When Does Protecting Faith Imperil Children?

By | September 5, 2019


– Good afternoon, I’m Michael Kessler. I’m the Managing Director
of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a faculty member in
the Government Department and the law school. I have the distinct honor this afternoon of welcoming you to this conversation on When Does Protecting
Faith Imperil Children, which is both an important
and crucial topic, and also the result of a new volume published by Cambridge University Press, which Robin Fretwell Wilson,
our distinguished guest today is the editor of. And we’re delighted to
have this opportunity to discuss the issues. Joining her is my colleague
Katherine Marshall, Professor of the Practice in
the School of Foreign Service, and a world-renowned expert
in religion and development, and Rabbi Ambassador David Saperstein, who is both a longtime
Georgetown colleague and also most recently was
the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom during the prior
presidential administration through 2017, you served into 2017. This is one of the many kinds of topics that the Berkley Center treats and perhaps in many ways is one
of the most important lenses through which we think about our work, how religion interacts
with policies that are set in both domestic and
particularly in foreign policy and in global affairs, and how innocence and those who are most vulnerable are most impacted by those policies. With that, I have the
opportunity to hand it over to David, who will give
more extensive introductions of the people. So thank you for coming. – What I’m, is it on, yet? Well, you said a long
hold, I pressed it for one. Thank you, that works. Michael, thank you, and thank
you for your leadership here. You’ve done really a fantastic job and we’re all deeply appreciative, your contributions to the Berkley Center. I want to welcome everyone here. We’re going to have a conversation. It’s a small enough
gathering that it can be a little more informal than it might be. So we’re looking forward
to engaging with you and having you engage with
our two really remarkable speakers who are here. Katherine Marshall is a
bit of an institution here, leading the work on
religion and development. It’s something that she
has devoted her life to. Her 35 years at the World Bank or playing the key role in launching the World Faith Development Dialogue, a dialogue between faith
leaders from around the world, influential faith leaders around the world in the development world, and really has had a significant impact, and she continues to lead that. I’m fond of saying that
I travel very widely, and one of the common things I hear is oh, Katherine Marshall just left, no matter where across the globe I am. And her presence is so
remarkable in that regard. She’s edited and written
in a number of publications the research work she guides, this substantive work she guides as part of World Faith
Development Dialogue and the program here is really unique and made a significant contribution. And she helped edit a book with Susan Hayward from the US Institutes of Peace on Women, Religion, and Peace-Building, a book on global institutions of religion in terms of the
role that religious groups play in international affairs
and development work. Robin Fretwell Wilson is, this book is in no small measure due to her enormous talents. Not only is she written in it, but she edited the book,
one of two major books, and one of the next where
the other one is even larger. And this in the same
year, two of the 11 books that she has written or edited. She produces books
faster than I read them. And the level that she has done really has been extraordinary. And obviously they contest
the place of religion and family laws directly on point to this work. But as well, this year, the
other book on Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the
Prospects for Common Ground was a remarkable achievement that she did with Bill Eskridge from Yale University. I have to express constantly
my own debt of gratitude for her guidance for the piece
that I produced from that. She was just a wonderful mentor
to be working with in this. Some of the toughest issues to deal with, those that paid valid
moral principles intention with each other. And in a whole world of
religious freedom claims versus civil rights protections, these issues are significantly
at play in Europe, in the United States, and
growingly across the globe. One discrete area of this
that poses particularly vexing challenges to us is in
the area of family law because there you have
family legal issues, the right of privacy of families, the authority of parents
to decide on the upbringing of their children, and also intersect with the
religious freedom claims and the protection of
children, civil rights claims that exist there. So we couldn’t have two
better people to reflect on some of these issues
about how to balance out these competing valid
moral principle values, these competing claims here. And this book makes a really
significant contribution. So Robin, why don’t you lead us off, tell us a bit about the book, and some of your own contributions. And again, just thank you for the work that you’ve been doing. – I’m a little shorter than Michael. Thank you so much. It’s a privilege to be with
you David and Katherine. I have to say, I’ve been really blessed to have such amazing colleagues. David, hardly did I mentor
him, quite the contrary. I learned quite a lot from you and doing the Afterword
in such a compressed period of time after Masterpiece and while our book was on track for publication by Cambridge. And Katherine and I
have only met recently. But like you David, for
many, many conferences and for a very long
time, I’ve always heard, how is it you don’t
know Katherine Marshall. And I have no idea, but
I’m glad that I do now. I hope this is first
of many collaborations. Thank you also, Michael, for having us at the Berkley Center,
it’s a real privilege. Loved your poster. So whoever in the room
was responsible for that, I ripped it off for the first slide and I really much appreciate it. And really the question is exactly this, when have we gone perhaps too far in the direction of
protecting religious claims, so that the consequences are
actually visited upon children, whether that’s intended or unintended. So that’s really the question. It’s a question that runs across the book. So I’ll spend a second on the book before I drill down in
particular on faith healing as one instance of these clashes where we have both constitutional
protection of the family, constitutional protections
of religious freedom, and then we have the welfare
interests of children who aren’t in a very good position to protect themselves, obviously. So the book comes at a moment, I was saying to Christina Ariaga at lunch, that was right after Hobby
Lobby and before Obergefell is when some of the early
writing was being done. And if you think about it, you have cross-currents
in the law at that moment. You have Hobby Lobby giving
more robust protections, arguably, to religious folks
to live out their religions in important ways, or
beliefs in important ways. Although, of course, cabined
by the state’s compelling government interest, right,
which in many instances we’ll see with faith
healing might be protecting the children who are
parts of these families. And then you have, you know, Obergefell, which for many religious folks, they sort of experienced as losing hold on an important family tradition a form of important religious institution for them, marriage. I’m not sure that I see
that issue quite that way, but I think those cross-currents
were very much there. And so part of what the
book is trying to do is make sense of those cross-currents, but in a particular context. I think that for most of us, exercising our belief
is most central to us in our families. Arguably, our churches may be more, our houses of worship, if
not churches, necessarily. But you know, the family,
I think, is the place where it just paid put. You either can exercise
that belief or you cannot. And we’ll see that a lot
of what the state has done, at least in faith healing, is erected a very thick
shield around the family for reasons that, you know, date back to the 1984
Child Abuse Amendments. I’ll come back to that in a second. And then we’re slowly trying to rethink whether we’ve maybe
made too thick a shield around the family. This book actually looks at
all of the kinds of places where we might expect clashes
between the state’s interests, the families’ interests, and
