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Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer

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We Need Freedom From Religion Not Just Freedom of Religion

Posted: 02/14/11 11:32 AM ET

What do you think the reaction would be from "respectable" conservative religious and political leaders if -- since 1982 -- over fifty American couples had been convicted of murdering their children in "Muslim religious rituals?" What would Glenn Beck be saying?

Yet according to the New York Times there have been at least 50 convictions in the United States since 1982 in cases where medical treatment was withheld from a child for "religious reasons." And there have been hundreds more cases that weren't brought to trial out of over solicitous "respect" for religious freedom and parents' rights.

And that's just the killings in the name of God done in the Evangelical/fundamentalist and so-called charismatic community where medical care is withheld from children while parents "trust God" to heal them. That doesn't even touch the bizarre world of other American cults, tax-deductable cults that is...

In "The Apostate Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology" by Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker (Feb 14, 2011), child abuse is alleged -- in detail and with detailed back-up -- as taking place in the "church" of Scientology. The New Yorker alleges that David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology is, to put it mildly, a bit over the top:

The defectors told the newspaper that Miscavige was a serial abuser of his staff. "The issue wasn't the physical pain of it," Rinder said. "It's the fact that the domination you're getting--hit in the face, kicked--and you can't do anything about it. If you did try, you'd be attacking the C.O.B."--the chairman of the board. Tom De Vocht, a defector who had been a manager at the Clearwater spiritual center, told the paper that he, too, had been beaten by Miscavige; he said that from 2003 to 2005 he had witnessed Miscavige striking other staff members as many as a hundred times. Rathbun, Rinder, and De Vocht all admitted that they had engaged in physical violence themselves. "It had become the accepted way of doing things," Rinder said. Amy Scobee said that nobody challenged the abuse because people were terrified of Miscavige. Their greatest fear was expulsion: "You don't have any money. You don't have job experience. You don't have anything. And he could put you on the streets and ruin you." (Read more)


According to the book-length, must-read article (deserving of a Pulitzer) Scientology is not just another organization with an odd leader. The New Yorker also alleges that it breaks up families, forces people to drop contact with those who drop out -- including family members -- and hurts children not least through the "Sea Org" youth training program. The article alleges that this church even uses minors for what amounts to virtually unpaid labor, deprives them of an education, has used forged documents to bolster its founders' reputation... and that's only a start. (Lawyers for the church of Scientology denied the accounts in the New Yorker).

No, my article isn't about Scientology it is about almost all religion in America today.

Take the antifeminist Evangelical "Quiverfull Movement." The name of the Quiverfull Movement alludes to Psalm 127:3: "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed." In other words women must rent their wombs to God, or at least to their patriarchal leader/husbands.

Some Quiverfull leaders don't allow daughters to attend college, as "worldly outsiders" might destroy their faith.

Daughters, they say, should stay at home after they graduate from homeschooling. Daughters should practice being a "helpmeet" to their fathers, training to someday "serve" those godly husbands God will send their way. Some Quiverfull women are not allowed to drive. Others make lists of daily tasks to submit to their husbands for an okay. Quiverfull wives believe that it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times. If a husband strays because of a wife's refusal, it's her fault. And Quiverfull wives are baby farms, contraception is right out! Plus they must indoctrinate their children.

The Christian homeschool movement drove the Evangelical school movement to the ever-harsher world-rejecting Far Right.

This happened because Evangelical homeschoolers were demanding ever-greater levels of "separation" from the Evil Secular World. It wasn't enough just to reject the public schools. How could the Christian parent be sure that even the Evangelical schools were sufficiently pure? And so the Christian schools radicalized in order to not appear to be "compromising" with The World in the eyes of increasingly frightened and angry parents.

The Roman Catholic Church... as it has tried to make "eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" via a "celibate" priesthood, has had its sexual "ethics" discredited ever since Giovanni Boccaccio called the Church's bluff when he wrote the Decameron in the fourteenth century. Nothing has changed since. Boccaccio's wonderfully ribald satire at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church's gross sexual hypocrisy is as apt today as ever. And the Evangelicals find themselves in the same mess, from the sexual-scandal-mired Evangelical leadership to the nefarious enablers like the so-called Family and its C Street enclave of congressional adulterers.

