Editor's Note: A version of this story first appeared on PSmag.com on October 23, 2015, with the headline "When Religious Violence Can't Escape Exemption." This edited version was published in our January/February 2016 print issue.
The journalist Julia Scheeres went inside an obscure church, the Twelve Tribes, which believes that frequent and severe corporeal punishment is good for children’s development, for our September/October 2015 issue. Scheeres argued that the deference of lawmakers in the United States to religious groups’ lobbying—to keep corporeal punishment legal, and to allow them to pull their children out of school early—left children in the Twelve Tribes and other such groups vulnerable to abuse for years. This past October, police announced that they were in the process of investigating the Word of Life Christian Church, a small, independent congregation in upstate New York, after several parishioners, now facing manslaughter charges, allegedly beat two teenaged members, one of whom died. New York doesn’t have state-level religious-exemption laws, which takes away one possible defense for the church members. In addition, because of the extreme violence of the events, the defendants may have a hard time finding legal protection, despite federal religious exemption laws. “Their religious liberty is not violated in any way if they’re subjected to criminal law after killing children,” says Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Yeshiva University School of Law.
Since We Last Spoke examines the latest policy and research updates to past Pacific Standard news coverage.
For more from Pacific Standard, and to support our work, sign up for our free email newsletter and subscribe to our print magazine, where this piece originally appeared. Digital editions are available in the App Store and on Zinio and other platforms.