- Rabbinic Voice
- Reform Responsa
- CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly
Resolution Adopted by the CCAR
RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION FROM THE
CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT ACT
Adopted at the 106th Annual Convention of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis
March, 1995 / Adar II, 5755
Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, states may receive federal funding for child abuse prevention and treatment activities if they meet various criteria established under law and regulation. One criterion is that a state must intervene to secure medical treatment for children if they are at substantial risk of harm from medical neglect. In its regulations implementing this criterion, the Department of Health and Human Services mandates that states must investigate cases where a child is denied treatment due to a parent's religious beliefs (i.e. "spiritual healing" as opposed to conventional medical practices).
The Christian Science Church feels that this requirement is a violation of their free exercise of religion and should be modified to accommodate their religious beliefs.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis has declared its "abhorrence and outrage at the almost epidemic proportions of child abuse" (1977 Resolution on Child Abuse). The 1977 resolution on Child Abuse called for "legislation that will protect children ... and which will require physicians and social welfare workers to report any and all cases of child abuse to the prosecutorial branch of government." At the same time, the CCAR has long held that the free exercise rights of all religious groups must be protected, but can be limited by a compelling state interest such as child safety.
THEREFORE, THE CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
1. Believes that a complete exemption from investigations of child abuse when medical care is withheld for religious reasons is too broad, as states do have a compelling interest in securing the health of children and preventing any category of children from being exempt from the state's protection.
2. Believes that the current policy of the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires a formal child abuse investigation on the basis of possible child abuse in every instance where medical care is withheld (including for religious reasons), is too intrusive and too restrictive of free exercise.
3. Encourages efforts to find a different means of protecting the rights of children in relation to the withholding of medical services, where religion is the basis for withholding such medical services so that there can be an accommodation between the interest of the states to protect children and the religious practices of some of its citizens. This might include a less intrusive investigation to ensure first, that the withholding of medical care is the result of religious beliefs (the claimant's assertion should be accepted unless strong evidence exists to the contrary) and second, that the withholding of treatment poses no real risks to the child's life or long term health.