The Top Ten Religious Tenets or Practices that Have Endangered Our Children and that State Legislators Need to Know Before Voting for Extreme Religious Liberty Statutes Like the State RFRAs


            It is an odd juxtaposition in history: Believers are demanding more “religious liberty” in the states (as in more than the First Amendment ever provided) when, at the same time, we have cascades of child sex abuse scandals in one religious organization after another and Islamic fanatics, untethered by law or human rights, beheading even converts on chilling videos.   It is not as though we can any longer pretend that all religious actors are benign and praiseworthy. Some are downright scary.

Yet, religious lobbyists are demanding state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) with abandon, making it possible for believers to challenge and overcome unnamed laws to protect unnamed practices—even those that protect our children. And they are not satisfied with the vanilla version of RFRA, but rather push for an extraordinary burden on the government that virtually guarantees the law will not be applied to them.

The following describes ten religious beliefs that have contributed to the abuse, neglect, abandonment, and death of children and should be known by state legislators if they consider supporting a misleadingly named and misguided RFRA.

No “religious liberty” statute should ever make it easier for any adult–including believers–to abuse, neglect, abandon, or kill children or for religious organizations to perpetuate the same. No legislator should vote for child endangerment.


  1. Refusing ordinary medical care to sick children based on faith, leading to their permanent disability or death from diabetes, meningitis, pneumonia, diseases otherwise prevented by vaccination like measles and mumps, or leukemia, among other ailments.

Faiths: Followers of Christ, Church of Christian Science, Church of the New Born, Jehovah’s Witnesses (belief against blood transfusions), Amish and Mennonite (failure to get immunizations), among others

  1. The rule against “scandal” in the context of clergy sex abuse promulgated in 1922 and 1962 mandated secrecy by the hierarchy and clergy who learned about it and even the victims themselves.

Faith: Roman Catholic Church

  1.  Mesirah, the belief that Jews should not turn other Jews into the authorities, which has meant that numerous pedophiles were not reported to the police and, therefore, had more opportunities to abuse more children    

Faith: Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism

  1. Shunning and/or banishment by their lifetime family and friends when victims disclose sex assaults by siblings

Faith: Amish

  1. Disfellowshipping of those who report abuse, which means that the person is expelled from the community and cast into the outside world they have been taught is very dangerous plus a requirement that abuse was not to be treated as corroborated unless two elders have witnessed it

Faith: Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. Outsiders are not to be trusted; statutory rape and transportation of child brides are not to be reported to the authorities; rebellious boys are abandoned and threatened not to return; and even telling a court of law about their practices violates a belief in secrecy

Faith: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  1. Leaving is traitorous and believers are taught that the outside world is dangerous, leaving children to be sexually abused from a young age and engaging in street begging from a young age  

Faith: Children of God

  1. Telling those outside the faith about parents’ sex assaults is an affront to Jesus Christ

Faith: Evangelical Christians

  1. Honor killings are threatened against girls who are raped, leading girls to delay or forego disclosure to avoid being disciplined or killed

Faith: Radical Muslims

       10.  Controlling young victims of abuse with threats of hell and damnation, threats against their parents, and threats against their lives

Faith: Small cultists like Tony Alamo, and clergy from all walks of faith

Marci Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the United States’ leading church/state scholars and is a Fox Family Pavilion Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Academic Director and President of CHILD USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to interdisciplinary evidence-based research and tracking of medical, legal, and psychological developments to prevent and deter child abuse and neglect, which she co-leads with Dr. Steven Berkowitz, University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and Dr. Paul Offit, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She holds the Paul R. Verkuil Research Chair at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, through 2018.