the third-party interests. You might think of the children
as separate from the parents in that particular regard. across the life cycle of a family, or across the life cycle of individuals from birth to death. So there are lots of pieces in the book that are about Hobby Lobby itself, from both perspectives,
very balanced, so both. People like Mark Rienzi,
who litigated Hobby Lobby, to people like Michelle Goodwin, who’s been one of the leading
critics of Hobby Lobby. There are pieces of the book
that are talking about clashes, oh, and also not just
these kinds of issues around the beginning of life, but things like religious
male circumcision, which for many communities is
a kind of existential claim. You know, in order to be belonged and to be part of that community, you need to be, you know,
religiously circumcised in this particular way. And then the second part of the book and third part of the
book are sort of talking about the middle of your life, right, so child rearing. Really interesting difficult
questions about homeschooling, for example, which we’ll see intersect with how hard it is for the
state to protect children from instances of medical neglect, because those children are
not on the state’s radar. They’re homeschooled. So there are a set of
questions about that. People like Peg Brenig
writing about religious values at divorce and how families
try to reflect those and the decrees that they enter into. And then there are a set of writings about religious values at death, in particular Naomi Kahn
and Amy Zietlow writing. I think Amy was your classmate, Michael, she reminded me of that this morning. But writing a really
interesting empirical study about how religious values matter at death and finding in particular that the values that seem to matter are religious, but they’re the decision maker’s value as opposed to the patients,
which is really interesting, especially for people coming
from a bioethics perspective, ’cause that’s not what
the law would’ve otherwise suggested would happen. So that’s the architecture of the book. In the book I have sort of two pieces, one that I won’t talk
about except to mention, which is the thrust of many
lawmakers in the United States after Obergefell to quote, get the government out
of the marriage business, you know, to withdraw from marriage. And I sort of suggested
that may be a fool’s errand and not quite the right way to go. And then a piece about faith healing that I had the privilege of doing with my co-author Shaakirrah Sanders. And that’s gonna focus,
be the focus of this talk. So we think all the time
about sort of exemptions from the law around vaccination. And you can see on this map
that basically every state in the United States with the
exception of West Virginia, Mississippi, and California, let me say that again. West Virginia, Mississippi,
and California, usually not in the same sentence, saying no we’re not going to
exempt you from vaccination. All the rest of the country, not just exempting religious belief, but exempting folks who have
philosophical claims as well, so who are the anti-vaxxers
or just don’t want to have their children exposed to
those for whatever reason. And these are very easy to pull down on. Paul Offit, who gave us
a chapter for the book, drawn from his own substantial
writing across two books about this reminded us
in a lecture that he gave at the University of
Illinois that 30,000 children have not been vaccinated
according to the CDC’s numbers. Now that’s by itself a
significant sort of shield away from society in an otherwise neutral rule that would be applied to people. I think, to some extent
when the trade-off is, you know, do I vaccinate my child or am I doomed forever to hell, this is a pretty easy trade-off, right, for lots of these families. I’m not saying necessarily sidely, but they are going to take
a pass on vaccinating. Far more complicated, I think, is actually when we’re saying to families that they’re exempt from
the duty to treat the child for ordinary disease that
we can reasonably predict will end in the child’s death. And you can see from this
map that we have lots of different variants of state laws. But the overwhelming rule is to exempt religious organizations,
you see those in blue. Some of those will limit that in white to an exemption for a
recognized religious group, which might by itself be problematic, that you’re only allowing
recognized groups to be exempt. I’ll leave it for our USCCB colleague to tell us more about that. Some will have a judicial bypass. So the ones outlined in
black actually have a process for judges to authorize the
care when the family cannot. We’ll see when I drill down
on Idaho in just a second how difficult it is for
that judicial bypass actually to take effect and
to be protective of children. But that’s one way of moderating
you may have your belief, but these children won’t be harmed. It’s hard to do in practice. Some of them you’ll see
exempt the family who chose not to treat from being
prosecuted for manslaughter. Idaho is one of six states that does that. So I’ll use Idaho as a case example. And then some give no
religious exemption at all, as you see here. Now what we have seen in just the last, let’s say two years, is a
number of high-profile deaths across the country, not only in Oregon in a particular community
of the Followers of Christ, in Michigan with a couple
who is an evangelical couple, and then I’m gonna talk about Idaho, and in particular the
Followers of Christ there in just a second. So we had a tragic death in Oregon. Really interesting because
Oregon, for a long time, did not prosecute the Followers of Christ when they chose not to treat. Interestingly enough, this
couple had twins that were born. One of the twins survived prematurely. The second had, it appears
things that would be able to be aspirated out of
its breathing passage. They were in this home
with 60 Followers of Christ crammed into a little ranch house, where I think it would have
been very, very difficult for the parents, even if
they had wanted to treat, to be able to do that, given
the tremendous context. I mention the number
of people in the house because you’ll see there are
mandatory reporting duties in just a moment. None of these people picked
up the phone and called 911. Not one of them. Those deaths continued in Oregon, despite the fact that they
had had something like six years earlier a very similar death. And the couple here, pictured here, had received the harshest sentence yet in the history of the church. In Michigan, we had a
couple who had a child who had a completely treatable disorder. They didn’t treat, in
part because the husband, seen on the left, said
that God makes no mistakes. And when he was asked
pointedly why you haven’t, why you didn’t call 911, he
said that he was praying. Now the state has actually done something in anticipatory fashion,
because this same couple is now having another child. So they’ve gone in as a
matter of the normal abuse and neglect laws and removed
that child from their care. Now query whether we can
remove all the children from all of the Followers
of Christ families. But that is in the
ability of the law to do because the only thing the law has to show is that a child is at imminent risk for substantial harm, and they have to show it
more probably than not. So there’s a whole child
abuse and neglect system that could possibly be deployed
to protect these children. But again, a very
difficult problem because, you know, it’s a question of
whether we take every child from every family, and in
particular communities, which I think is hard to believe. Now I pause and mention
a second child death in Michigan at about
the same period of time because I wanna be clear that this isn’t just religious families
that are not treating. There’s a man here who
didn’t treat his daughter who died, basically emaciated,
over a period of weeks, was very coarse in reporting that death. He first called his
attorney, then he called 911 and said to the dispatcher,
“She’s dead as a doornail.” And this obviously didn’t
play very well with the judge. His explanation is that
he distrusted the state. He was worried about
having his children taken, but it was not a religious explanation. And that brings us to Idaho. Idaho was one of six states that is not prosecuting families. In a particular county, Canyon County, the death rate for the
children in that community are 10 times what it is
for the rest of the state. They have looked at the
Peaceful Valley Cemetery and calculated the number of small mounds, right, child deaths, and it appears there are at
