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When Freedom Is a Dirty Word

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On what had to be one of the most disheartening media appearances I've ever made -- in terms of my usual shtick as an author and commentator -- I was just on Court TV yesterday. Court TV was fine. The case we were talking about made me want to throw up.

I was commentating on Oregon v. Carl and Raylene Worthington, involving Christian 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 shadow land -- 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 the way Islamic suicide bombers sometimes use children to carry their bombs.

When right-wing evangelical Christians say they fear government death panels and a "takeover of medicine" by the federal government it seems strange to me that what they fear the federal government might do would be to save people like this child's life. So much for the "pro-life" community.

I just wish the government really would take over health care, and for that matter remove children from any family that is crazy enough to deny care to a minor. And while they're at it they should curb the rights of redneck loons to carry loaded weapons into public meetings.

In fact it's time to roll back the extremes of freedom in freedom's name.

The religious right, the gun-carrying paranoids all have one thing in common: they are taking a libertarian/religious view to an extreme that will unhinge this country. It's time to make certain types of freedom a dirty word.

Here's the case as it was laid out for me by the folks at Court TV:

Carl and Raylene Worthington are lifelong members of Followers of Christ, a controversial religious group which doesn't believe in using medical doctors. (Children have died in this group before who needed medical care.) On March 2, 2008, their 15-month-old daughter Ava died at home after she developed pneumonia. The Worthingtons were indicted by a grand jury for not providing adequate medical care.

On Sunday, March 2, 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington took her last breath at approximately 7:15 p.m. as her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, along with a host of members of the Followers of Christ Church, prayed for her recovery.

The "healing," which took approximately 45 minutes, began sometime near 6:00 p.m. According to the Worthingtons and church members a short time later, (estimates range from 15-30 minutes), Ava died in the master bedroom of the family home. Following church practices, the infant was anointed and the county medical examiner's office was called to report the death.

In July of 2009, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer announced the verdicts in the trial of Carl and Raylene Worthington. They both faced manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges. Raylene Worthington was acquitted of both charges; Carl Worthington was convicted of a criminal mistreatment charge.

How can this happen in America?

Make no mistake about it, there is a scarily large subculture within our society that, in terms of its "life values," is utterly hypocritical. At the recent so-called Values Voter Summit (September 22, 2009) held by the top Republicans and their Religious Right supporters where were the protests against bad parenting where crimes are committed in the name of God?

Where were the speeches against gun-toting nuts?

Nowhere.

Because the Religious Right is not religious or conservative: they are nihilists. Call 911 for that child? No! Arrest someone for carrying a loaded weapon to a presidential meeting place? Don't tread on me! I have rights!

Every day the "family values" religious extremest chip away at actual family values, and not just when they're letting little children die of neglect in the name of God. The evangelical/fundamentalist America within the ordinary everyday decent caring America is largely responsible for banning, effectively curtailing or harassing and minimizing effective sex education in our schools. This leads directly to a far higher incidence of abortion. This same group has now turned its collective will against reforming our health care system in a way that would give women and children an opportunity to have access to family care that would not just reduce the incidence of abortion but the incidence of mortality in everything from childhood diabetes to lacking prenatal care.

If ever a case pointed to the fact that we need government intervention in the curtailing of our insane levels of "religious freedom" the Worthington case is a perfect example.

It's time that all American children "belonging" to fundamentalist extremists come under the care of the state. It's time that all children are guaranteed an education wherein they will be taught facts rather than religious mythology. It is time to look at child-hurting homeschoolers and demand a curriculum that is fact-based.

With the Republican Party in the grip of the Religious Right it did everything in its power to turn the case of Terri Schiavo into a circus fraught with political "family values" overtones. Where were they as baby Worthington died -- killed by faith in God?

Thousands of children in this country are raised in everything from polygamous child-abusing religious communes to homes where medical care is denied because of "religious freedom." Tens of thousands more are beaten according to the teachings of James Dobson and his pro-corporal punishment child-intimidation manuals. Where is the law?

Religious freedom means freedom to worship in the Church of your choosing and -- after your're 18 -- to believe anything you want. Before you're 18, society should protect you. Freedom in the hands of fools is becoming a dirty word. It is time to reconnect with reality and real family values, free from abusive religion.

em>Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)