Christian scientists and several other religious bodies depend on prayer instead of medication to treat diseases. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, so anybody able to give their own consent may refuse medical treatment.
However, when parents make this decision for kids, it raises questions about whether this is protected under the constitution. Usually, refusing medical care for a kid would be neglect under child abuse laws, but most states make exemptions on religious grounds. At the same time, in most of these states, a doctor must be consulted if the condition is life-threatening. Furthermore, several states have begun to repeal these laws completely.
What Happens If a Child Dies Without Medical Care?
Parents may be criminally accountable for manslaughter or criminal homicide if their kid dies of a medically treatable condition. Most states have decided that religious exemptions for child abuse regulations do not apply in these circumstances, and the parents cannot be charged with manslaughter or child neglect.
Where parents are divorced and differ in religion, the Christian Scientist parent may be civilly responsible to the other for failing to give medical care. All states have rules barring child abuse and neglect. Nevertheless, in a majority of U.S. states (as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico), there are exemptions in the civil child abuse regulations when medical treatment for a child conflicts with parents’ religious beliefs.
What Constitutes Child Abuse?
Child abuse can take many forms, resulting in criminal prosecution and civil penalties. Typical forms of child abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Any negligent act that results in a minor’s death or any exploitation of a child constitutes child abuse.
What Is Neglect of a Child?
A child is neglected when the caretaker leaves the child:
- Famished much of the time without enough food or water
- Without treatment or medical care
- Without warm clothes in winter or cooler clothes in summer
- Home alone when the kid is too immature to take care of themselves safely
- Locked in a room for hours or even days at a time
What If I Have Been Accused of Child Abuse?
A child’s age in a child abuse case can affect the type of punishment you can get in a child abuse case. Also, the severity of the child abuse would be another element in the punishment you can get in a child abuse case. You can be arrested and convicted of the crime of child abuse.
Criminal outcomes for child abusers include:
- Probation or parole
- Loss of custody or visitation with your kids
- It could be on your record for life
- Anger management or parenting classes
The likelihood of any of the above consequences depends on:
- The severity of the child abuse
- Comparable prior convictions
- Whether you are presently on probation or parole
- The number of instances of child abuse
Can I Be Held Civilly Liable for Child Abuse?
You can also be held civilly responsible to the victim in a private lawsuit. You may be liable to pay the victim money for their:
- Pain and suffering
- Similar prior convictions
- Direct out-of-pocket medical expenses
Reporting Child Abuse
Child abuse laws in most states require that once physical injury on a child becomes obvious, certain individuals are required to report it, including:
- School officials
If these individuals were conscious of the child abuse and did not report it, they may be responsible to the kid for the injuries they suffered at the hands of the abuser.
Bringing a Lawsuit for Child Abuse
Time is of the essence. Each state has a “statute of limitations,” which is the time limit when you are permitted to bring a lawsuit. If you wait past this period, you will be banned from bringing a lawsuit for child abuse. Consult with a local attorney to learn more about the time limits for bringing a child abuse lawsuit in your area.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations for Child Abuse
Some states expand the time limit to bring a child abuse lawsuit. These states usually authorize the lawsuit to be filed a specific number of years after the minor reaches adulthood or after the abusive memory that was repressed resurfaces.
Recovering Damages as a Victim of Child Abuse
Victims of child abuse often have a difficult time recovering from their losses. Most child abuse happenings involve individual abusers who do not have insurance or sufficient assets to pay for the victim’s injuries. There are exemptions, such as when the abuser was a member of an organization (e.g., a church) or a person with a duty to report the abuse but failed to do so (e.g., a physician).
If the individual who committed the child abuse against you does have the capacity to pay if you win a lawsuit against them, you may be able to recover for your damages, including:
- Medical costs
- Loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
Criminal vs. Civil Court
- Criminal Child Abuse: a person is prosecuted by the district attorney’s office for committing child abuse against a victim. If you face criminal charges, you are in criminal court and need a criminal defense lawyer.
- Civil Child Abuse: involves the victim suing the individual who committed the child abuse against them to recover damages for their injuries. If you want to sue someone for your child abuse injuries or are being sued by the victim for money, you are in civil court and need an experienced personal injury attorney.
Victim of Child Abuse?
If you or a loved one has been a target of child abuse, you should speak to a lawyer instantly to learn more about maintaining your rights and remedies. A lawyer will be able to demonstrate the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process. Most attorneys who handle these types of personal injury matters work on a contingency basis.
What Is Freedom of Religion?
Another important freedom protected by the First Amendment is the right to freedom of religious choice. The First Amendment explicitly forbids the establishment of a government religion, such as a state church. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, so anybody who can give their own consent may refuse medical treatment or do the medical treatment they prefer for their children.
Does the Christian Scientist Church Have Any Liability?
Most courts have declined to find the church criminally or civilly liable for any misconduct. The church has a constitutional right to observe and teach its religious beliefs and does not owe a duty to give medical care.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
The law regarding children’s medical care and religion is complicated and ever-changing. If you are concerned about your responsibilities as a parent or are charged with failing to provide medical care and feel that your constitutionally guaranteed rights have been compromised, you should contact a lawyer.
Nevertheless, if you’ve been charged with child abuse/neglect due to your beliefs, it is also essential to get a criminal lawyer. Finding the right attorney experienced in constitutional law will inform you of your rights and preserve any possible legal remedies you may have.