When it comes to religion in America (and worldwide) we're talking not about "a few bad apples" but about the whole edifice of religion top to bottom. An impartial inquiry into child abuse at Roman Catholic institutions in Ireland found that the top Church leaders knew that sexual abuse was endemic in boys and girls institutions. A nine-year government inquiry investigated a sixty-year period when more than 35,000 children were placed in a network of "reformatories," "industrial schools," and "workhouses." The children suffered physical and/or sexual abuse that more than two thousand witnesses confirmed to the commission.

Church authorities in league with government enablers were placing children in these camps until the 1980s. Physical and emotional abuse was a built-in deliberate feature of these "homes" for young men and women. The inquiry proved that child rape defines Irish Catholicism as surely as the sign of the cross once did. The state-ordered investigation into cover-ups by the Dublin Archdiocese revealed that church officials had shielded scores of priests from criminal investigation over several decades and did not report any crimes to the police until the mid-1990s.

This was much the same behavior as happened in the United States: The Church's leaders spent much more time protecting their institution than their flock, let alone children. For instance, an acquaintance of mine in the Boston area, Cardinal Bernard Law, with whom I'd worked on various Massachusetts "pro-life" initiatives and fund-raising efforts, left Boston for Rome "in a hurry" after he was being investigated for enabling child-molesting priests to remain in ministry.

As a relic of my days as a Religious Right leader -- I have long since changed my mind as I describe in my forthcoming book Sex, Mom and God -- I have a photograph of the two of us (back when Law was a mere archbishop), with Law sitting next to me at the head table at a banquet held by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, where we both spoke. Law was a hand-on-your-forearm political operative. He possessed the sort of smoothness that is achieved only after years of deftly "handling" people in a climb to power. Those sorts of political instincts depend on the practitioner being perceived as a "good guy" and had transformed Law into a glad-handing, remember-everyone's-first-name shell of jovial bonhomie.

After his "fall" Law was whisked off to the Vatican and "reassigned." Then Pope John Paul kept him on as a cardinal! In what has to be one of the strangest (and unintentionally revealing) "defenses" of Cardinal Law, according to a report by National Public Radio, Deal Hudson (a conservative Roman Catholic activist) tried to somewhat exonerate Law by saying that, after all, what Law did wasn't so unusual! National Public Radio's Boston station (WBUR) filed this report: "'There is a particular animus being manifested toward Cardinal Law,' said Deal Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate and director of InsideCatholic.com, two conservative Catholic Web sites. 'When you stand back and look across the United States at all the dioceses and the way this scenario was repeated in so many dioceses and in some cases with even higher levels of abuse cases, I don't think that animus is fair.'"

After rescuing Law from his American accusers, Pope John Paul II made Cardinal Law a member of the so-called Pontifical Council for the Family! According to the Boston Globe, the pope's new "family expert" had, under questioning by the Boston police, admitted that when a priest committed a sex crime, his practice was to only seek the analysis of "therapists" in residential treatment centers before deciding whether to return a priest accused of sexually abusing a child to the pulpit.

According to countless media reports from the Boston Globe to WBUR, Cardinal Law became the first bishop in America shown to have actively participated in the cover-up of child molestation. Despite substantial amounts of documentation that demonstrated his deep involvement with covering up the molestation of children, Law refused to step down as archbishop of Boston.

After he left Boston, there remained a significant number of undisclosed priests in the Boston area who had confessed to molesting children and who -- as I write this -- continue to work as priests. Law declined to disclose the names of these "shepherds."

