Religious Belief or Child Abuse?

In the United States, parental rights are considered to be fundamental. How children are brought into the world and how they are raised are generally up to the parents to decide, except where harm or the threat of harm may force the court to evaluate the parents’ decisions regarding the child. Though parental rights are fundamental, that does not mean that they are absolute. The best interest of the child is the most fundamental notion when it comes to family law, and where the court finds that the child’s best interests are not being met, then government intervention may take place. If you are unsure whether your religious practices may take away your parental rights, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

The Traditional and Non-Traditional Forms of Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect can occur in a variety of different ways. In many situations, when child abuse and neglect are imagined, these images that appear are usually the more traditional types of child abuse: the physical harm that comes from violence or neglect. It is a parent’s utmost obligation and duty to ensure that his/her child receive care, safety and protection, and where this is not provided to the child, abuse and neglect may be found. Sometimes, however, abuse may come in other forms that are not considered to be the traditional forms of physical child abuse and neglect. Sometimes how a parent chooses to raise a child can lead to child abuse.

Religion Tenets and a Child’s Wellbeing

The right to raise a child within a certain religion is the right of a parent. Most of the time, the choice of religion will not affect the child’s well-being. However, there are certain denominations and sects in which society may permit the practice of these religions as a form of freedom of association and speech, but the court might step in where the practices negatively affect the children. In a few, non-traditional religions that are acknowledged in the United States, there are determinations that it is against the fundamentals of the religion to vaccinate a child.

Florida’s Vaccination Policy and Religious Exemption Right

In Florida, the law acknowledges the right of the parent to decide to not vaccinate a child due to religious views, but the parent must fill out an extensive exemption form. Not vaccinating one’s child could lead to a serious injury against the child’s health, exposure to an infectious disease that could be fatal, and finally, the possibility of infecting other children.

Faith Healing and the Court’s Right to Intervene

Faith healing in many states is permitted when it comes to children. In Florida, a parent is not found to be per se a negligent parent because the parent legitimately believes the tenets of his or her religious organization that prohibits a member of that religion for undergoing a specific medical treatment. Though Florida acknowledges the rights of a person to practice his or her religion and make medical decisions for his or her own child, the exception is not absolute. The court may require, through court order, that a child receive medical services or treatment when the health of the child requires it. If a parent fails to provide the medical services or treatment, especially when a court order has required that the child receive the services or treatment, then any harm, injury, or death will be the responsibility of the parent. A parent whose child suffers or dies as a result of not receiving treatment due to a religious belief may be liable for criminal charges relating to child abuse, neglect, and manslaughter.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation regarding child abuse, neglect, and the procedures surrounding parental right termination.