By Rabbi Rami Shapiro
What limits, if any, must be placed on a parent’s “right” to raise a child? I was in Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago working on my Holy Rascals film project. The local paper was abuzz with a jury’s verdict regarding Carl and Raylene Worthington, who chose to heal their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, spirituality rather than medically. Ava died.
Deadlocked for days, the jury finally acquitted the couple of all manslaughter charges, and found Carl Worthington guilty of a misdemeanor.
I don’t want to argue the verdict. I want to explore the idea behind it. Are parents allowed to suffer their children to bear the burden of the parent’s faith? Ava died not because of what she believed, but because of what her parents’ believed. Do parents have the right to do this?
And what about instilling your beliefs in your child as they mature? I taught my son that he is a Jew, and along with that identity comes serious obligations. He is a member of a tribe that is often hated and hunted. He is often associated with Israeli policies with which he has no connection and shares no love. Had I not told him that he was a Jew; would any of this be true?
What about parents who instill in their children the notion of Original Sin? My son doesn’t suffer from this particular spiritual disease, and has no need of the Cure: belief in Jesus as Christ. Are those who infect their children with sin doing the right thing? Are those who tell their children there is no such thing at fault?
I know children who were told from early on that the earth is only ten thousand years old and that humans coexisted with and even rode on the backs of dinosaurs. Is this not a form of child abuse? Are these kids not handicapped in a world that is rooted in what former President George W. Bush dismissively called the “reality-based community”? And if it is, it is any less insane than teaching your child that wrong beliefs (i.e. beliefs that mom and dad call wrong) send you to hell? Or that God gave a strip of land to the Jews and they have a right to divest it of those who lived in it for centuries?
Do parents have the right to teach children whatever they please? Does the child have no right to truth? If, when it comes to the physical welfare of a child, the government is apt to intervene and at least try to hold parents responsible for their child’s welfare, why not do so when it is the child’s intellectual welfare is at stake as well?
Please share your thoughts on this.
re-printed from Rami’s Blog