Monday, February 16, 2015

Spiritual Healing for All, None, or Established Doctrines Only?

In Tennessee v. Crank, Jacqueline Crank was convicted of child neglect and sentenced to one year of probation.  Crank, a member of the Universal Life Church, relied solely on prayer to heal the cancer that was killing her 15-year-old daughter.  There is a state law that prohibits parents from failing to provide medical for children.  When her daughter died, Crank claimed she was protected by Tennessee's spiritual treatment statute which covers anyone who "provides treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof in lieu of medical or surgical treatment."  

However, the trial court concluded that her church was not a “recognized church or religious denomination”.  Crank relied on Ariel Ben Sherman, another member of her church group, as the daughter's "spiritual father".  Sherman was an accredited member of the Universal Life Church, which will accredit anyone who fills out an application.  The Department of Child Services described the church as a “cult-like” atmosphere with about 30 members living under one roof.  In fact, Sherman was caught seeking out medical attention for the cancer he had, which ultimately ended his life, as well.

Crank then claimed that Tennessee’s spiritual treatment statute was unconstitutional because it was naming some prayer as legitimate and some as criminal.  The Court of Appeals stated that they did not need to answer that question because striking down the law would collapse her initial argument. 

Her final claim was that this statute violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.  

The Supreme Court of Tennessee stood by the trial court and the court of appeals in rejecting Crank's appeal.  The majority stated that the statute was intended for "established institutions with doctrines or customs that authorized healers within the church to perform spiritual treatment via prayer in lieu of medical treatment."  Clearly, they did not recognize the Universal Life Church as an established institution and they did not recognize Sherman as an authorized healer, considering he went back on their beliefs himself.

I agree with the narrow ruling in this case because I believe any other ruling would be unrealistic.  Ultimately, I would like to live in a world where the health of all children comes first and people trust modern science.  A great deal of evidence over the years has shown us that modern medicine is usually a safer bet than prayer when it comes to cancer and various other illnesses.  However, I also understand that many people hold strong religious beliefs, values and traditions that they wouldn’t be ready to give up on overnight.  Therefore, I am okay with this Tennessee law as long as it is referring to recognized institutions.  Striking down the law entirely would bring a whole mess of religious lawsuits into court for people who use spiritual healing.  On the other hand, if the state didn’t regulate which prayer was legitimate and which prayer is criminal it would create a slippery slope for any child abuser to claim spiritual healing.  Although Sherman was technically qualified by filling out the application, he breached his beliefs when seeking medical attention for his cancer.  This proves some invalidity within the Universal Life Church and degrades its establishment as a recognized institution. 

Justice Stewart’s interpretation of Abington Township v. Schempp can justify the decision in this case.  The Establishment clause was created in an effort to restrict the national government from imposing any particular religion on the country.  However, states are free to establish any religious values they would like. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Tennessee has the right to determine which prayer is legitimate and which is criminal in this case.



10 comments:

Tommy S said...

I think that Tennessee’s spiritual treatment statute is unconstitutional. If the case went in front of the Supreme Court they could make arguments that we have seen in cases that we have read like the distinction between belief and action made in Reynolds v. United States. Religions can have spiritual healing in addition to medical care and should be compelled to seek medical care for children. If the child did not have cancer but had some definite curable disease there would be even more debate added to this already controversial case.

Trevor T said...

I believe that what important in this case is that a young girl is now dead because she was not given a fighting chance due to her mother's religious beliefs. Medicine that is tested and proven to be effective should not be kept from a child due to their parents religious practices. I think that Crank is absolutely in the wrong. The fact that her daughter's "spiritual father," himself sought out medical treatment proves that the University Life Church's religious commitment to prayer as a healing device is not universally followed or valued. If someone wants to pray for their loved one to be healed that is fine, but I don't think that it should be allowed that that is the primary combatant of a disease that can be slowed or stopped by medical treatment. I don't think religious groups should be allowed to prevent treatment of their children on the grounds that prayer will save them. Health care is secular and especially if it is a child they should be able to trust that their parent will do everything they can to keep them alive and healthy.

Courtney W. said...

I agree with Tommy in that the distinction between belief and action is a compelling point in this case. The woman is free to believe what she wants but in terms of her actions, she should have been found responsible for neglect. I think that the Supreme Court of Tennessee should either be able to decide which religious practice qualifies or do away with the spiritual treatment statute all together.

Nina N. said...

I very much agree with what everyone else said in their comments. The fact that Sherman, the church member that the mother relied on for testimony, went against church teachings prove that this idea of spiritual healing was perhaps fraudulently invoked. While Crank may have believed in it, the establishment clearly did not have an absolute commitment to the idea. The state, however, does not constitutionally have the right to determine what does or does not constitute a "real" religion. Tommy's point about belief and action makes a lot of sense here. If the belief ultimately interferes with the health and actual life of a child (who is probably less capable than many adults at making mature and informed decisions), then the action should be forced. This was not simply a case of rights, it was a case of life and death for a child.

Molly H. said...

I too, like most of these comments, believe that the spiritual treatment statute of Tennessee was unconstitutional in these circumstances. I understand that Crank is an avid and faithful member of her faith, but the circumstances of her child's illness went beyond the control of prayer. Even the establishment that Crank belonged to was opposed to the idea of Crank relying solely on God's healing to cure her own daughter. This young girl did not have a say in her own treatment because of the objectives that her mother's faith posed upon her. We touch upon the idea of "action vs. belief" innumerable times in class, and this case is one that action needed to outweigh belief.

Peter M said...

I believe that this is a case whether the compelling state interest of providing necessary medical care overrides the freedom act on behalf of religion as outlines in the Reynolds case. In this situation, the child was not in a position to make the decision of whether or not to receive medical treatment and the state has a compelling interest to protect children from neglect.

Alex L. said...

I agree the term "compelling state interest" is very appropriate in this case, especially since the child was a a minor and could not fend for herself. The state has to protect children and cannot let the mothers beliefs trump the child's well being. While the mother can believe her religion or whatever she wants for that matter, she must act to treat her daughter. Overall, her failure resulted in the death of her child. This tragic situation should not happen in the United States of America.

Nneoma I. said...

This case is an extremely conflicting example of why government involvement in validating religions is so controversial. Many other church organizations, such as Jehovah's Witness, hold non secular ideals regarding medical emergency care. Now, I think the Tennessee spiritual treatment statute is a horrible law, and unconstitutional in nature. However, as it being an active part of their law, Jacqueline Crank should also be protected under it. It is unfortunate that her daughter was killed because her family disagreed with secular views of medicine. But the government has no legitimate standards to determine which religious groups are able to seek spiritual healing, and which are not. They should consider changing this law, because it on only leads to a slippery slope.

Nate Hunter said...

I am in complete opposition with the fact that parents are allowed to follow "spiritual healing" methods when their children's lives are at stake as it is clearly neglecting your child's wellbeing. I understand ones religion might not allow them to take part in new medical practices, however when children's lives are on the line, i think there is a compelling government interest. In this case her religious practices, because they weren't on the so called acceptable list of denominations, were disallowed. I think either the state should have to get rid of the statute all together, or o\include all established religious beliefs.

Emily C. said...

I believe that if the state of Tennessee is going to allow people to use their religion as a reason for declining medical care, Tennessee must allow members of any religion who wish to appeal to this statute to do so. It is not the state's position to determine which churches are recognized or which denominations are accredited--this practice is the state determining which religions and doctrines are legitimate, and this decision should be avoided. The state either needs to allow anyone who wishes to use their religion as a justification for refusing medical care to do so, or they need to decide that all actions which inhibit proper medical care need to be stopped.