“They Will Take Up Serpents…”

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Ryan Noonan
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    This is a nice case, because the rationale for a general ban on snake handling is fairly straightforward and doesn’t really have anything to do with religion. But disparate impact + First Amendment = probably not okay.Report

  2. Avatar Russell Saunders
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    I really don’t care if consenting adults want to handle poisonous snakes, for religious reasons or otherwise. I know we’re all leery of “but won’t someone think of the children??!?” arguments, but I do think it’s perfectly acceptable for society to prevent children from handling poisonous snakes. (To be fair, I have no idea what the religious beliefs of snake handlers are, and they could very well have those restrictions as part of their code already.) But if Wolford and his ilk want to wrangle themselves some pit vipers? OK by me. Hell, for all I care they could have ingested a heroic amount of peyote before doing it.

    I do hope he was honest in his insurance applications, and thus financed his own emergency care with sky-high premiums. Somehow I doubt that was the case.

    [Whoopsie. Reread the article, and so missed the part where adherents of the faith eschew emergency care. In which case, carry on!]

    And because I am a good person, I did not find the story the least little bit funny.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    I never understood how they regarded the preachers that get bit and die. Has God left them? It seems like a theological gap.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      It’s obvious. They’re not real Christians in their hearts. Otherwise…Report

      • Avatar karl in reply to Stillwater
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        This is from just one guy’s blog so take it FWIW:

        “First, the snake handling churches fairly quickly abandoned a triumphalistic stance toward snake handling. […] It quickly became clear that “the anointing”, the prompt of the Holy Ghost to move forward in worship to take up serpents, did not confer immunity to snakebite or snake venom. […] How to make sense of this experience?

        The first way of making sense is to blame the snakebite on some moral or spiritual failure. […]

        But this route to sense-making runs dry after awhile. It is difficult to keep a congregation motivated if you keep blaming them for snakebite. Again, the experience to be preserved is one of victory. Not just individually, but communally.

        In light of this the snake handling churches have centered their interpretation of victory upon the act of obedience. […] Examine the exact wording from the key text of Mark 16.17-18:

        ‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’

        Notice anything? There is no promise of immunity. All the text says is that them that believe shall “pick up snakes with their hands.” That’s it. That is the sign. It’s not immunity. It is, rather, simply picking the snakes up. Even if you get bit. Even if you die. […]

        In short, the miracle here isn’t external, it’s internal. It occurs within the heart of the believer, in the collective testimony of the community that death has no hold on them. They, in light of Christ, have no fear of death. And this isn’t a theological abstraction, it’s demonstrated in flesh and blood during every worship service. It is the sign of them that believe.”

        I still think they’re crazy.Report

  4. Avatar MikeSchilling
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    From Wikipedia:

    The states of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee have passed laws against the use of venomous snakes and/or other reptiles in a place that endangers the lives of others, or without a permit.

    Snake handling was made a felony punishable by death under Georgia law in 1941, following the death of a seven-year-old girl from a rattlesnake bite.

    Death penalty aside, these don’t seem unreasonable.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to MikeSchilling
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      We need trigger locks for snakes.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling
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      The dangers posed to others is real and should be considered. I think it is fair to say that random folks with little to no expertise about snakes are not allowed to bring them into public parks, where their escape can pose a real threat to folks who want nothing to do with them. I think there are a reasonable set of restrictions that can be imposed and which are more justified than many gun control efforts since a gun can’t shoot its owner, run away, and then shoot someone else. Exactly what those restrictions ought to be and how they are enforced, I don’t know. The ones quoted here seem reasonable: Either secure the snake in a space where only willing participants in the handling are (such as a private domicile) OR demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills to safely handle them in public.

      I don’t know that either should be illegal in the sense that someone has to go to jail over it. If some newbie is dangerously handling a snake in the park, send him on his way and/or remove the snake. Should the snake get away before such action can be taken, use existing criminal and civil law if and only if harm is done.Report

  5. Avatar dexter
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    I always thought snake handling was an excellent example of Darwin’s self-cleaning oven.Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko
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    No low hanging fruit here!

    Snake handling by a consenting adult is something I can see decriminalizing. Faith healing, less so. At least insofar as healing by faith becomes a decision imposed by one person on another. Not just parents but people who might be incompetent or incapacitated.

    And handling rattlesnakes incompetently carries its own death penalty already, so really, the state doesn’t need to do anything at all. The problem ought to self-correct over time.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird
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    I support the cryogenic freezing of the heads of people who have died from self-inflicted rattlesnake bites.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith
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        I could not tell from the data whether these were bites that had the benefit of post-bite medical assistance. But I’ve no doubt that bee stings can be more deadly; lots of people have an allergic, not just a toxic, reaction to bees.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko
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          They all seem to have been bitten repeatedly. I’m curious whether that makes further bites more or less deadly. If only there were a doctor nearby.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Burt Likko
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          Fun fact, bee venom is a principal ingredient in chemotherapy drugs.

          Different people will react to snake venom in different ways. Not all bites are equal, the snake may well choose to bite you but not waste his valuable venom, since you’re too big to eat anyway. This particular snake may well have had enough of Mr. Wolford and decided to give him the whole shebang.

          I’ve been on horses in Montana who were bitten by rattlers. The horse acted like it had been stung by a bee, no more no less. Of course we get rattler antivenom from horses so that might be a clue. Children are at the highest risk from snakebites because they just don’t have enough body mass relative to the (potential) amount of venom the snake released.Report

          • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to wardsmith
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            I’m not familiar enough with chemo drugs to comment with authority on that first part, but the rest of this is consistent with what I was taught (at a relatively recent noon conference, as it happens).Report

          • Avatar Fnord in reply to wardsmith
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            I believe the horses that they get antivenom from have immunity built up from multiple, controlled doses. Humans can do the same thing, if so inclined, and some people (zookeepers, etc) who deal with poisonous snakes regularly do so.

            Of course, as you note, most rattlesnake bites on something the size of a horse or a human are going to be dry bites with little or no venom, at least the first time.Report

    • Avatar Fnord in reply to wardsmith
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      You’re just under 10x as likely to be killed by a “hornet, bee, or wasp” as by a snake, other things equal (and, if you’re killed by a snake, it will almost certainly be a venomous snake). Or at least you were in the 90s. http://scark.org/docs/Animal%20Related%20Fatalities.pdf

      Of course, that’s for the whole population. On average, people are significantly more likely to be stung my a bee than bitten by a snake. How the numbers change when you start playing with them is another question. You’re more than 10x as likely to be killed by a snake as by an alligator (and thus 100x as likely to be killed by bee, etc, as an alligator), but I don’t think that means you should go swimming with them.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP
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    Steven Price: Snakes don’t attack, unless they’re provoked. Something up there’s making them go crazy, possibly some kind of drug.

    Neville: Well, that’s good news: snakes on crack.Report

    • Avatar M.A. in reply to BlaiseP
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      Something up there’s making them go crazy, possibly some kind of drug.

      Maybe it has something to do with some darwin-award wannabe picking them up, squeezing them and waving them around while screaming? I could see that scaring and provoking the snake.Report

  9. Avatar George Turner
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    They should spend more time understanding the Bible.