The forms of child abuse recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ...include slavery, human trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom, forced labor, armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, illicit activities (drugs, genital mutilation of girls). However, these ignore Article 14 Charter of Right of Children which concerns the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Religious indoctrination should be considered a form a child abuse when it is coercive, cuts children off from the larger society or is promulgated through fear. Be they in Scientology families or Roman Catholics or evangelicals, children are often placed in schools which further indoctrinate the religious views of the church of the parents. Many are also taught not to question -- especially not to question authority figures and this has played in a role in the Catholic Church's many sexual abuse scandals. The New Yorker article details how certain Scientology schools all but make sure their children can't function outside of their cult by stripping them of any contact with the outside world, and that -- according to the article -- is accompanied by brutality every bit as sordid as what the Irish Roman Catholics have been doing.

That's just the tip of the abuse iceberg. The Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic "community" is also hoc deep in scandal.

According to the New York Times, (Oct 8, 09) a Wisconsin couple was just sentenced to jail time for failing to seek medical attention for their daughter because they believed in "faith healing" instead of science. Dale and Leilani Neumann, were ordered to spend 30 days in jail each year for the next six years and were placed on 10 years' probation: a disgustingly lax slap on the wrist.

Mr. Neumann, 47, and Ms. Neumann, 41, who live in Weston, in central Wisconsin, had been convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in August. Their daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann, 11, died from untreated diabetes on March 23, 2008. When the girl became ill and could no longer walk or talk, her parents prayed for her instead of taking her to a doctor, prosecutors said.

The Neumann case is hardly unique. One of the most disheartening media appearances I've ever made -- in terms of my being an author and commentator -- was on Court TV a few years ago. I was commentating on Oregon v. Carl and Rayle Worthington, involving fundamentalist parents who refused to give their child medical care on the basis of their trust in faith healing. (I was invited because as a former religious right leader -- long since departed from that subculture -- they thought I'd bring an "inside" perspective.)

The Worthington's fifteen-month-old little girl died (of something easily treatable) surrounded by her parents and other members of their congregation praying for healing. No one called 911.

As far as I'm concerned they used their daughter to try to "prove" a faith-related "point" the way some extremist suicide bombers sometimes use children to carry their bombs. And our reaction to their crime -- and another obscenely light sentence -- should be the same as it would be to an extremist bomber of a day care center.

Would the IRS give al Qaeda tax-deductable status?

Then why does the Roman Catholic Church, which has done so little to make up for the pedophilia abuses, have that status? Why do the Scientologists? Why do countless fundamentalist Protestant schools that are more like madrassas than schools as most of us understand the term? Why aren't parents who kill their children for God not serving life sentences? If The New Yorker article is true, why aren't the leaders of Scientology in jail? Why wasn't Cardinal Law prosecuted?

Answer: Because of our crazy ideas about religious freedom that on so many fronts trump not just common sense but the rule of law.

It's bad enough that we allow parents in the far right evangelical home school and Christian school movements to pour anti-gay, anti-science, and anti-America (God is judging us) garbage into their children's heads. But surely a line should be drawn at murder and/or slave labor, and at bishops and popes who are child abusers and/or enablers.

Why the silence from the right (and from too many people on the left too) about the proven danger that evangelical/fundamentalist Christians of certain denominations pose to their children because of their religion?

Why the silence in "liberal" Hollywood about Scientology's alleged child abuse as reported in the New Yorker?

The state needs to take away tax deductible status from any religious organization where child abuse is condoned (or hidden). This stripping of tax deductible status should apply to the extremist faith healing Evangelicals and pedophile enabling Catholics and to the Scientologists as well. And child abusers should be jailed be they in robes or hiding out behind "respectable" Hollywood stars.

While Americans worry about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood "taking over Egypt" or "Muslim terrorism" right here at home, we face a far greater actual threat: Unhinged manipulative (greedy and power-besotted) religion invading millions of lives and covering up -- even propagating -- a multiplicity of abuses.

Religious freedom means freedom to worship in the church of your choosing and to believe anything you want or not to believe. But before a child reaches 18, society should protect her or him from people hiding behind our overly religion-friendly laws. Our American idea of open-ended religious freedom is dumb. We need freedom from religion as much as we need freedom of religion.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of his forthcoming book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

 
 
 

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