least 600 child grave sites in the Peaceful Valley Cemetery. And you see these small
coffins being unloaded here as one of the sort of efforts to get Idaho to actually change the
structure of the law to preclude this kind of outcome. They walked all of
these child coffins down from one part of Boise to the State House in a very long, silent parade. Now one thing I think we have to focus on when we think about whether
we’re going to intervene in a family to override their
views about faith healing is whether the death
is in fact preventable. So this is a study that
was done by Asser and Swan. It dates back to the late 1990s. And it looked at a 20-year
period during which there were 170 children who
had died from faith healing, or the choice to pray over the child instead of treat medically. 162 of them on the left would more probably
than not have survived. Out of that, 146, 90% chance of survival. Another 16 would have more
probably than not survived. Only 10 were likely based
on the medical record after the fact to have
died, whatever happened. So for the 10, we should be leaving these families to grieve. Should leave them to grieve. But for the others, we
have a live question about how the state can
move to protect that child without just trouncing
on the religious beliefs of the family. Now Asser and Swan did something else. They broke out non-cancer-related deaths where we can have greater confidence that the child would or
would not have lived. There they had 96 of 98 non-cancer deaths where they concluded that
the child had a very good, excellent chance of surviving, or would likely have survived
and had a good outcome if they had been treated. Interesting, those give
you the percentages of preventable deaths. And this was true,
also, in the communities that were in Oregon
practicing faith healing. The Oregonian, a number of years ago, analyzed all of the
deaths from 1955 forward, found 78 children buried
in the church’s graveyard. And by looking at medical
records and instances, case histories of what
happened, concluded that 21, now that’s a smaller
percentage, that’s a third, but 21 would have been saved
by medical intervention. Now part of the problem,
as Paul Offit makes in his chapter here in his book Bad Faith, is that sometimes the families themselves are conspiring against the
state to keep the child from being protected. And a good example of that
happened in Philadelphia where medical examiners presented to homes where children who had not been vaccinated for measles were dying, look in the door to ask
about another child, told that child is fine,
and then only within a day, see that child showing up at the morgue. Clearly could not have been true. Now part of, I think, the
problem is the eyes and ears that we have in communities. So we have mandatory
reporting laws, you know, in the United States. But those mandatory reporting
laws open place duties on people like teachers, social workers, parents and guardians. And some of them, like Idaho,
put this duty on all people. But in those states where
we’re asking social workers, teachers, you know, to
be our eyes and ears, and that population is almost
exclusively homeschooled, there is no sort of, you
know, early warning system to say that a child is
potentially suffering. And that’s the key problem. It’s a problem of insularity
at the end of the day, as opposed to something else. Clergy are covered in a
number of these states and have duties. In a set of states, you’ll
see the hand with the circle actually place this duty
explicitly in the code on faith healers. But clearly, if the faith healer
is the one in the community telling you that you
shouldn’t be doing this, whether the faith healer
is gonna be a terribly good mandatory reporter in
that particular instance. And you can see Idaho there. Now I think Idaho has a specific problem. They’re being defeated by
the structure of their law. And I’ll show you that in just a second. But they, because of the
structure of this law, they’re one of only six states
that actually preclude you from even prosecuting, it would seem, families for withholding. Marci Hamilton has done
amazing work in this area, you know, believes that
there’s gonna be just a time where we’re gonna rise
up and say that children shouldn’t be suffering. I think the problem is harder than that. And the problem is harder
than that because of the laws that date all the way back to the 1984 Child Abuse Amendments. Paul Offit, in the book, talks
about the influence of two, Christian Scientists, in particular, in getting the ’84 Child Abuse Amendments to encourage states to
give this big shield around religious belief, in
particular medical neglect. So the way most of our,
quote, exemptions work is there’s a positive
duty not to do something. That’s the big circle on the left, and then a carve out from it on the right. Well, the positive duty
that other families that are not religious
would have in Idaho is one not to willfully cause
or injure their child or to put them in a situation where their child’s health is endangered. And if they do that type of thing, they’re subject to imprisonment
in the state prison, for example, not less than
one year, not more than 10. But then there’s this carve out. And this is where the
beginning of the problem is. It basically says but
not if you have engaged in prayer or spiritual needs. If those are the only
things that you’ve done, those themselves can’t
be used to show neglect. Same thing here, the state has
a duty to protect children. Carved out from that is but
when these religious protections exist in a code, the state
doesn’t have that ordinary parens patriae ability to
enter into the family and act. And then you take these
and you stack them up. And basically there’s
a criminal prohibition and a carve out for that
spiritual belief or prayer. There’s a crime not to abandon
or fail to support your child same carve out. Then there’s an applied
defense to manslaughter. And the reason it’s there is it basically, the reason it’s implied
is the state has to show criminal injury from an unlawful act. But the unlawful act were
the two prior things, which were made lawful by the exemption. And so you have no unlawful act. And then continuing, the judicial bypass, the thing that should allow the state to come in and authorize the treatment that a child needs, if it learns about it, even that has the same carve out. And that is a problem. So this is actually like that, remember the Jenga blocks
that you stack them up and you pull out this one piece, if you could pull out that one piece, that one initial exemption for religious, spiritual treatment or prayer,
then these other things would fall into place and
you would have the ability, in effect, to take those two pieces out, and then to have this, the
rest of that scaffolding, the judicial bypass, and absent
that, prosecution in place. And we don’t have that because
of the structure of it. And this is the last point that I’ll make. This is a problem at the
end of the day of insularity and the capacity of the state to act. So Alexandru Radita was a
child who was in Canada, had completely treatable diabetes. Comes to the attention of the authorities in one part of Canada, and
they intervene in the family. And for a time, he’s
fostered, he gains weight, he’s doing really well. But that family then moves
from there to Alberta. The foster care system
doesn’t pick him back up at that point, he falls of their radar. And he’s found emaciated with
gaping holes in his body, completely treatable. Dies at 32 pounds in a closet. And it was completely treatable. Now I think where you
land at the end of the day is we can just stay where we are and we’re going to have
children who are dying. Or we can try to do the
Jenga move and pull out little provisions, like
in a place like Idaho, and prosecute. But I think we’re going to have a problem of some of these families going to ground, like Alexandru’s did, literally moving away
from the state’s control and authority in a way
that’s not going to benefit all of those children. Or I think we can try to
engage those communities, which I think actually means
to be more omnipresent in them as insular as they are. Because without eyes and
ears in these communities, other than the community themselves, I don’t think we have a hope of actually helping these children. And I’ll end on that note. (audience applauding) – Well, this fascinating,
and I think disturbing, presentation by Robin
is the main course here. And I’m not going to try to comment on it. What I wanted to do was to