    Genesis 3:14 (KJV)
    And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

    The serpent in Genesis had legs, or crawling on its belly wouldn’t have been a curse. The serpent also chatted quite happily with Eve, whereas snakes don’t talk. So where do we find a smooth-talking legged reptile that looks kind of like a snake? GEICO.Report

  10. Avatar M.A.
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    First, I hadn’t known that snake handling was illegal. This seems obviously wrong to me. Given that it implicates a minority religious practice, it strikes me as just the sort of law that ought to be resisted with as much force as possible.

    I fully support the banning of so-called religious practices – minority or otherwise – the exercise of which are a strong indication that a person has completely taken leave of his/her senses or which deny human rights to some of the practitioners.

    A short, non-exclusive list:
    Sokushinbutsu (illegal in Japan and most other countries as it is considered suicide).
    – Snake handling and poison drinking
    – Any religious practices involving human sacrifice or needless animal suffering.
    – Forcibly “assigning” underage girls to old perverts or otherwise using religious authority to force members to participate in sexual acts against their will.
    – Mass suicide pacts.
    – Using religious authority to attempt to force a person to stay in a dangerous situation such as a failing marriage with an abusive spouse.
    – Scientology.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to M.A.
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      If you approach the issue from the “angry atheist” perspective, M.A., then a lot of what a lot of religious institutions tell or require their adherents to do is a bunch of ridiculous and personally harmful B.S. reinforced by the repeated telling of lies and use of mind control. Adopting that thesis arguendo then we might legitimately question the consent of anything that anyone does for religious reasons.

      But at some point that becomes an unreasonable thing to say. At some point, people are responsible for what they do and it stops being a useful exercise to blame a religious institution for it. And at some point, we draw a line and say “No, that was something they chose to do.” Did Islam make the hijackers fly the planes into the World Trade Center? Did Christian Science or Jehovah’s Witnessism* make the parents stand by and pray while their daughter died of a disease that medical intervention could easily have cured? We can certainly have a good discussion about the role of religion in obfuscating the moral imperatives from the religionists’ point of view, but at the end of the day we hold the individuals responsible for their actions.

      And if that is the case, then there must be at least a category of actions, religiously-motivated and perhaps personally harmful to the actor, which we must allow if tolerating religious freedom is to be a meaningful concept in a free society. Ought we punish terminal patients facing a lingering, painful death who fail at self-euthanasia? If so, then why ought we punish failed attempted suicide for the religionist who, like the Heaven’s Gaters who checked out when the comet hit apogee, are sincerely convinced that their deaths are spiritually mandatory?

      Somewhat less dramatically, what about self-mortification rituals? Or people giving all their money to a cult?

      Or for that matter, sokushinbutsu? For the practicioner of sokushinbutsu, it no doubt represented the attainment of a profound spiritual goal. Why does our social aversion to this prolonged form of suicide trump the practicioner’s attraction to it?

      * I don’t know what else to call it. JW’s might be able to correct me on my taxonomy here.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Burt Likko
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        Did Islam make the hijackers fly the planes into the World Trade Center?

        Adherence to their particular version of Islam did. Whether you consider that political or religious is up to you.

        Did Christian Science or Jehovah’s Witnessism* make the parents stand by and pray while their daughter died of a disease that medical intervention could easily have cured?

        In some cases, yes. In the absence of the suicide cult known as Christian Science, Jim Henson would be alive today. Dead because he wouldn’t stop to see a doctor for the 15 minutes it would have taken to be diagnosed with strep throat and given a simple course of antibiotics, and the world robbed of a brilliant creative mind.

        We can certainly have a good discussion about the role of religion in obfuscating the moral imperatives from the religionists’ point of view, but at the end of the day we hold the individuals responsible for their actions.

        How about holding all the individuals who persist in telling lies about medicine responsible for the deaths they cause? How about holding those who profit from convincing people to not seek medical attention accountable? Christian Scientists, Jehova’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Anti-Vaxxers, Holistic Medicine purveyors who sell snake oil cures for real diseases – all the same sort as far as I’m concerned.

        As regards suicide, that’s a nuanced debate that could take a week of front page posts all on its own. The difference between the suicide of a terminally ill patient with cancer or a degenerative nerve disorder is leagues different from the suicide of a terminally stupid person who thinks their “god” wants them to discard their body and ascend to a rocketship named Hale-Bopp. The larger point is that those who prey on suggestible people ought to be held accountable. In the Heaven’s Gate case, one of the first places I’d be looking is into the person who bilked them of thousands of dollars for “alien abduction insurance.”

        And it goes without saying that Applewhite never should have been let out of the asylum, certainly not been put into the care of a nurse who was willing to convince him the voices he was hearing were really aliens and that he was a reincarnation of Jesus.

        There isn’t an easy answer and there’s certainly room for an I know it when I see it interpretation, but there also ought to be responsibility of society to take care of those who are clearly out of their gourds even if they couch their insanity with the words “religious expression.”Report

        • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to M.A.
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          “In some cases, yes. In the absence of the suicide cult known as Christian Science, Jim Henson would be alive today. Dead because he wouldn’t stop to see a doctor for the 15 minutes it would have taken to be diagnosed with strep throat and given a simple course of antibiotics, and the world robbed of a brilliant creative mind.”

          What would the law look like that would have prevented this outcome? Would the law forbid someone to believe that modern medicine is bad or ungodly? How would the state enforce that prohibition? Would a police officer, seeing Mr. Henson coughing and feeling achy arrest him for not going to a doctor? Would a police officer, several years before the fact, have Mr. Henson arrested for uttering that he (Henson) disbelieved in the efficacy and morality of modern medicine?Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille
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            This strikes me as increasingly the trend. The more the government views citizens as mere sources of revenue, the more it will feel justified in setting aside all other considerations.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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              What would the law look like that would have prevented this outcome?

              Stringent application of the laws against making false medical claims – such as the suggestion that prayer, “homeopathic water treatment”, or other nonsensical approaches are superior to medical science – ought to be sufficient.

              Christian Science’s insistence that prayer is superior to medical science, Scientology’s viewing of psychology and psychiatry as competition. It’s not religion at that point, it’s predatory false advertising designed to strip gullible people of their money while simultaneously putting them in dangerous situations. It’s the medical equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater. The people promoting these beliefs should be prosecuted under criminal liability laws the same as someone who actively encourages a vulnerable individual to jump off of a bridge or cliff.

              It’s not about seeing citizens as “mere sources of revenue”, it’s about protecting vulnerable people from shysters and snake oil salesmen.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.A.
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                So you would arrest Jim Henson for not going to a doctor? Or — glancing at Wikipedia — you’d arrest him for not going to one fast enough?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                I would have arrested him just so I could frogmarch him.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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                I’m ever go glad I didn’t take a drink of coffee just before reading that.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                No.

                I’d arrest the head of his congregation and the leaders of his church for making false medical claims and for knowingly contributing to the deaths of vulnerable individuals.

                And if we did it consistently enough, then the problem of vulnerable people being caught up in cults that promoted self-destructive behavior would cease to be a problem.

                I’ll make this simple for you, at the risk of Burt Likko calling me an “angry atheist” again.

                In one scenario, I could start “The Scientificological Healing Club.” In this endeavor I would claim to have made a giant machine which operates on the principle of homeoradiopathic telemagnetic healing or something, and that members of my club – for a monthly “donation to keep the machine powered and running” – could have one of the machine’s many antennas tuned to their specific brainwave signature so that they would receive the healing energies it sends through the aether and thus have no need of modern medical science ever again – the machine would provide. I could also warn the members that the equipment usually found in doctor’s offices and hospitals interferes with the machine’s wavelength, so they’d better stay away from doctor’s offices and hospitals if they want the machine’s healing energy to be effective.

