Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When Freedom Is a Dirty Word

Note first published on Huffington Post

On what had to be one of the most disheartening media appearances I've ever made -- in terms of my usual shtick as an author and commentator -- I was just on Court TV yesterday. Court TV was fine. The case we were talking about made me want to throw up.

I was commentating on Oregon v. Carl and Raylene Worthington, involving Christian fundamentalist parents who refused to give their child medical care on the basis of their trust in faith healing. (I was invited because as a former Religious Right leader -- long since departed from that shadow land -- they thought I'd bring an "inside" perspective.)

The Worthington's fifteen-month-old little girl died surrounded by her parents and other members of their congregation praying for healing. No one called 911. As far as I'm concerned they used their daughter the way Islamic suicide bombers sometimes use children to carry their bombs.

When right-wing evangelical Christians say they fear government death panels and a "takeover of medicine" by the federal government it seems strange to me that what they fear the federal government might do would be to save people like this child's life. So much for the "pro-life" community.

I just wish the government really would take over health care, and for that matter remove children from any family that is crazy enough to deny care to a minor. And while they're at it they should curb the rights of redneck loons to carry loaded weapons into public meetings.

In fact it's time to roll back the extremes of freedom in freedom's name.

The religious right, the gun-carrying paranoids all have one thing in common: they are taking a libertarian/religious view to an extreme that will unhinge this country. It's time to make certain types of freedom a dirty word.

Here's the case as it was laid out for me by the folks at Court TV:

Carl and Raylene Worthington are lifelong members of Followers of Christ, a controversial religious group which doesn't believe in using medical doctors. (Children have died in this group before who needed medical care.) On March 2, 2008, their 15-month-old daughter Ava died at home after she developed pneumonia. The Worthingtons were indicted by a grand jury for not providing adequate medical care.

On Sunday, March 2, 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington took her last breath at approximately 7:15 p.m. as her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, along with a host of members of the Followers of Christ Church, prayed for her recovery.

The "healing," which took approximately 45 minutes, began sometime near 6:00 p.m. According to the Worthingtons and church members a short time later, (estimates range from 15-30 minutes), Ava died in the master bedroom of the family home. Following church practices, the infant was anointed and the county medical examiner's office was called to report the death.

In July of 2009, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer today announced the verdicts in the trial of Carl and Raylene Worthington. They both faced manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges. Raylene Worthington was acquitted of both charges; Carl Worthington was convicted of a criminal mistreatment charge.

How can this happen in America?

Make no mistake about it, there is a scarily large subculture within our society that, in terms of its "life values," is utterly hypocritical. At the recent so-called Values Voter Summit (September 22, 2009) held by the top Republicans and their Religious Right supporters where were the protests against bad parenting where crimes are committed in the name of God?

Where were the speeches against gun-toting nuts?


Because the Religious Right is not religious or conservative: they are nihilists. Call 911 for that child? No! Arrest someone for carrying a loaded weapon to a presidential meeting place? Don't tread on me! I have rights!

Every day the "family values" religious extremest chip away at actual family values, and not just when they're letting little children die of neglect in the name of God. The evangelical/fundamentalist America within the ordinary everyday decent caring America is largely responsible for banning, effectively curtailing or harassing and minimizing effective sex education in our schools. This leads directly to a far higher incidence of abortion. This same group has now turned its collective will against reforming our health care system in a way that would give women and children an opportunity to have access to family care that would not just reduce the incidence of abortion but the incidence of mortality in everything from childhood diabetes to lacking prenatal care.

If ever a case pointed to the fact that we need government intervention in the curtailing of our insane levels of "religious freedom" the Worthington case is a perfect example.

It's time that all American children "belonging" to fundamentalist extremists come under the care of the state. It's time that all children are guaranteed an education wherein they will be taught facts rather than religious mythology. It is time to look at child-hurting homeschoolers and demand a curriculum that is fact-based.

With the Republican Party in the grip of the Religious Right it did everything in its power to turn the case of Terri Schiavo into a circus fraught with political "family values" overtones. Where were they as baby Worthington died -- killed by faith in God?

Thousands of children in this country are raised in everything from polygamous child-abusing religious communes to homes where medical care is denied because of "religious freedom." Tens of thousands more are beaten according to the teachings of James Dobson and his pro-corporal punishment child-intimidation manuals. Where is the law?

Religious freedom means freedom to worship in the Church of your choosing and -- after your're 18 -- to believe anything you want. Before you're 18, society should protect you. Freedom in the hands of fools is becoming a dirty word. It is time to reconnect with reality and real family values, free from abusive religion.

em>Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)


Izgad said...

As an actual libertarian, I take offense to any association with such people and the idea that allowing a parent to decide not to give a child medical care has anything to do with libertarianism. Even under a libertarian government parents would not have a blank check to do with their children as they wish. The government’s claim over a child supersedes that of the parent. The only government limitation is that it has to keep out of religious, racial and all other non empirical harm issues. While every parent can make its own decisions in terms of non empirical harm issues since the government cannot evaluate such matters, the government has the right and even the duty to step in the moment someone is causing direct empirical harm to others. No parent has the right to beat a child black and blue. Even if they should be allowed to make their own choices what movies they allow their children to see or whether their children should be allowed access to alcohol and condoms.
Probably the best solution to this matter would be to send in doctors under armed police escort. If the people attempt to interfere with our kindly citizen doctors then the police would have the right to step in to protect these doctors. This gives the people a way out in terms of their religion. They did not want to allow the doctors but they were forced to.