broaden the agenda somewhat to the international perspective. And what I’m mainly
going to do is tell you a few stories from recent
conferences that I’ve been at and some of the issues
that we’re grappling with. One thing that is interesting, it will be a topic, a central topic at the G20 Interfaith Forum, which will take place in Tokyo in June around the G20 Meeting. And one of the focal
issues will be celebrating and exploring the 30th anniversary of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, where I have to say,
with great embarrassment, that the only country that
has not ratified that now is the United States, because Somalia did ratify it, so now the United States
is completely isolated. In discussions, and as many of you know, my mission has been basically to start with the development agenda, which is, in the contemporary
world, pretty much everything, because it does not only
involve poor countries. The sustainable development
goals cover all countries. And the notion of development is now, it would be very difficult
to find any topic that would not in some
way fall within that. And trying to say what’s
religion got to do with it, why does it matter,
and what does that mean in terms of policy? And one thing that is
very striking is how often the issues and the tensions
and the concerns of people about engaging with religious institutions turn around issues of gender and family. Even if you have a discussion
about religious topics, and I would have to say, particularly when you
have an all-male panel, the issues of women and
family may not come up. But they’re underlined then. And so another sort of
agenda and request for people to think about it and give us ideas is that we have a lot of
interest in doing more work on these areas of religion and family. But just I thought I would
take four conferences that I’ve been at recently, and one other issue that
sort of involves the law. So first conference was in December, at the Ouagadougou Partnership Meeting, which was in Dakkar this year. For those of you who are not familiar with the Ouagadougou Partnership, it is a non-country West African alliance that’s focused on family planning. And the nine countries are francophone West African countries, which have the highest
fertility rates in the world. It’s Gates Foundation,
therefore very disciplined, very technocratic with a
big element of competition which country’s doing better. They all start from an
incredibly low base. But two of the major
constituencies there are youth, because the problem of family planning is to a very large extent with youth. And there’s a growing recognition
that the religious actors are very important. They’re very important, partly because they’re
the most influential, by polls and surveys and so on. But they are also part of the problem. So for example, there is a
not insignificant strain, particular;y in Muslim
communities, but also in others, that family planning is a western plot to limit the size of
the Muslim population. And therefore, there’s
a lot of social media, radio, et cetera, which
is direct opposition and feeding conspiracy, and to some extent feeding fundamentalism and extremism, which we
obviously worry about. But there was an interesting, there is this recognition. You have the youth constituency, so you have lots of young
people come, you know, with t-shirts and the rah
(speaking in a foreign language). It’s time for contraception for all. And they put some of these youth leaders up on the stage with
the religious leaders. And I don’t know what they
think is gonna happen, whether they think that
the religious leaders are gonna say sex among
unmarried couples is fine, but the basic outcome that I was hearing from the religious leaders
was we’re about to hit a wall. And we’re gonna be out of this thing because the whole problem
of religious communities dealing with changing values
and mores in this society is a very difficult one. And I think the most sensible conclusion, which the religious leaders we work with have been coming to is probably
least said, soonest mended. Just let’s just leave that aside
and deal with child spacing and let’s deal with even child marriage or girls in school, which
is the best solution to teenage pregnancy. Let’s not even get into
the weeds of what you teach in sex education and how you do that. But I was very struck by what looks like a collision course that seems
to be brewing in West Africa. So that’s conference number one. The second conference was a meeting on the sustainable development goals that was at the Vatican. And it was largely the
dicastery on human development, sustainable development,
but it was also organized with UN agencies. But just one little vignette, one of the religious leaders who’s present in a lot of meetings is a very colorful, very dynamic guy called Swami Agnivesh, who, he went to town. He deals with bonded labor issues. He’s been in jail he said 11 times. He’s a fighter. And Swami Agnivesh went
initially really to say, look, religious leaders
need to take responsibility for issues of caste. But then he came and said, you know, the problem is religious institutions. This is a religious leader
in his full orange garb saying the problem is
religious institutions. And then he said what I
think is that no child should be part of any religious tradition until they’re 18 and old enough
to make their own decision. And I wish I had a photograph
of the faces of people in the room. Sort of this idea that children
should not be basically identified from birth as with a religion and that they should
not be taught about it. I thought that was an interesting one. Third, there are some very
interesting initiatives going on around issues of children. Clearly, one of them is the
Global Network of Religions for Children, which is actually
supported and sponsored by a group called the Arigatou Network, which is a Japanese religious community which has really just decided
that their mission in life is to try to put the issues of children onto the global agenda. So one of their actions
is large conferences. So they had a very large,
ambitious conference in Panama about a year-and-a-half ago, which was on basically
violence against children, and which did end with 12
sort of religious leader commitments to ending
violence against children, which are pretty sensible. And they’re really working to follow up. So they do some very
interesting work, the network, including ethics education. But one of the things that struck me, there must’ve been five, 600 people. I don’t know if anyone else was there. But almost every speech
talked about family. And there was absolutely no
sense of what that meant. Everybody had a different meaning of what they meant by family. And it was very striking. It was within the same,
you know Methodists or Baptists or Catholics or whatever this understanding of what we care about, what we mean by family was
so diverse within a group that was religious people focused on the protection of children. So I don’t know whether a
conversation is necessary. I’m not sure a conversation or a dialogue is going to be very helpful. But it is at least, I
think, useful to realize how wide the divergence is
in understandings of family. So my fourth meeting, and
the last one, was yesterday. I was at the United Nations
where what’s happening now is a commission on the status of women, which is two weeks of
meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. And as you can imagine,
there are not very many that have anything to do with religion. But I was at one which
was actually eight women, which was a big panel, too
many, very, very diverse, and we were looking at
issues of social cohesion, and essentially our own
experiences of working as women within the patriarchal structures
of the religious worlds. But we had a dinner beforehand
and there were two vignettes. One of them I just put out as I must say enlightening for me, that
one person who was there, Joyce Dubensky said well, you know, “I was just told by my
staff that there are 27 “gender identities right now.” So anyway, needless to say, I
started giggling right away. But the next morning, someone
said, “No, no, no, no, no, “the mayor of New York
officially recognizes 31.” But there are also things
that say 57, 63, 71, and 112 that I found in sort of five minutes of touring the internet. So the issue of gender
identities is obviously a very complicated and
interesting one, shall we say. We were trying to figure out
what really was going on here. But I think the more sobering
is this basic message that’s coming out of
this right now commission on the status of women is that