                In this scenario, I would quickly be locked up and charged with a large number of crimes including false advertising, making false medical claims, more generic fraud, and likely be charged as an accessory or worse in the death of one or more of the club members at some point when they failed to seek medical treatment until it was too late.

                In a second scenario I could claim that I have the ear of a great being in the sky who has the power to heal all injuries and diseases. I would encourage people to join my “church” and donate money to “spread the word” about the Great Healing Sky Deity in the name of a “public service” to humanity. I could also tell my followers that since they believe in the Great Healing Sky Deity, they need never seek medical treatment again and in fact, to do so would enrage the Great Healing Sky Deity and possibly be so immoral that he would withdraw the benefits of his healing powers from them.

                In the second scenario the government would shrug and claim they couldn’t do anything about my profiting off of the deaths of thousands of people because it’s “religious belief.”

                You tell me – what’s the real difference?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.A.
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                Two differences.

                1. The First Amendment. This might not always have normative force, but it certainly has political force, and I would urge you to ask again why that might be.

                2. Sincerity. I presume that Christian Scientists are sincere, just as I presume that Catholics are sincere when they affirm transubstantiation. But I presume that someone selling a scientifically unsupported medical treatment is lying.

                I’d also note that you confined yourself to the easy cases — as if every call were just that easy. But almost none of them are in practice.

                Ahead of you lies a vast morass of medical decisionmaking, including whether or not to approve of claims like “moderate alcohol consumption is good for you,” or “cannabis is a good medicine for nausea” or “eggs aren’t all that terrible to eat” or “circumcising your infant son is okay.” Not to mention every totally new, untested medical treatment; every old treatment when new evidence arises; and all that folk medicine passed down from Great Aunt Hilda.

                I don’t look forward to our country wending its way through all that with handcuffs.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                1. The First Amendment.

                The First Amendment does not protect shouting fire in a crowded theater. It does not protect making false advertising or false medical claims, it does not protect you from culpability if you knowingly encourage someone to commit suicide or attempt to drive them to it in your “speech.”

                2. Sincerity. I presume that Christian Scientists are sincere, just as I presume that Catholics are sincere when they affirm transubstantiation. But I presume that someone selling a scientifically unsupported medical treatment is lying.

                Someone making false medical claims may be a con artist, or they may sincerely believe that their snake oil works. It doesn’t change the fact that their snake oil doesn’t work any better than a placebo effect.

                Ahead of you lies a vast morass of medical decisionmaking, including whether or not to approve of claims like “moderate alcohol consumption is good for you,” or “cannabis is a good medicine for nausea” or “eggs aren’t all that terrible to eat” or “circumcising your infant son is okay.” Not to mention every totally new, untested medical treatment; every old treatment when new evidence arises; and all that folk medicine passed down from Great Aunt Hilda.

                The solution is to medically test claims. Claims like “moderate alcohol consumption” are tested over and over and over again in studies. Eggs in the diet have been tested and re-tested over and over.

                If someone comes up with a new theory or claim, test it. It’s the responsibility – there’s that word again – of those who are making medical claims to do their own due diligence and make sure they are not making false medical claims. We hold that standard for anyone who doesn’t claim to be a “religion.” Proven false medical claims are a big deal. Part of the reason Scientology brought a cross in the door in its infancy was that the FDA was coming down on L-Ron’s head for making false medical claims about what his supposed “technology” could do.

                I look forward to a time when we can call false claims for what they are, can investigate medical claims on the basis that they are medical claims, and no longer let those who prey on vulnerable individuals use “religion” as a cover for their scams.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                I am all in favor of testing.

                I just don’t agree that after the tests have been run, the next step is to put folks in jail if they happen to disagree with the results.Report

              • “The First Amendment does not protect shouting fire in a crowded theater. It does not protect making false advertising or false medical claims, it does not protect you from culpability if you knowingly encourage someone to commit suicide or attempt to drive them to it in your ‘speech.'”

                Then, it appears we have a paradox. There is an amendment to the Constitution that seeks to validate–in categorical terms–certain liberties and freedoms against the state, and there are exceptions the courts and congress and the states have carved in order to serve some perceived public interest. All to the (arguable in some cases) good.

                But we are approaching a point where there is a conflict of values. You would seek to further restrict speech and freedom to profess one’s faith in the name of protecting people who might be harmed. I–and apparently Jason and some others–would suffer the existence of these ill-effects in order to forebear restricting these freedoms in way that criminalizes the very profession of those beliefs.

                I get the sense that I know where you stand and now you know where I stand. And I suggest you and I have come to a parting of ways on this particular issue.Report

              • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to M.A.
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                That’s a good question, and I don’t have a good answer for starters except that arresting someone in the second scenario goes against my sensibilities of what’s right (often a dangerous starting point for a system of right and wrong). So, while I don’t claim these answers are dispositive, here are some of my thoughts:

                1. I’m not sure if in the first scenario an arrest is called for. Perhaps I’m parsing words more nitpickilly than I ought, but “donation” seems to me different from a quid pro quo market transaction. In other words, if you were passing yourself off as a medical expert and asking for payment (rather than for “donations”), then that might edge you into the arrestable realm. However, I’ll repeat that I’m probably making a rather cheap shot at your phrasing and not at what you intend to argue.

                2. The usefulness of your analogy between the two scenarios depends on to what degree Christian Science is defined by its opposition to modern medicine and by nothing else. I confess (pun intended) ignorance on CS, but I suspect that confessing a belief in CS involves more in addition to the beliefs about faith healing. If all CS was directed at, and only at, faith healing and anti-modern-medicine, then I think you would be on firmer ground, even though I admit I still wouldn’t agree with you. Again, my ignorance might be my undoing on this score.

                3. I still wonder what the law would look like when it comes to enforcement on a day-to-day level. It seems to me there are at least two ways to enforce it, one of which you probably disagree with and another of which you probably are advocating for. The one I think you would disagree with would be where every religious group has to submit to the state a statement of its core beliefs so that the state can decide whether to verify its legitimacy as a religion. Again, I don’t think that’s what you are arguing for, but I’m putting it out there. The second one is aggressive prosecution for demonstrably false claims that can result (but may not have yet resulted) in harm to practitioners. Part of the problem is “demonstrably false.” Do CS’rs believe that God sometimes “answers” prayers by making the illness worse? If so, then how can any outcome be disproven? (Again, my ignorance of CS puts me at a disadvantage.) What standard for disproof would we use? Beyond any doubt? Beyond a reasonable doubt? By a preponderance of the evidence?

                4. Part of my objection is that you seem to be going beyond objecting to faith healing for minors. I tend to agree that if a child is sick and modern medicine can help him or her, the state is not only justified in ordering modern medicine, it might in some circumstances be justified in prosecuting the parents and maybe even the religious leaders for not bringing the child to medical care. However, you seem to be allowing for prosecution on the basis of harm to adults who likely have had access to the arguments in favor of medical science and who nevertheless choose a path of faith.