Rebecca said...

I wouldn't say that stopping parents from denying their children medical care is limiting their "freedom" at all! If they believe that it is against their religion to accept medical care, they are well within their rights to refuse to accept any themselves. But they cannot make that decision for other people. (Likewise, homeschooling. I think it should be allowed, but it needs to be strictly regulated so that parents don't use it as a way to keep their children uneducated or teach them lies. They may remain in ignorance if they wish, but their children have the right to an education, just as they have the right to medical care.)

I'm reminded of that "conscience clause" that would have allowed pharmacy assistants to deny women birth control. If birth control is against their religion, they don't have to take it, but they cannot decide to deny it to other people as well.

Former_Fundy said...


Lets be honest here. The very small groups such as the one you mentioned (pentecostal based)and Christian Science are NOT representative of the religous right. The overwhelming majority (99%) of the religous right (Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, PCA, etc. etc.) would consider the group you mentioned as a lunatic fringe.

Now I am not a fan of the religous right, please don't misunderstand me. But I do believe in being intellectually honest.

Rebecca said...

Former Fundy: When it comes down to it, I think most of them would. (All of the ones I talked to do.) Remember that case a while back where the mother was denying her son cancer treatments? Yup, they were on her side. Because a fundamental part of their philosophy is that children belong to the parents, who can do what they like with them, including denying them basic rights based on a religion that the children do not necessarily share. Insert homeschool analogy again.

Former_Fundy said...

Hi Rebecca,

I was a fundamentalist for 25 years (the Bob Jones variety) and I can tell you unequivocally that particular group of fundamentalists are appalled by the notion that parents would not give their children medical care.

Now I realize there are Pentecostal/Charismatic groups that would agree with the idea that medical attention shows a lack of faith in God but even they are in the minority within the overall charismatic world.

I am not trying to defend these nuts. I just don't want to broadbush the whole movement with the actions of the fringe. Thats all.

Rebecca said...

Oh, I get what you're saying - I'm just trying to say that even among those people who accept the idea that medical care is OK, a large number still feel that a parent should be able to do what he/she likes with a child.

Enerqy said...

It seems like Frank is supporting a Maoist style dictatorship. The Chinese are not allowed to teach their children religion. That doesn't stop them now does it, but it rather makes the flame burn brighter still.

Izgad said...

“I'm reminded of that "conscience clause" that would have allowed pharmacy assistants to deny women birth control. If birth control is against their religion, they don't have to take it, but they cannot decide to deny it to other people as well.”
The pharmacist in your case is not denying anyone birth control he is just deciding not to personally sell it. The woman is still free to go to the pharmacist next door, down the street or in the next state. If there is not another establishment selling birth control that is still not the fault of the pharmacist. This is why we need the free market to make sure that there are different establishments at work competing with each other. This will make sure that everyone will be able to buy any product that does not cause direct physical harm to other people as they wish.

Rebecca said...

Izgad, we're not talking about an independent pharmacist who chooses not to sell birth control in a pharmacy that he runs. I think this is reprehensible (and it's not true that there's always another pharmacy to go to, especially in the case of EC), but not ridiculous. What we're talking about is a law that protects people from being fired who refuse to do their jobs. It's the exact opposite of the free market.

Izgad said...

It is irrelevant if there is another pharmacy available. If pro-choice groups want to make sure that everyone has access to birth control let them set up their own pharmacy.
You are changing the issue. Yes an employee at an establishment that sells birth control does not have the right to not sell the stuff since he has no right to the job in the first place. If he has a religious objection he should resign. If an employee refuses to sell birth control it is also not an issue of him stepping on other people’s religious rights. It is him not doing his job, not fulfilling the contract he signed with his employers and his employers should have the right to fire him. But that is again a private matter not for the government.
If I private company does not want to sell a product, why is that such a reprehensible thing? Do I have to sell aspirin? Let someone else sell it.

Rebecca said...

When I originally mentioned "I'm reminded of that 'conscience clause' that would have allowed pharmacy assistants to deny women birth control. If birth control is against their religion, they don't have to take it, but they cannot decide to deny it to other people as well," it's hard to argue that I'm changing the issue.

You can read about it here; it's about abortion, birth control, and even referrals. But if you think someone should be able to advertise as a professional and draw a professional's pay without providing the services one expects of a professional...

Ellen said...

Unfortunately, there has been another questionable death of a baby in the Followers of Christ Church. An investigation is under way.


Though the parents of the baby have not yet been named, one has to wonder if the baby could possibly be Raylene's and Brent's (Carl). She was pregnant during the trial and due sometime this fall. Only one media outlet says it's not their baby, but, curiously, the baby was buried next to Ava Worthington.

I was an alternate juror on the Worthington trial and listened to all the testimony. While I had empathy for the Worthington's loss of their daughter and felt they were very sincere in their religious beliefs, I would have found them both guilty on both counts. I was shocked by the jury's verdict.

Raylene's parents (Marcie and Jeff Beagley)are scheduled to go on trial in January 2010 for the June 2008 of their 16 year old son, who died of a urinary tract blockage.

How many more tragic deaths will it take before the members of this church realize that having some faith in modern medicine and having faith in God are not incompatible?

Anonymous said...

Its really laughable in a very sad way that all these pro-abortionists are so concerned about what religious people do with their children. Apparently a few lunatics on the fringe are more dangerous to children than abortion is. The numbers to bear this out. A million children die each year of abortion, many of them late term elective abortions.

So who are really the lunatics?