there is a strong backlash against women’s rights
and women’s equality, whether it’s reproductive health rights, the whole kit and kaboodle
right across the board. And there is, the reports, the
Guardian has an article today that is being led by the
Obama Administration, it’s clearly, this is
countries, let’s remember, it’s nation-states. But the identification
of those nation-states with religious bodies is very clear. And it’s described as the Unholy Alliance, which has for some time, going
back to the Cairo conference, been basically the Vatican,
the Catholic Church, and relatively most
conservative Muslim countries. But it’s added to now, clearly,
by many evangelical churches but also by the Orthodox. So Russia is very much part of this. And the sense is what
is that they’re after, what is it that they’re afraid of? It’s clearly something
that we need to understand and we need to engage. But those are very big issues. And they cut right across
the agenda of issues for us, which just to give you an
idea are child marriage, where I think religious communities have a special responsibility, because
in many cases, most cases, they marry people, so they
could do something about it. The whole female genital cutting issue is a very big one, which
also raises the issue of law and the implementation of law. Issues of family planning
clearly are very central. Issues of selective abortion of girls, particularly, I think almost exclusively girls, and issues of custody, issues
of divorce and support, and domestic violence, all of those are high on the agenda, the gender agenda internationally, and they’re not unrelated
to the fascinating and sobering topics that Robin raised. So thank you. (audience applauding) – So let me start posing
a couple of questions based on your presentations here. When you talked about
legislation that engages these communities, could you
help people think through what that might look at, what some of the indicia of it might be, and is there an example
you have in mind of where this has been tried with some success? – I wish I had those answers. That was a great question. Let me go back for a second. So there’s a remarkable man who was the Senate Majority Leader,
long time, in Idaho, Bart Davis, who before becoming the US
Attorney tried to do the Jenga, you know, pull that piece out. And he ran into the fact that
their incredible western, you know, individualism, in
Idaho, no surprise there, ran into the idea that the
state has a religious freedom restoration act, and so would we be, by taking a specific exemption
out for a particular kind of religious practice,
run into a second value. And I think to some extent, by engagement, I mean sort of two things. One is you could assure
people that they will be able to abide their belief, that they will not themselves
have to treat that child, while at the same time, the state can fulfill that role for them. And I know we have some folks
from the Kennedy Center here and it may ring a bell for many of you. But long before we started thinking about the Followers of Christ, the early ethics cases about nontreatment were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t
want to receive blood products and it might actually imperil their life or the life of a child if it
was a child who needed that. And there were a set of
judges a long time ago who would take it upon
themselves to authorize the blood transfusion for the child. And at least one of those
judges in the literature talks about how relieved the
Jehovah’s Witnesses families were that they themselves were
not the instrument of that for their child, but their child lived. That’s the judicial bypass. And if perhaps you could
pull out that one piece of Idaho law that’s a specific
exemption that’s cratering the ability of the state to do that, but leave the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act there for people to be secure in the idea that they would be able
to follow their beliefs or practices when the
state did not otherwise have a compelling interest,
maybe that’s a place to land. And Senator Davis, to his
credit, really took a stab at doing that in his last go. The other part that I mean
about engaging communities is that we are going to
have to have more contact with the community. And I think that, then,
is just straight up child abuse and neglect. So it’s our ordinary
dependency proceedings to take a stronger look at families and be sure that children
within this sort of black box of the family are well. And that, I think, means
if you have communities that are disproportionately homeschooling, we’ve got to have some way to
be engaged in that community, whether that’s, you know, more
community resource officers or something going on in that community so that we’re aware of
when children are in need. – Let me ask you a couple
of related questions here. One of the great
controversies going on today is in the adoption/foster care arena where there’s a question of whether or not service providers, either
licensed by the state or funded by the government
are entitled to discriminate in terms of who they
would judge a fit couple to adopt someone, or to
serve as a foster parent. Obviously the South Carolina
miracle, Hill exemption given by the HHS has put that on the front burner. And I presume people
gathered here have followed some of these controversies. Might wanna say just a minute about them. But I wanna push a little
bit on the question of whether or not, in deciding
where to place a child, that whether the best interest of the child includes continuity
of religious upbringing that would allow for preferential choice to go to a particular family who is of the same religious
upbringing as the child. And just indulge me a second, because I wanna push a little bit. At one point does a
child become old enough that the child’s wishes should
be accommodated on this, even if the, let’s say in a foster care, that the parents didn’t want it here, and the agency doesn’t actually serve what the child’s choice,
family of the child’s choice, begins to get kind of
complicated here as to what, and it wraps back to the
question about faith healing. At what age does a child become old enough to make some decisions for themselves? Is it at majority at 18? Should there be a lower standard? Should it be a judgment of the judge whether or not the child is old enough and mature enough to make a decision? So I want to get into this question of when the child’s judgment and wishes on some of these issues come up. – Well, that’s a lot. I think my students would have said, that’s not just complicated,
that’s a hot mess. So let me start with
the last part, though, and you may have insights
into this, Katherine, from all of your work
in the developing world. But we had a case like this
in Virginia, the last part. When is a child old enough
to decide for themselves? And one of the reasons that
I emphasize preventable versus non-preventable
deaths is it was a case in which a young man had cancer. I think it’s the law
Virginia passed is called Alexander’s Law, if I have that right? But it’s a kind of a smashup
between a mature minor rule and a faith healing protection,
and it went like this. Alexander did not want to
be treated for his cancer. He was dying. Thought that he might go to
Mexico for a particular kind of treatment, but didn’t
want aggressive chemotherapy. And when his family supported
him in that decision, he was 16, as I recall,
the state pounced on them and treated it as if it was
the faith healing deaths that we’ve been talking about in Idaho, like preventable deaths. And long story short,
the Virginia legislature passed a law called
Alexander’s Law that says when a child is mature enough
to decide for themselves, and the family supports them in that, then the state can’t use that
as a reason to intervene. Now I think we do want, we have that in the body of family law, we have mature minor doctrine. So the rule of thumb generally has been when a child gets to be about 14, and there’s an ordinary divorce, and the judge asks the child, which house would you have
a preference to live in, Mom, Dad, or Mom and Mom,
Dad and Dad, whoever, the child can say that when
they’re a quote, mature minor. So sort of the same concept. So I think we should have
room to defer to children, not least of which is in
the child marriage context when these children
don’t wanna be married. But that’s hard because
they remain a dependent of the family. So their interest, unlike Alexander’s, their interests and the
family’s interests diverge. In Alexander’s case, both