                Again, these answers do not “demolish” your analogy by any means, but they represent some of my concerns about the position you’re taking.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                Perhaps I’m parsing words more nitpickilly than I ought, but “donation” seems to me different from a quid pro quo market transaction.

                I used the word donation to illustrate the point of similarity. In the first scenario, it is a quid pro quo operation – no donation, no service. Much like failing to tithe to a church puts adherents in a state of “sin” and therefore in forfeit of the “benefit of prayer.”

                2. The usefulness of your analogy between the two scenarios depends on to what degree Christian Science is defined by its opposition to modern medicine and by nothing else.

                Christian Science has a major anti-medical belief as one of its strictures. They are not quite as bad as Scientology; Scientologists actively attack psychologists and any related science as “the competition.” Still bad enough to illustrate the point though.

                The one I think you would disagree with would be where every religious group has to submit to the state a statement of its core beliefs so that the state can decide whether to verify its legitimacy as a religion. Again, I don’t think that’s what you are arguing for, but I’m putting it out there.

                The state has to choose whether or not to recognize a religion in any event, including in the USA when registering for tax exempt status. There are plenty of little cults in the USA and worldwide that are not recognized as true religions in at least parts of the world – both Britain and Germany refuse to recognize Scientology. I see no overwhelming problem with requiring the religions to list the tenets of their faith as part of their application process for recognition.

                The second one is aggressive prosecution for demonstrably false claims that can result (but may not have yet resulted) in harm to practitioners. Part of the problem is “demonstrably false.” Do CS’rs believe that God sometimes “answers” prayers by making the illness worse? If so, then how can any outcome be disproven? (Again, my ignorance of CS puts me at a disadvantage.) What standard for disproof would we use? Beyond any doubt? Beyond a reasonable doubt? By a preponderance of the evidence?

                For the making of false medical claims, here’s a start. The FDA has the power to evaluate medical claims, impose fines, file lawsuits; all of this should be applicable to claims made by religions.

                However, you seem to be allowing for prosecution on the basis of harm to adults who likely have had access to the arguments in favor of medical science and who nevertheless choose a path of faith.

                What I would say is that prosecution should be had for those who deliberately advance beliefs known to be false and likely to cause physical harm or death to their followers. This is, yes, on the basis of harm to adults who “have had access to the arguments in favor of medical science” but were bamboozled by snake-oil selling shysters who make money off of tricking gullible individuals into self-destructive behavior.

                It’s no different than someone selling “weight loss” pills with a compound known to cause liver damage.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                M.A. —

                I submit the following claim: “During the Catholic Mass, the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

                What do your scientific tests say? And what do we do with the people who disagree?Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                Jason Kuznicki,

                Why does it matter? 30 seconds of googling show your statement to be a wholly inadequate misrepresentation of the Catholic doctrine on the matter.

                Further, it is not a medical claim. There is no claim – beyond the normative claim that the Catholic church makes that those in a state of less sin are more likely to receive the beneficial powers of prayer for healing – of a medical effect of receiving Catholic mass. And the Catholics certainly don’t tell their adherents to avoid medical science and rely solely on prayer.

                I fail to see what argument you’re trying to make. I am arguing that making false medical claims ought to be punishable (normally with a stiff fine, perhaps jail time for those who advocate false practices that result in death of multiple practitioners). I argue further that this ought to be the case regardless of claims of “religious expression”, since laws otherwise are “respecting an establishment of religion” in allowing them an exception to the laws all other citizens follow and therefore a 1st amendment violation.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                You spent thirty seconds googling, and you couldn’t find two more seconds to link? Here, try this one:

                http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm#section1

                To quote:

                In a closer logical analysis of Transubstantiation, we find the first and fundamental notion to be that of conversion, which may be defined as “the transition of one thing into another in some aspect of being”. As is immediately evident, conversion (conversio) is something more than mere change (mutatio). Whereas in mere changes one of the two extremes may be expressed negatively, as, e.g., in the change of day and night, conversion requires two positive extremes, which are related to each other as thing to thing, and must have, besides, such an intimate connection with each other, that the last extreme (terminus ad quem) begins to be only as the first (terminus a quo) ceases to be, as, e.g., in the conversion of water into wine at Cana. A third element is usually required, known as the commune tertium, which, even after conversion has taken place, either physically or at least logically unites one extreme to the other; for in every true conversion the following condition must be fulfilled: “What was formerly A, is now B.” A very important question suggests itself as to whether the definition should further postulate the previous non-existence of the last extreme, for it seems strange that an existing terminus a quo, A, should be converted into an already existing terminus ad quem, B. If the act of conversion is not to become a mere process of substitution, as in sleight-of-hand performances, the terminus ad quem must unquestionably in some manner newly exist, just as the terminus a quo must in some manner really cease to exist. Yet as the disappearance of the latter is not attributable to annihilation properly so called, so there is no need of postulating creation, strictly so called, to explain the former’s coming into existence. The idea of conversion is amply realized if the following condition is fulfilled, viz., that a thing which already existed in substance, acquires an altogether new and previously non-existing mode of being. Thus in the resurrection of the dead, the dust of the human bodies will be truly converted into the bodies of the risen by their previously existing souls, just as at death they had been truly converted into corpses by the departure of the souls. This much as regards the general notion of conversion. Transubstantiation, however, is not a conversion simply so called, but a substantial conversion (conversio substantialis), inasmuch as one thing is substantially or essentially converted into another. Thus from the concept of Transubstantiation is excluded every sort of merely accidental conversion, whether it be purely natural (e.g. the metamorphosis of insects) or supernatural (e.g. the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor). Finally, Transubstantiation differs from every other substantial conversion in this, that only the substance is converted into another — the accidents remaining the same — just as would be the case if wood were miraculously converted into iron, the substance of the iron remaining hidden under the external appearance of the wood.

                The application of the foregoing to the Eucharist is an easy matter. First of all the notion of conversion is verified in the Eucharist, not only in general, but in all its essential details. For we have the two extremes of conversion, namely, bread and wine as the terminus a quo, and the Body and Blood of Christ as the terminus ad quem.

                Now tell me how you think I got Catholic teaching wrong. (n.b., although it would be false, per Catholic teaching, to say that only the flesh and blood were present — and not also His spirit — that isn’t what I said.)

                As to it being a medical claim, well, sure it is. Flesh and blood are higher in cholesterol.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                As to it being a medical claim, well, sure it is. Flesh and blood are higher in cholesterol.

                I’m supposed to take that seriously?

                The only claim that the Catholic Church makes about their transubstantiated wine and bread is that it is a part of a ceremony leading to spiritual (not physical!) immortality. Any other claim of beneficial healing is a part of their larger doctrine regarding the healing power of prayer. Not once have they ever said anything to the effect that Catholics should avoid medical doctors and medical treatment for illnesses, nor have they in the history of the Catholic Church in America suggested that their ceremonies are an acceptable substitute for the care of a physician during any illness or injury severe enough to warrant medical attention.

                When I am speaking of medical claims, I am talking of precisely that. Claims of actual medical benefit or claims that something is an acceptable substitute for an existing, confirmed medical treatment. Can you please address the topic as such rather than veering into meaninglessness?Report

              • MA:

                “I used the word donation to illustrate the point of similarity. In the first scenario, it is a quid pro quo operation – no donation, no service. ”

                In which case, it’s not really a donation, although the term might be used to hide the fact that what we’re talking about is a transaction. (In other words, I cede your point here but stubbornly insist on a certain terminology.)

