own conception of the good. And because all adults were once children, all children have an intrest in surviving to reach adulthood more or less intact so that they can pursue their own conception of the good. Therefore, our duty to children is to make sure they reach adulthood. This duty towards children falls out of the same kinds of constraints that people should observe when pursuing their own conception of the good so that others are free to pursue theirs.

        The institution of the family  and the attendant prerogatives of parenthood are justified because they provide a division of labour as far as taking care of children’s interests are concerned. i.e. if we were to try to centrally raise children in a government run creche, we would do a bad job of it. This is why parents  ought to have certain legal duties towards their kids (and similarly adults should have certain legal duties to their elderly, retired parents) These prerogatives of parents are justified only to the extent that parents are performing their legal duties. Where they fail to do so the institution of legal parenthood and the attendent prerogatives are not justified and therefore can be over-ridden or even dissolved if necessary.

        Things may kind of get murky with respect to circumcision and religious indoctrination, but such a principle does allow us to draw a clear line with respect to urgent affordable medical treatment which has a high chance of saving a kid’s life (the beagly case). It also tells us why it is important that the means to pursue one’s conception of the good should not be provided in ways that would interfere with other people’s pursuit of their own conception of the good (the catholic church contraception coverage case).Report