of the family’s interests and the child’s interests
diverged from the state’s, and I should have been given credence. So I thought the state got that right. Going back to Miracle Hill, everybody know the Miracle Hill story? So this is a, okay, so I’ll
tell you little bit about it. So it’s an adoption agency
that does amazing work, has placed hundreds and
hundreds of children in the upstate of South Carolina. They’re evangelical protestant, I think. And they wanted to place
people only with families who believe in Christ
and are going to have a Christ-centered sort of upbringing. And a Jewish couple presented
to adopt and were told that they would not help them. Now this sounds eerily familiar
to many people in this room because the same sorts of
clashes have been happening with LGBT couples who have presented. And I’ll just give you my, I just wanna disclose my
conflict of interest here. I’m an adopted child, so I
have a real, real trouble with turning any family away
that wants to take a child into their care. That’s my bias, that’s my prior. But in this area, I’ve
actually been working for the last couple of years to try to get to two principles that I
think can both be affirmed in public policy. One, no couple that wants to
take a child into their care is ever humiliated and turned away with government dollars, period. And then two, these religious
agencies that are doing amazing work, and they are,
they’re drawing forward people from their religious faith communities based on their religious tenets, that they are not forced to close. Now most people just eyeball that and say, you can’t have both of those. You’ve got to pick one or the other. It’s not so, that’s not so. So for a long time, we
have allowed families to direct themselves to the people who are going to take care of their child with early childhood development. You know, we give folks a certificate that they can spend at a Montessori, they can spend it with Grandma
if Grandma is the best person to take care of their kid. They can spend it at the Catholic school. They can spend it at a Lutheran daycare, wherever they wanna go. And all of those places have to agree to accept the certificate. But the fact that the
certificate doesn’t operate to change the kind of
training that they’re doing with little kids, so the Montessori doesn’t have to train like the Catholic school, the Catholic school doesn’t have to train like the Montessori. Now that’s worked through five different presidential administrations,
from Bush I to Clinton to Bush II to Obama to Trump. Been explained differently
as family choice in some instances, as charitable choice, and religious folks not
being discriminated against in another instance, but
it’s managed to work. The entire thing hinges
on better information about the different niches that
different agencies work in. There are lots of
agencies are gay-friendly. We need to let people know that. There are lots of agencies
that are specializing in Jewish couples, we need
to let people know that, so that we don’t have
disappointed expectations and we don’t have people being humiliated. And it importantly breaks
the government money government rules connection. Then it’s people directing
themselves with value that they get from the state. Far harder is the first
question you posed, which is the kid. So are we gonna strand
the kid in foster care. So I have no idea who
my birth parents were. I’ll just give you an example, okay. But my parents who adopted
me kind of adopted me when I was at the edge
of being unadoptable. I was almost a year old at a time when people got adopted pretty quickly. So let’s imagine that I had been Catholic. My mom and dad were Methodists. My mom’s still alive,
but they were Methodist. What a cruelty it would
have been to strand me in foster care even longer because my parents, who
wanted me, were Methodist. Now on the other side of that, there are faith traditions that, you know, there’s a badge of identity
and belonging forever. And I don’t know how to weigh that. But I do know how much
being adopted by my family changed the entire arc of my life. So I think if we’re going
to do that matching, if we’re gonna take that
seriously and try to flow through a child, we
should certainly do that in the private adoption
agency system where a woman who is considering abortion
in the background of her mind or adoption, if she’s more
likely to bring that child to term because she
knows it can be adopted by a Jewish family because she’s Jewish, a Mormon family if she’s
Mormon, or whatever, then God bless it, let
her do whatever she wants. I think that is great. A kid who’s taken from their family because there’s a rupture, which might have happened
to me, we have no idea, that one I really,
really don’t wanna strand unless we are positive that there are lots and
lots of families to adopt. And I think you had
something to add, maybe? – You asked me to comment briefly. So I just had a couple comments. One, on the issue of
maturity, I think it’s, again, we have to remember
that in a number of traditions and societies, women are never mature. And they never have
the option of decision. So the question, the first thing that I
learned way back in the days I was working on agriculture and livestock was the basic phrase
with cattle, with cows, is when she’s big
enough, she’s old enough. And I mean, that seems to be an attitude. But the fact that women
never have the respect of their decision, I think is important. I was reminded of big debates
at one point in Malaysia when I was there, and one of the issues, big issue is orphanages. That’s a big public policy issue that has strong religious connotations that’s being played out
in a number of countries with a lot of tension around it. But there the question, I
found in the newspaper is if a child, a baby is
abandoned in a church in a majority Muslim area, is there an obligation
that the child be raised as a Christian? Or if they’re abandoned near a mosque, I mean, it was this issue
of the religious identity has such a grip that
it is rarely escapable. – Could we spend a couple of
minutes, ask the two of you and then we’ll open it
up to the others here, about you have a very strong
chapter on male circumcision that was very interesting, and patterns of what’s
happening around the globe. You spoke about female
general mutilation, FGM here, very compellingly. And let’s talk a little
bit about distinctions between the two. One you indicated to you was pretty clear. And I think both of
them, if I’m inferring, would be pretty clear, but
in different ways here. What is your sense of
what’s going on globally on some of these issues? And here in terms, is
there progress being made on this issue? Clearly there’s religious resonance. But much of this is tribal-based
and culturally-based, as well as having a religious basis. And these are practices
that are not necessary found as normative in religious traditions, but are very common in
specific areas here. What is a way that, so
these issues are being addressed, is there success being made? This crosses over into
the child marriage, also, that has very often cultural/tribal
roots as much or more than it does religious roots. Can you reflect on what’s
going on in these issue? – [Robin] I know far less about FGM. – And I’m also going to ask,
is Christina still here? – [Robin] Christina still is, I was– – Oh, she is, I’m gonna
ask you also to jump in. You’ve been looking at the
FGM issue a little here. I’d like to hear your take as well. – That was what I was going to start with. I know far less about that
than either of these two. I will just make a plug for
being an academic, though. One of the things that I
love the most about my job is the privilege to work with
people like Eric Rassbach, who wrote the specific chapter, who’s at Becket, by the way, who wrote the specific chapter on religious male circumcision, because I get to study
at the elbow of a person while I’m working with them,
like we did on your afterword. And one of the things that
I took away so clearly from Eric’s chapter is this
debate about whether prohibiting male circumcision is needed
for public health reasons. And much the same way that
the faith healing chapter proceeded, or my work on this, I think if you could find a strong case that was really, really,
really bad for kids, then you might try to
override the religious view. And you are absolutely right, it’s not only a religious
view, but layered on it ethnic and sort of senses of community belonging. And they layer, and I
feel like until you get such a strong public health case, why would you ever try to step over that strong significant