                “Christian Science has a major anti-medical belief as one of its strictures. ”

                Indeed. Or at least I assume so. My point is whether CS’s anti-medicine belief is all that is required of its adherents. If the anti-medicine belief is only a part–even if a major part–of CS’s system, then it’s not so easy to identify the teachings of CS as solely a way for someone to profit off of offering faulty medical advice. To my mind, it would be harder to prosecute such a case; or rather, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a polity in which it would be easy to prosecute such a case.

                “The state has to choose whether or not to recognize a religion in any event, including in the USA when registering for tax exempt status….I see no overwhelming problem with requiring the religions to list the tenets of their faith as part of their application process for recognition.”

                I see a huge problem with recognition itself, but if a body wants special recognition as a church, then in theory I don’t mind some sort of vetting. I would like to know more about how tax-exempt status works here in the US, whether it’s possible for any organization form to assume a form and thereby win tax exempt or non-profit status, or if it rests on whether the government decides whether something really is a religion. What I mean is if any organization can disavow a profit motive and jump through a series of well-established hoops and thereby gain exempt status as a religious organization, then I have less of a problem with “recognition” and more of a problem with special vetting processes for a religion’s dogma.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                I’m supposed to take that seriously?

                You’re not supposed to take it in any way at all. I’m mocking you. But try these other possibilities:

                –Jesus cured blindness, leprosy, lameness, and even death.
                –God can make virgins pregnant. Apparently without artificial insemination.
                –Methuselah lived 969 years.

                Each is a medical claim. Shall we go after these Bible folks for fraud? Or shall we do the sensible thing and just leave them alone?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                ?Shall we go after these Bible folks for fraud?

                No.

                Or shall we do the sensible thing and just leave them alone?

                No.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Pierre Corneille
                Ignored
                says:

                You’re not supposed to take it in any way at all. I’m mocking you.

                I’ll take it as it is and treat you as I treat the troll DensityDuck from now on then – as if you don’t exist. Last response from me.

                But try these other possibilities:
                –Jesus cured blindness, leprosy, lameness, and even death.
                –God can make virgins pregnant. Apparently without artificial insemination.
                –Methuselah lived 969 years.

                Does the Catholic Church advocate that people ignore medical treatment for blindness, leprosy, or lameness and put their entire hope into what they believe to be the healing power of prayer? Apparently not. They’re not making the unacceptable medical claim that prayer is a substitute for medical treatment..

                Does the Catholic Church advocate that people ignore medical treatment for infertility and pray for a virgin birth? Seems not, though they do quibble over the morality of specific possible courses of treatment.

                Methuselah living to 969 years old? Again, does the Catholic Church make a medical claim that they can produce something that makes someone live to that age today? No? Then we can leave that to the theologians to debate.

                As for death, the bible has a grand total of three stories on it on that subject not counting The Man Himself, one of which isn’t technically a resurrection – Jesus tells the parents their daughter is “merely sleeping.” I suspect that the Catholics would be just as shocked as the rest of the world if the dead started rising from the grave, and I’ve yet to see them insist they have a proven medical way to get someone to do so.

                As I’m done being mocked, please don’t bother replying to me again here or in any other thread. You won’t be answered.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                Everyone here gets a bit of light mockery once in a while. I’m sorry you are too fragile to join us, but farewell.Report

              • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to M.A.
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                says:

                By your arguments, am I allowed to call for the prompt arrest of Jenny McCarthy? Or does it only apply to people who make dangerous and scientifically unsound proclamations about medicine from a religious POV?Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                I sincerely hope we can all agree to rally against tyranny behind our new idol, Jenny McCarthy.Report

              • I am sincerely interested in M.A.’s answer. By his criteria (at least as I understand them), there is nothing to prevent clapping Jenny McCarthy in irons except her negative influence on American medical care has been wholly secular.

                And how about all the people who promulgate so-called “alternative” or “complementary” medical care? Shall we subject them to prosecution, too? It sure would make my job easier.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Russell Saunders
                Ignored
                says:

                Because you’re not straight, you’re probably not aware that most of us have thought about Jenny McCarthy in handcuffs long before now.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                I’m about as sad as I’ve ever been that that Google image search turned up nothing.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                I think that there should be an opportunity to pursue action against someone who genuinely engages in fraud. Without knowing too much about the law, my hunch is that this should be done via the civil court system. In the event that someone continually and willfully engages in fraud that causes harm, I could see arrest as a viable option.

                However, I have a pretty high bar set for fraud.
                “I am a trained medical professional and I have conducted thorough research that shows that these jelly, errr… magic beans will cause cancer. I’ll sell them to you for $1,000,000” is probably fraud.
                “If you believe, as I do, in the healing power of God, then prayer is the best mechanism to receive that” isn’t.
                “I’m not a trained medical professional but I read a study that said vaccines cause autism” isn’t, especially if the person actually did read a study that did say that.

                By MA’s standards, I could prosecute the guy in the kitchen who told me I’d love today’s lunch when it turned out to be only so-so.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                I think Kazzy has basically the right approach here.

                One thing to note with the sort of legislation that seems to be afoot: If it becomes a crime to disagree with scientific consensus, or to attempt treatments that run counter to it, scientific progress itself will very quickly grind to a halt.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Or scientific consensus will be arrived at by very non-scientific means.

                “Well, for a few mil, we could simply come to a slightly different consensus that makes your competitor a lyin’, cheatin’ fraud…”Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Well, here’s my considered answer Russell.

                Making false medical claims in a public setting – medical claims that she knew or should have known would cause others following her advice to break down herd immunity or otherwise harm their children – should be something that McCarthy should be criminally liable for. Given the case in evidence, most likely it’d be a reasonably sized fine and an injunction shutting down the “foundation” she set up for the express purpose of promoting the false medical claim which took donations from gullible individuals, along with siezure of assets from that organization or a court order that the assets be donated to someplace they could do some good such as a foundation for actual medical autism research.

                As for the thought of McCarthy in handcuffs, no thanks. Not interested unless there’s a working brain in the head. Which leads to the larger part of the problem – that McCarthy is just a public spokesperson for a large group of people bamboozled by a man who was proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have faked his “research.” If he’d have been a little smarter he’d have just founded his own religion and gotten off scot-free.

                And how about all the people who promulgate so-called “alternative” or “complementary” medical care?

                You mean the ones who prey on vulnerable, desperate people with terminal illnesses, defrauding them of thousands of dollars or more for meaningless or even counterproductive treatments at “retreats” in permissive states or by facilitating a trip to places in Mexico? The ones who at the same time encourage their victims to drop normal treatment?

                “I am a trained medical professional and I have conducted thorough research that shows that these jelly, errr… magic beans will cause cancer. I’ll sell them to you for $1,000,000? is probably fraud.
                “If you believe, as I do, in the healing power of God, then prayer is the best mechanism to receive that” isn’t.

                In a few years, L. Ron Hubbard went from “I am a nuclear scientist who’s developed a miraculous device that can be used to clear your mind of all problems and give you psychic powers” to “I am a nuclear scientist who’s discovered the religious secrets of the universe, and by following a religious program using my copyrighted E-Meter you will clear your mind of all problems and gain psychic powers.” Difference?

