A huge triumph for Tennessee’s children

The state of Tennessee has just given its children a big victory.

The Tennessee Legislature has repealed a decades-old religious defense for felony crimes against children by parents whose children died or were seriously harmed when prayer took the place of medical assistance.

"The House gave final legislative approval Thursday to a bill repealing a controversial 1994 law that was at the center of a long court fight over the 2002 death of a Loudon County child whose mother refused medical care in favor of 'spiritual treatment' and prayer," the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The bill now waits approval from Gov. Bill Haslam, who will almost certainly sign it. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Prince v. Massachusetts more than 70 years ago that our constitutional "right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death." The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Prevent Child Abuse America, National District Attorneys Association and the National Association of Medical Examiners have all called for rescinding such religious exceptions, which are far too common in states all over the country. Tennessee should be a guidepost for such other states.

A major player in getting the bill passed was an FFRF ally, Children's Healthcare Is Legal Duty (CHILD). "CHILD believes all parents, regardless of their religious belief, should have a legal duty to obtain medical care for their child when necessary to prevent serious harm," Rita Swan, the organization's president, told the Commercial Appeal.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation also did its bit, sending out an action alert to its members and writing to Tennessee newspapers about the bill.

"The victims here are children, too young to comprehend or consent to a course of action that may drastically increase their chances of death or permanent disfigurement," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote. "Religious freedom ends when a person's actions threaten the health or safety of others. We do not let religious parents beat their children, so why do we let them withhold life-saving treatment?"

FFRF welcomes the repeal of a noxiously harmful religious exemption and thanks its allies and members for their hard work in getting it rescinded.

"Such religious exceptions can—and have—caused great harm to children around the country," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're delighted that reason and common sense have prevailed in at least one state."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nontheist organization with 23,700 members all over the country, including almost 300 in Tennessee.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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