interest in the community? Second thing that I took
away, and I absolutely believe is that it may be a profound cruelty to a child to take the possibility of religiously male
circumcising from that family, if it is in fact a badge
and identity of belonging. Because then you’re denying that child, that child’s parents from
cementing their relationship to the community. That’s the way I understood. Now there are far more people,
maybe folks at this table, who are members of the
community who know better that than I do, but that’s the
distinct sense that I had. FGM, I’m still educating myself, so I’ll be interested to
see what the two of you have to say about that. – The FGC issue, which affects 200 million is the current estimate, and it’s been remarkably persistent. I mean, there’s a unanimous
UN General Assembly declaration against it. There are many countries
which have laws against it. And yet it persists. So it’s clearly a challenge to understand. But it also a very vivid
example of the complex line between culture and religion, because whereas there are
clear religious teachings about male circumcision,
there are none that are clear and uncontested on female. But, you know, if the local pastor, including, by the way, the bishop. Let’s be clear, it’s mainly Muslim, but it’s also the bishop
think that it is required by the religion as tradition, clearly that’s what influences people and that’s why they do it. So a couple of comments on that. One of the things that complicates the female circumcision debate,
female mutilation, cutting, the language is all very subtle, is the trend towards medicalization. So there the argument is, okay, taking a razor blade to a baby
and cutting off her genitals is dangerous, cruel, barbaric is a word you
often see in the discussion. Going into the hospital under anesthetic is a different set of
arguments that you need. You basically need arguments
that this has no benefit whatsoever and has arms. So the whole sort of argumentation. But then the question is how
do you argue that with people for whom it is their identity? So your last argument made
me quite uncomfortable because that is the issue. And then, you know, again, you could argue the same
thing with male circumcision. What is it that led to that? Was it sort of distinguishing one group from another 10,000 years ago? What was it with female genital cutting, it seems to be pretty
clear that it’s designed to reduce female pleasure
in sex and desire so that they don’t, so that you know better who
the parent of your child, who’s the father. I mean, it comes down to
very crude understandings of women’s behavior,
which we heard at a mosque near Washington not very long ago that that was the reason
why you had to do it, because otherwise women
were wanton and so forth. – [David] What was the circumstance where that discussion happened? – There was an imam who gave a sermon that basically supported
female genital cutting because it was necessary
in order to keep women’s sexual desires under control. And that was dangerous to the
society, et cetera, et cetera. And he was temporarily suspended, but then apparently came back. So the debate continues. – Christina? – [Christina] We’re getting
a lot of debate on that one. Well, certainly I’m here with
the experts on the topic, but I thank you so much for including me. That case in Virginia
was super interesting because it happened here. And what he said was to prevent our women to becoming hypersexual
like American loose women. But very few people know
a lot about the details of this topic because
frankly, my husband calls it a conversation killer of all-time. And I think it’s important to educate the medical profession,
nurses, about this. Right now, in the United States alone, there are half a million girls at risk. And what happens is these
immigrant communities, both Christian and Muslim and Animist and from many different
religious backgrounds who believe that if their
religious obligation take their girls back at seven or eight for vacation cutting to
their country of origin. Now there are four types
of female genital cutting, according to the World
Health Organization. Some are considered minimal. Some involve infibulation, which is the removal of
the entire outer layer of the labia and the
removal of the clitoris. The first kind is under
litigation right now in Michigan in the United States. There were two emergency room physicians who were running an FGC practice for a small Shia Indian sect
called the Dawoodi Bohra. And they cut two seven-year-old girls. The case has gone to trial
and the judge decided not to pursue the FGM case because the decision was made
that Congress did not have the authority, because there
was not intercommerce trade, to make FGM illegal and a
criminal act in this country. So to me, what is most dangerous
about the Michigan case is that the lawyers for the
doctors hired Alan Dershowitz, who said that it is a benign
protected religious practice. So religious freedom has been
used in many weaponized ways in the last 20 years to
then weaponize it in a way that is damaging to girls. To me, damages certainly the
girls, certainly religion, but also religious
freedom in this country. So it will be an
interesting case to watch. Thank you. – Let’s open up to
those of you in the room to ask any questions, make any comments. – While you wait, can
I just make one pitch? We have a very interesting podcast that’s on the Berkley Center webcast which is basically about the
FGC issue in the United States, including the way that it
is and is not regulated in different states, with Sean Callaghan. – Very helpful. Someone wanna start us off here? – Oh, ask them, I’m
formulating the question, so if someone wants to go first. – Okay. Anyone else? Christina? – [Christina] I had a
general question about, do you think that some of the issues, we’re possibly the most
pluralist country in the world. Some of the issues in the
United States have to do with a lack of religious literacy. I mean, just to give you an example, I was recently in Saudi Arabia, and the control officer who was with me did not know about what a Baha’i was. And there’s a religious
community that suffers great persecution in
Iran and other places. Very nice man and very
dedicated to his job and immediately researched it. But if our foreign service officers lack the religious literacy to deal with religious freedom topics abroad, do you think the fact that
in this country, in schools, people don’t know enough
to know the difference and are coming into these
communities that have these what you would think
of unconventional practices with a certain level of prejudice. Have you encountered
anything of this in academia? – That’s a great question. I don’t know that it is religious literacy when it comes to some
of these sort of things that are ending in a child’s death. I think people, now whether they’re not
willing to engage the community because they just feel
like there’s just no point in engaging the community, that might be a religious
literacy question, I would think. I think when you get to these
practices that are having, you know, extreme
consequences for children, I’m not sure that’s a literacy question. I think when you get to other things, it might be about dress and modesty and then I think contraception, that would be a great example. Then I think we have a lot of concern about religious literacy. Do you have more to add to that? – You know, there are
just some limitations of what you can do because of
the range of religious groups, sets of beliefs in the United States. You know, sociologists
tell us we have as many as a couple thousand different
religious denominations, sects, et cetera, and it’s
kind of bewildering to us because we’re most, Americans
are part of the larger religious groupings and
they don’t think about the smaller ones, like
the Followers of Christ. They don’t interact with them, they don’t know about them, et cetera. To actually do in the public
schools of the United States sensible education about faith groups, that would entail appointing
people with the diversity of so many different sects, it would be just an enormous challenge. We have enough trouble
teaching about religion, rather than teaching religion,
but teaching about religions in civics classes, and
in social studies classes without getting into
controversies and arguments over misrepresentations and stuff. It just would be really
daunting to do that with the kind of range that
we’re talking about here. Got the question formulated.