                My complaint is not, however, with “If you believe, as I do, in the healing power of God, then prayer is the best mechanism to receive that.” My complaint is with “If you believe, as I do, in the healing power of God, then prayer is the best mechanism to receive that and you should avoid and refuse all other rational treatment options.” Pray all you want, encourage others to pray all you want, but you cross the line to false medical claims when you tell them that prayer will be an acceptable substitute for medical treatment.

                “I’m not a trained medical professional but I read a study that said vaccines cause autism” isn’t, especially if the person actually did read a study that did say that.

                And here’s where it gets difficult. Because if these things aren’t nipped in the bud, the next thing you have is the people running the fraud hiring or bamboozling a few public figures (like the aforementioned Jenny McCarthy) for use in promoting their scam.

                In a world of proper enforcement, the medical claims that led McCarthy to conclude that her child – much more likely properly diagnosed with Landau-Kleffner, a neurological disorder – would not have seen publication because there would be severe penalties for anyone like Andrew Wakefield. McCarthy would not have been predated on by the scammers who were after her money to do things like rub her son’s body down with spoons.Report

              • It would be bad enough to criminalize disagreement with scientific consensus if said consensus didn’t get massively revised on a semi-regular basis. As it is, we’d be locking up one half of the United States Preventive Services Task force every few years. (Which half is subject to change without notice.)Report

              • So, if I’m reading your answer correctly, M.A., then yes, we can and should prosecute people like Jenny McCarthy? (It’s a different story with Wakefield, who pretty clearly seems to have perpetrated actual fraud.)

                Wow. I loathe the woman and everything she stands for, but that’s a lot farther than I’d ever be willing to go.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                While I agree with Russell above, I’m curious as where you’d draw the line.

                Do you arrest people that feel vitamin supplements such as VC for colds? Do you arrest chiropractors and acupuncturists? Do you arrest people that sell fad diet books? I am assuming not, but why?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                And homeopaths, osteopaths, Rolfers, aroma therapists, traditional Chinese practitioners, ayurvedists, yogis, macrobioticists…Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                MA:
                “Making false medical claims in a public setting – medical claims that she knew or should have known would cause others following her advice to break down herd immunity or otherwise harm their children – should be something that McCarthy should be criminally liable for.”

                How are you defining false? How are you defining public? Who determines what she did know or should have known? How are we defining harm?

                If I sincerely belief that a spoonful of sugar cures hiccups (I DO!) and I encourage folks to use this remedy (I DO!), am I liable if their hiccups go uncured and they develop diabetes?

                Fraud is predicated on deliberate misrepresentation. If McCarthy never represents herself as anything other than an individual with an opinion, there is no fraud. If McCarthy honestly and truly believes what she says, there is no fraud. If McCarthy derives no benefit from what she says or does, it is unlikely that fraud has occurred. If no one is harmed by what McCarthy says or does, there is no fraud.Report

              • If McCarthy derives no benefit from what she says or does, it is unlikely that fraud has occurred. If no one is harmed by what McCarthy says or does, there is no fraud.

                Well, by my lights McCarthy has benefited from what she says and does. (She would be just one more washed-up semi-celebrity now, were it not for the anti-vaccination movement.) And I do believe people are harmed by said movement, though the exact degree McCarthy to which is responsible in any given case is pretty much impossible to quantify.

                But even so, I would never want her prosecuted. I think what she says and believes are deeply misguided, but we don’t fine people for being misguided. And I feel no differently if the misguided person selling a line of bullshit stands behind a pulpit or appears on “Oprah” (or whatever these days). We don’t prosecute people for the content of their speech except in incredibly narrow circumstances.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                I think it’s “Ellen” now, right?Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                We actually had a similar case in New Zealand recently, where a church put up a billboard saying “Jesus Cures Cancer”. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled it couldn’t make a specific medical claim without evidence and ordered the billboard taken down. They’ve put up one that just quotes a Bible verse about Jesus healing illnesses, and that one is still up as far as I’m aware.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                So, you’re all saying that someone who spreads falsehoods about medical facts for a religious purpose is OK, but if he does it it to turn a profit, that should be against the law.

                Why do you hate capitalism?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Russ-

                For me, all those conditions would need to be met to constitute fraud. So even if she did benefit (and I’m not sure remaining in the spotlight really qualifies in the way I meant it there… I thought more of took money in exchange for her opinions) or even if there was harm that could be connected to her statements, I wouldn’t consider it fraud because she neither misrepresented herself as someone who should be taken seriously on the matter nor seems to be peddling information she knows to be false.

                For me, the fraud exists really only if there is an exchange or transaction entered into under false pretenses. “Speech” matters if it is part of the transaction. So if I say I will sell you a cure for cancer that I assure you is scientifically proven to work despite knowing that it is not, and I communicate this to you via spoken word, then I have committed fraud. In that matter, the speech functions just the same as if I handed you a vile of sugar water I purported to be a life curing elixer derived from unicorn horn and heroin. If I go out on the corner and peddle my nonsense to whomever will listen, no fraud, even if people take me at my word and go home and die based on what I said to do.

                And, again, I think these matters are best settled civilly, unless a pattern of willful fraudulent behavior emerges.Report

              • Ah, I think I understand your criteria better. And you and I are very much on the same page with regard to how such matters are best handled.

                But since I appear in the mood to split hairs, I think it’s clear that McCarthy has benefited materially from her association with Generation Rescue et al. She gotten book deals, speaking engagements, etc. I think she still blogs for Oprah (a phrase that makes my throat close up when I think about it). She’s not suffered financially because of this issue.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                We don’t prosecute people for the content of their speech except in incredibly narrow circumstances.

                And among those narrow circumstances are when someone knew, or should have known, that their speech or other ‘expressive acts’ would cause injury or death to others.

                Anti-vaxxers definitely fall under this definition. If you question the efficacy of a specific vaccine or believe it has unwarranted side effects, call for more testing (which is what McCarthy has migrated to now after the Wakefield scandal, though also she still “believes” that the evidence against Wakefield was a conspiracy). If you want us to get rid of all vaccines (which is what McCarthy was doing before), you’re batfishing insane and your “speech”, if you are gathering others to follow your lead, is causing harm.

                We actually had a similar case in New Zealand recently, where a church put up a billboard saying “Jesus Cures Cancer”. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled it couldn’t make a specific medical claim without evidence and ordered the billboard taken down. They’ve put up one that just quotes a Bible verse about Jesus healing illnesses, and that one is still up as far as I’m aware.

                Copied from my previous response since you continue to seem to want to twist my words – “My complaint is with “If you believe, as I do, in the healing power of God, then prayer is the best mechanism to receive that and you should avoid and refuse all other rational treatment options.” Pray all you want, encourage others to pray all you want, but you cross the line to false medical claims when you tell them that prayer will be an acceptable substitute for medical treatment.”

                If it becomes a crime to disagree with scientific consensus, or to attempt treatments that run counter to it, scientific progress itself will very quickly grind to a halt.

                Nonsense. The appropriate course of action, if you believe you have a treatment that is more effective than those currently in existence, is to submit it for scientific study. An untested theory needs testing.

                On the other hand if every scientific study has shown your chosen remedy is nonsense for decades and you are still making medical claims that it can do various things, then you’re engaging in fraud – end of discussion.

