June 03, 2013 | permalink
I recently spoke at the national convention of the American Humanist Association as part of a panel on religious child harm, sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. I was honored to share the stage with Liz Heywood, who was raised in a Christian Science family, and who told a heart-wrenching story of being denied medical care for a severe bone infection, ultimately resulting in the loss of a leg. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, which examines religiously-motivated child abuse and neglect, described her new initiative, the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that belief and faith practices have on children in America. Richard Dawkins moderated.
The topic of child harm is a challenging one. When we approach the subject of religious initiatives in public education, we often do so in a legalistic frame of mind. We talk about the Constitution, the Separation of Church and State, and the legal advocacy groups that are advancing a radical right-wing agenda. But we lose sight of the fact that little children are involved, and that the greatest harms are not to our high-flown principles, but to the children themselves.
Focusing on that harm raises some uncomfortable thoughts. Uncomfortable not just because we are talking about the extremely unpleasant facts of psychological and physical abuse of children, but also because facing these harms forces us to question even some of our own principles. It forces us to confront what we mean by religious tolerance or religious freedom.
We like to think that we should have complete freedom of religion in our society. But what happens when the religion and the abuse of children are inseparable? What happens when religion is bound up with manipulating and even terrorizing small children? That is the uncomfortable fact that I face, in researching some of the groups that are involved in the most successful efforts to insert their religion in public schools. Please view our panel at the AHA website, http://www.americanhumanist.org.