– Yeah, I’m ready now, yes. – Good. Could you identify yourself? – Steve Lipson. I’m interested in your
use of talking about like judicial bypasses and means
of possible compromise. And as you also noted, that
potentially that would either, the state would need to
know about these cases, which could either be more proactive looking into the community or potentially a mandatory
requirement for clergy to report these things. But both those strike me as things that the community themselves
might not feel engaged. They might feel it’s
more state oppression. So like, is there like,
where would they like, I mean, which of these
would they dislike least? Or is there a way to truly feel like they’re engaged and supportive? And sort of the question that might or might not tie into that, but you mention that
these issues used to be with Jehovah’s Witnesses
and now are, like, so I’m wondering what happened
to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, did they like, was there a change in their religious beliefs or approach or after the state so that if these aren’t as prevalent questions
in that community now, why is that so? – That was a great question,
both great questions. Let me take the second one first. You know, I think it actually
follows a set of beliefs. So it turns out the Amish
don’t wanna to take, I think, some sort of certain types of transplants. They don’t want to have transplants. There’s been a long history
in the Jewish faith, as I understand it, not to
have some interventions. Autopsy comes to mind in some instances. So I think with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the issue is smaller and more modest, and that we found ways medically
to actually allow folks to follow their belief
without it imperiling the child’s life. So to some extent, it’s kind
of a victory of medicine over, you know, to both accomplish the end and not override a belief. So I don’t know, you know,
this is a really tough question about the community itself. It makes me think about Christina’s
question about literacy. I think engagement means
people need to sit at a table and see if they can understand
where each is coming from. I do think there’s a sense of
when we don’t know anything about another person’s set of beliefs to be very xenophobic in
the sense of that’s wrong as opposed to asking folks
what are you able to do. It again brings to mind
that particular decision with a judge talking
to a Jehovah’s Witness in one of the blood transfusion cases where in conversation, it
comes out that the parent can’t make the decision. But that doesn’t mean that
the child would be forbidden from heaven if they
received that blood product. Now that may just have
been that particular Jehovah Witness’s view, may have just been what came out of that
conversation with the judge. But there was a middle
ground that was between the child dying and the parent making, taking an action that would put in peril the rest of their eternity. And I think that’s the way forward. I think this is a real
question for sociologists, as well as legal scholars,
lawmakers, politicians, everybody, because that
community is just continuing to pile on child deaths. And they are preventable. So we’re going to have to
have that conversation. That’s where you’re going next. – [Farahnaz] I’m actually– – Hold on one second. – [Farahnaz] Oh, sorry. Hi, I’m Farahnaz Ispahani and I’m a fellow at the
Woodrow Wilson Center. I wanted to go back to you talked about one of your recommendations
was that for people, groups to be more present in
these faith-based communities to protect children, children
at risk in these ways. How could you do that without, what are the government agencies, how can human rights groups, media, different kinds of groups work together and work better on the ground? – Well, one thought is Alexandru, right, whose family moved from Calgary
to another part of Canada and then the state just lost track of him. – [David] With the intent of disappearing. – Right, they were going to ground. But you know, to some extent, to the extent that the
parents work, right, we have Department of Labor. Department of Labor can
be having conversations with Department of Social Services. Because if you can’t track that child, you can track the wage
earners in that family. So that’s one way that you can
have interagency cooperation. And the family in Oregon
that had demonstrated to the state and were being prosecuted for not treating one child, the state learned that
the mother was pregnant and then anticipatorily
took that child at birth. So that’s another place where
the state can be omniscient. And what I mean by that is
just on it, like thinking ahead about what we would predict would happen. I mean, to some extent, more touchpoints between a community and the state. So there are county coroners
who are actually often called to these homes after the child has died. Shaakirrah and I talked
about it in our chapter. And they bundle the child
in a way and dress the child so that if there was evidence of crime, it’s all been disturbed,
and that type of thing. But there are coroners
in these communities, there are first responders
like police and fire people in these communities. I’m not saying that we’re
gonna start knocking on doors and interviewing families. But just having people
aware of what’s happening with these children. – Let me, we have just
seven or eight minutes left. Let me just ask about
another hot issue these days. You mention about the Jewish community, that normative view of
Judaism shared by every stream of Judaism is you must do
everything you can to save a life. And therefore, medical
interventions are mandated in order to save life if they’re required. The only place you’ll run
into trouble really has to do when saving a life involves
two different people, how early, when does death
happen and you can take an organ to transplant and issues like that. But you know, otherwise,
so I think if you would ask any Jewish legal scholar,
they would’ve said there’s absolutely no restrictions, and that’s universally accepted. And then we discover in the news, here, that there is a serious
epidemic of measles in some of the ultra Orthodox yeshivas in New York City, 40 from one particular yeshiva and 300 in the last few
months in New York City and Rockland County, the vast majority of them
from ultra Orthodox yeshivas. And I think most Jewish scholars, even in the Orthodox
community weren’t aware that there was resistance
to vaccinations in this. And the vaccination issue, obviously, in Washington State and
other places, and Idaho, has become a big issue again here. So I wanted to ask you
for just your reflection on that controversy,
which is not just here in the United States, but
there are significant areas in the world in which there’s resistance to vaccinations, and just
whatever reflections you had about the vaccination
controversies that are going on. – Well, I started with
them and then moved on to children dying from
preventable illnesses. But actually, the vaccination question, I mean, that map, I’m gonna go
back to it for just a second. You know, we don’t, the state has an interest, every single one of us have an interest in what is happening
with vaccination policy. I’m gonna bracket for
a second and just say that I don’t know, I don’t subscribe to the
view that vaccination is leading to autism, just
from the bit of reading that I’ve done with that with
my biomedical ethics class. So let’s bracket whether
there’s some countervailing harm to children and how people view that. But there is a significant risk if you don’t have herd immunity, not only to you and your own child, but to everybody else around you. And that’s what happened
with the Tabernacle group that Paul Offit talks about in his chapter and that he talks about
in his book Bad Faith. People would present at these homes. To address your point about
what specifically can be done, and at that time, with
the public health crisis, they literally had the
ability to take children out of those homes. They went through the process,
public health process, to be able to take
children from those homes. They didn’t always do that. Had they done that, there
would have been other children who would have been vaccinated. Basically the problem is, once you don’t have the
vaccine and you have measles, you have a terrible case of dehydration. The dehydration takes a bit of time before that child dies. Totally preventable stuff
if they had gotten then into a hospital. So I think when it starts to unfold, state has an absolute
interest in getting in there and taking these children
and getting them treated. But the rest of the
community has an interest in what is happening in those families. That’s actually different
than the faith healing. And I hate to be crass about it, but in these communities
where we have faith healing, there is a child, that
child’s gone forevermore. But it’s just that child. It is not then contagent, that is not going to be localized only to the Orthodox community, but to everybody that they
come in contact with, too. So I skipped past the
vaccination in a way, because lots and lots of
people have talked about it and I think not thought
as much about this. But there’s a stronger
interest by the state to say you will vaccinate your children. But that map that I
showed you came directly out of the 1984 Child Abuse Amendments where the federal government
said to the states, we will withhold your child
abuse and neglect dollars unless you give these medical exemptions, including the exemption,
the ability not to vaccinate for religious reasons.
– Religious exemptions. – Yeah, the religious exemptions. And then we have been in a slow
process of backwalking them when it comes to faith healing, backwalking them to some limited degree when it comes to vaccination. And meanwhile, lots and
lots of people are at risk. – There are a lot of
issues around vaccination internationally, as well as other medical. But I wanna focus on
something that came up in an earlier discussion,
which are these are issues largely of trust. They’re not anywhere near as much issues of the religious beliefs. So in the Ebola crisis,
some of the health experts who went into communities were killed because there was such a profound distrust of their own government. The cases in Nigeria and Pakistan where there is opposition
to smallpox vaccinators, particularly in Nigeria, but
I think also in Pakistan. And it’s to a large extent
one of the bigger problems that we’re all dealing with, which is profound international distrust. So in this case, the West and the evils of what are the motivations, the rumors that, for example, in Nigeria that the polio vaccine
would sterilize women, that it was again designed to
limit the numbers of Muslim. So I think that in some ways, when you look at it internationally, you have to come back to these issues of awful governance and corruption and the mistrust of states. And some, the imperative of
trying to rebuild confidence, which is a challenge as
much here as anywhere else. But also of trying to heal
some of these deep divides that we paper over sometimes. – There have been some examples
of where religious leaders got together to actually try and push back against that successfully
and create working with the governments there
the stamp of approval of their members to it. So the religious community can play a very positive role
in such circumstances, not just a negative role. Listen, thank you very much here. It’s a fascinating subject. And your book is a real contribution here. Congratulations.

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