                Tod Kelly:
                Do you arrest people that feel vitamin supplements such as VC for colds? Do you arrest chiropractors and acupuncturists? Do you arrest people that sell fad diet books? I am assuming not, but why?
                Jason Kuznicki:
                And homeopaths, osteopaths, Rolfers, aroma therapists, traditional Chinese practitioners, ayurvedists, yogis, macrobioticists…

                I’ll look at these both at once:
                -Vitamin supplements for colds: first no medical harm is shown to come from them, second the jury’s still out, third the FDA regularly admonishes and fines companies who advertise Vitamin C supplements as having specific benefits relating to the common cold.

                – Chiropractors, I’ll refer you to the Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episode on the matter. There are legitimate applications of chiropractic medicine and illegitimate nonsense, and it’s important to separate the legitimate chiropractor who works on people with spinal dislocation injuries or chronic back pain from the guy who runs around advertising how “chirpractic releases your inner energy and moves life through your body” or some other nonsense.

                – Acupuncturists and Chinese traditional medicine practitioners; I’m perfectly happy with them using claims that have some basis in research. Any questions?

                – homeopaths, osteopaths, Rolfers, aroma therapists, ayurvedists, yogis, macrobioticists; my answer is simple – do the due diligence. Medical studies, measure what effects you are claiming exist. For one example, I’m perfectly willing to concede that there may be medical benefit to aromatherapy for people with high stress in their lives, but let’s have a medical study about it before allowing them to put a label on the product(s) making that an official claim. Medical studies have routinely shown that decreasing mental stress leads to improved immune response – just as does ensuring adequate sleep for the chronically overworked or otherwise sleep deprived – and to the extent that yoga, rolfing, or anything else helps people to de-stress that’s fine.

                Meanwhile other claims are easier to verify. Rolfers claim that their practitioners stand straighter, gain height, and move better; a properly blinded study ought to give an indication of whether these benefits actually exist or are just mumbo-jumbo.

                As for fad diet books – medically, most of them do give people a short term benefit, and this can be measured. If someone were able to stick to them for a lifetime, they might actually do some good long term. On the other hand if someone came up with a “fad diet” involving the ingestion of an actually poisonous substance, or otherwise doing something extremely foolish such as hyper-hydrating to the point of hyponatremia, then you’d see it yanked off the shelves very fast and likely see the authors sued and prosecuted even now.Report

              • Well, M.A., I’d better type this quickly before my fingers burst into flames, but I’m with Jenny McCarthy on this one. She is not perpetrating fraud, she is promulgating a sincerely-held (if deeply misguided) belief. We cannot redact the Constitution because we feel it serves the public benefit, even if I truly believe a vow of silence on Ms. McCarthy’s part would do us all a world of good.

                You also evince a great deal more confidence in the reliability and authority of medical testing than even I would support. By all means, test to the best of your ability, but let’s all be appropriately humble about how sure any given test can make us.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Russ-

                Then I was wrong about her material gain. I didn’t really know the extent of the operation. So I’ll concede that she most certainly did gain from her stance and any insinuation that she didn’t was wrong and ignorant.

                Of course, I did have the word “If” in there… :-pReport

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Bullshit. No seriously, that’s the name of the show.

                Jenny McCarthy is a participant in a scam selling bullshit, ineffective or even counterproductive ‘treatments’ as if they were acceptable substitute treatments. The standard is not “knew”, the standard is “knew, or should have known.”

                You’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt about her sincerity. My point is that sincerity doesn’t matter when you are causing harm to others. McCarthy, and more to the point all the scammers who told her that sure, the vaccines were the cause because then she’d pay them money for their ‘alternative treatments’, is a problem. In an ideal world, all the people who fed her this nonsense would have been sued out of the line of scamming long before they ever got to her for making their false medical claims.

                This is the part I think you’re missing. None of this comes from a vacuum. For every Jenny McCarthy, there’s a group of people offering her fake hope regarding a son who had a bad medical diagnosis and an unfortunate neurological disease. It’s probable that her son would have been a lot better off if he’d been retested to get the correct diagnosis, and he was harmed because of the snake oil salesmen who kept reassuring her the diagnosis was correct and then trying to sell her their nonsense as a supposed cure. Likewise for every Jim Henson in the world you have a Mary Baker Eddy setting up a cult for profit, and for every John Travolta you have an L. Ron Hubbard making false medical claims under the cover of “religion.”

                If we stopped this kind of nonsense at the source, then we wouldn’t be needing to debate whether Jenny McCarthy should or should not be hauled in to court for making false medical claims and gathering donations to a foundation under false premises.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                MA-

                Your description of McCarthy there makes her sound just as much the victim as the perpetrator. And you want to throw her in jail. Because she is struggling and failing to cope with her child’s condition. Nice.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Kazzy,

                I’m really getting tired of everyone insisting that the only logical reaction to anything is to throw someone in jail. It’s that kind of hyperbolic nonsense that derails an honest discussion.

                My response right below one of yours at 1:44 pm:
                Making false medical claims in a public setting – medical claims that she knew or should have known would cause others following her advice to break down herd immunity or otherwise harm their children – should be something that McCarthy should be criminally liable for. Given the case in evidence, most likely it’d be a reasonably sized fine and an injunction shutting down the “foundation” she set up for the express purpose of promoting the false medical claim which took donations from gullible individuals, along with siezure of assets from that organization or a court order that the assets be donated to someplace they could do some good such as a foundation for actual medical autism research.

                Again, the point is she knew or should have known that what she was doing was operating in the realm of making false medical claims, that she materially benefited from doing so, and that she willfully took money from others for a “foundation” on the basis of these false medical claims. The harm she has done to a large number of people is real.

                And again, if we properly enforced existing laws against false medical claims and false advertising in the first place, then as likely as not Jenny McCarthy would not have become their spokesperson (because they would have been shut down long before they got to her) AND her son would have gotten properly diagnosed and treated for his real illness much sooner. So not only is there harm she did to others to consider, but the harm she did to her own son while listening to all those quacks.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders
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                says:

                Can we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her claims are false? If there are even a couple of doctors with a couple of studies that support her stance, it would be enough. Most of the retractions weren’t done until 2010 and I think it would be reasonable to entertain as a criminal defense an argument that McCarthy or whomever rejects the retractions.

                Like it or not, intent does matter. Not wholly or unequivocally, but it does matter.

                While you’re at it, would you like to go after the government and the FDA for pushing high carb diets that were a prime cause in increased obesity rates in children? Or should we pin that on newscasters who played up “stranger danger” and other oversensationalized threats that led to a major shift in children’s outdoor active play? Or maybe we go after education reformers who have cut back on recess and PE programs to push test prep, despite evidence that has no impact on learning? Because, if you ask me, the threat of obesity is far worse than whatever threat McCarthy poses.

                Anyone who takes medical advice from Jenny Fishin’ McCarthy, who made a name for herself by shaking her cans on an MTV dating show, is a fishing idiot who has no one to blame for the consequences of those actions but themselves.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.A.
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      says:

      Religions that deny the human rights of some practitioners should definitely be prevented from doing so, and their leaders should be punished. But let’s go case-by-case.

      -I think suicide should be legal.

      -Human sacrifice? Definitely should be illegal. Animal sacrifice? I say it should be legal at the very least until we abolish factory farms. Otherwise we’re rank religious bigots and hypocrites. Sacrificial animals have very good lives, except for the bit at the end; they are the healthiest, happiest, most pampered animals in the herd. Not so whatever you probably got your dinner from.

