Religion enjoys many exceptions from the rules and regulations of government. Ministerial institutions have always been free from the burden of federal taxes, and don’t have to abide by laws such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Even the war on drugs does not wholly apply, as certified religious entities can use “controlled substances” such as hallucinogens during ceremony.
However, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed a dark side to the practice of religious exemption. Disturbing patterns of child abuse were found in states that apply this favoritism to day care centers.
“Physically punishing children is outlawed in almost all day cares in America. But at least four states offer an exception for religious providers: In North Carolina, Indiana, Alabama and Missouri, those day care workers may slap and spank children as long as they warn parents.
But an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of religious day cares exploited corporal punishment rules. In case after case, they downplayed to parents how harshly children would be disciplined, disregarded parents’ edicts against physical punishment or lied about policies and practices. Regulators often were powerless to address the problems.”
Children are whipped with belts, struck with paddles, locked in dark closets, pinched on the inner thigh, hit in the face and punched in the chest. There were even reports in Indiana about faces being smashed into concrete.
In many cases, kids come home with unexplained injuries or bruises, which parents believe happened while interacting with other kids. Kristy Guetterman didn’t know it was happening to her daughter Abigail until Missouri child welfare called her.
“Workers said Abigail was locked in a pitch-black room by her day care director as punishment for having an asthma attack, according to the officials’ investigation notes. The workers also said Kathy McFall, the director, frequently flicked children in the face when they spoke too loudly and would drag Abigail into her office by her wrists.”
The Twin Rivers Worship Center day care has a policy stating: “WE DO NOT: spank, shake, bite, pinch, push, pull, slap or otherwise physically punish the children.”
After Guetterman found out that the marks and bruises came from day care administrators, not other kids, she was astonished.
“You put more faith in the church, and then you see people do that to an innocent child,” Guetterman said. “As a Christian, it’s hard to understand how people could go to church on Sunday and then do such horrible things.”
When this incident came to light, director McFall resigned. No action could be taken against the day care, though, because it was a religious facility. Regulators could only ask the facility “to be honest with parents about the discipline policy.”
While McFall may have fallen out of favor, other corporal punishment enthusiasts have found refuge in the system.
In North Carolina, Maymie Page had her license revoked when she ran a secular day care. She was arrested after a string of abuses culminating in the spanking of a boy “so hard on his bottom and arms that he developed bruises and welts.”
Page now runs a religious day care affiliated with the Faith Tabernacle Holiness Church of God in Winston-Salem, where she can continue satisfying her apparent desire to strike children. She runs one of 14 day cares in North Carolina that still use corporal punishment under the state’s religious exemption.
North Carolina asks that its churches carry out their physical punishment of children in a “nurturing and appropriate manner.”
Some parents are convinced that their holy institutions are acting in a righteous manner, even when it has a history of abuse. Bonnie McMurray has three children at Tabernacle Christian Day Care in Monroe, North Carolina, where kids have been bruised with paddles, rapped with rulers, thrown to the ground and slapped on the hands. But McMurray remains faithful.
“The idea of corporal punishment getting out of hand is just not there,” she said. “I’m sure there are people who have abused it, but so much of it is about the attitude of the person doing it. I know the day care workers here love my children, so it makes no difference to me if they pop them on the hand.”
It is generally favorable to have less government interference in dealings between individuals and private entities. However, when government plays favorites and grants special treatment to certain institutions, bad things happen. Children can become victims as fanatical people abuse those exemptions.
Ironically, some government figures use religion not for exemptions, but to deny certain people rights. So it seems the answer is simple: the use of religion should finally be abandoned as a guiding principle for governance.
Religion can be a great way for people to achieve peace and goodwill toward others in their private lives. But it should remain just that—a personal choice and not something to be pushed onto the populace through the state.
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