      -Sex slavery? A no-brainer. Illegal.

      -Mass suicide pacts? You probably think I’d say they should be legal. But let’s be careful about what “legal” means here. Are they enforceable in court? Like, on day fifteen of a three-day suicide pact, do you get a subpoena? No. A mass suicide pact is an (im)pious wish. No more an no less. It’s definitionally unenforceable.

      -Religious authority to keep someone in a failing marriage with an abusive spouse? This is way too delicate a matter to lump in with the rest. There are different kinds of abuse, spouses can change, and if the religious authority helps bring it about, then it has done well. If not, then no. But it’s very hard to say.

      -Scientology routinely detains people against their will, and I’m definitely troubled by that.

      Also, I’ll second what Burt said. From my atheist perspective, I can’t understand why anyone talks to a man in the sky or claims that bread has become a dead Jewish guy’s flesh. “Taking leave of his/her senses” is — I know — too easy an explanation. It’s not the right one.

      Better might be that we’re all to a very high degree unreasonable. It’s just that some of us are also very conventional about it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        “Taking leave of his/her senses” is — I know — too easy an explanation. It’s not the right one.

        Better might be that we’re all to a very high degree unreasonable. It’s just that some of us are also very conventional about it.

        This is worthy of a post or three. One is the state a religious person is in which strikes another as absurd. And this can’t be rebutted by a ‘to each his own’ response. If the preconditions and the emotional content of a specific belief is incomprehensible to another coherent, intelligent person, then I think that counts as evidence of … something.

        Another is the ‘reasonable person’ standard. If everyone holds what I think are undreasonable beliefs, then evidence, argument, reason, the whole bit become irrelevant. That’s another concept that requires (hint!) further strutiny.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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          Yet another is an exploration into what we mean by a statement like “all of us might be to a great extent unreasonable”. Even if that’s true, surely there are degrees of unreasonableness, or categories of unreasonableness, which can be clearly articulated. If so, then the question amounts to what views are more, rather than less, reasonable.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Far be it from me to defend the “reasonableness” of religion, but lets not forget that many views we consider perfectly reasonable today once seemed as unreasonable as some contemporary religious beliefs.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            That strikes me as an argument against some contemporary religious beliefs, no?Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Allow me to clarify.

              Right now, Scientology sounds like made-up nonsensical fluff.
              There was a time where the notion that the earth revolved around the sun sounded like made-up nonsensical fluff.

              Today, we consider the Scientologist to be crazy or unreasonable.
              Then we considered the heliocentric to be crazy or unreasonable.

              And while I highly doubt that we will realize the truth of Scientology in the same way that we realized the truth of heliocentrism, assessing someone’s sanity based on a highly contextualized understanding of the reasonability of their belief is a scary road to head down.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                For a spell, I rented a dirt cheap room ($200/month) in the university district. It was perfect until an alcoholic 49-year old moved in and started ranting loudly each night at his teevee set. Anyway, the house was also owned by Scientologists who all lived downstairs and sometimes they would have these debates in which he was drunk and ranting about the Mayan calendar and they were trying patiently to explain to him that the Mayans were talking about when the extra-terrestrials will reveal themselves. I usually stayed out of it.Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to Rufus F.
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                says:

                rufus: that sounds like a terrible place to live but an awesome generator of stories about a terrible place to live for people who did not live there.

                “Better might be that we’re all to a very high degree unreasonable. It’s just that some of us are also very conventional about it.”

                that’s a nicely succinct way to put it. there’s also that the more dramatic someone’s unreasonableness is, the more “weird” it seems. it can be dramatic because it differs from the majority (i.e. mormons) in very clear ways or because it causes injury/death (snake handling, self-mutilation religiously motivated or otherwise, etc) in ways more mundane forms of living won’t.

                or inherently, because a dude waving a snake around is pretty dramatic regardless of the religious beliefs of the handler.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to dhex
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                says:

                When I lived there, I debated the ethics of a podcast called “Sh*t my roommate says,” taped clandestinely, and decided against it. At some point, I’ll probably write a post, but it’s hard to think of any conclusions to it, since I left after six months thinking “what the hell just happened?!”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to dhex
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                says:

                I used to live in a $300 all-bills-paid-including-Internet apartment. The unpleasantness lasted less than two years. The stories will last a lifetime.

                Like Rufus’s, it too was in a university district. It wanted to cater to college students, but the cheap rent attracted… other sorts. I had seven neighbors in the 19 months I was there. Most of which had come from prison (and left when they were sent back for a violation).

                I eventually had to leave. I just had to. But I missed the carnival as soon as I left.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                One day in San Francisco, a little bit bored (and probably a little bit lonely) I let the Scientologists take me into their office for a psychological quiz. It turned out that I was really emotionally messed up, and they offered to cure me with the help of their spiritual machine. I’m sure I wasn’t the first one to laugh out loud at that point, but they clearly had not reconciled themselves to the probability of laughter.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I took the “Stress Test” they offer in the tunnel that connects Times Square and Penn Station. BOY WAS I STRESSED OUT! I was told that all I needed to do was read some book called Dianetics or something and my stress would be gone. They were even willing to give me the book for free, but they really would have LIKED if I was willing to buy it. They sort of bristled when I mentioned Scientology, which I thought was interesting, since they were clearly Scientologists. I’m pretty sure their gig was to just pass themselves off as helpful folks with helpful books. I eventually grew bored of the charade and just walked away.

                I regret not asking the girl administering the test if she could take the test herself and show me just how unstressed she was. Of course, the fact that the “Stress Test” machine was largely comprised of paper towel tubes and tin foil might have been part of it…Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                i’ve taken the tour in the times square church. if you can slip out before the documentary they show you, it’s mildly interesting. the documentary is tortuously long.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Careful, Kazzy. Reveal too much of the construction and they could try to sue you for violating their copyright.

                Nevermind that the E-meter’s basic circuit diagram is from a mail-in magazine catalog and that for the longest time, the “cans” that scientologists hold during brainwashing sessions were actually salvaged campbell’s soup cans.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                I also got pulled in by the Moonies one day. At least I’m pretty sure they were Moonies. The guy was dull but the girl was cute, so I followed them upstairs to some room where lots of young people were hanging out doing…well, nothing. Not even talking much, just sitting around. I got bored after about 15 minutes and left.

                That pretty much sums up my total experience with cults. I suppose in a lot of ways I was a pretty good target for a group like the Moonies; young, in a new city far from home, hadn’t met people yet, pretty unhappy in general with my life else I wouldn’t have moved to San Francisco in the first place. But if they couldn’t keep my attention for more than a quarter hour, I never could figure out how they managed to catch so many converts.Report

  11. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    The point, though, is that these are decisions that can be left to individuals

    The individual died as a result of his own decision, conclusively demonstrating that the decision cannot be left to individuals. What kind of world would this be if government just stood idly by while citizens injured themselves?Report

  12. Avatar damon
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    says:

    It’s your life, knock yourself out. I wouldn’t support any law restricting this practice in the privacy of your own home or in your church. In a public place, I’m a bit more leery. We don’t want non native snakes getting loose and wandering around parks biting the non snake handlers. I could see some restrictions there. Of course, good people wouldn’t want to endanger others, potentially, so they would refrain from doing it in a public space anyway.

    And as to kids? Handle on. None of my business.Report

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