A Pennsylvania couple who lost a second child after choosing prayer over medical treatment may face criminal charges. Continue reading
California became the first state toban the use for minors of disputed therapies to “overcome” homosexuality, a step hailed by gay rights groups across the country that say the therapies have caused dangerous emotional harm to gay and lesbian teenagers. In a statement,California Gov. Jerry Brownsaid, “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
This law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, will prohibit attempts by mental health providers to perform therapy on minors intended to change their sexual orientation, including efforts to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and director of its LGBT rights project,commented on the significance of this law:This is a great day for youth in California who have been subjected to incredibly harmful therapy based on junk science. Conversion therapy has brought nothing but pain and devastation for many who have endured it. Sadly, the conversion therapy movement has pushed its message for decades — despite the dangers of this practice — and has increasingly targeted LGBT youth across the country. Passing this law is an important step for California and the nation to raise awareness about the lies behind conversion therapy and put an end to this junk science.
Emphasis here on the phrase “junk science.”The American Psychological Association denounced the use of ex-gay therapies. Furthermore, in 2012Dr. Robert Spitzerrefuted his earlier infamous claims touted by the ex-gay movement as gospel that “highly motivated” gay people could reach their “heterosexual potential” through prayer and therapy. Even theex-gay group Exodus Internationalbacked away from promising a cure for “homosexuality” though they and other like minded groups still maintain that “homosexuality” represents a sin that one must overcome.
Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, notes that while the California law might be a milestone, it should be seen as a first step. He said that “the ideas in reparative therapy have been widely adopted by church ministries and others promoting the idea that homosexual urges can be banished .”
As expected organizations like theLiberty Counseland theNational Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)who advance the view that “homosexuality is a choice” took to the airwaves and Internet to justify their use of debunked medical practices under the guise of “religious freedom” and “parental rights.”
These “pro-family” activists conveniently ignore the glaring reality that this law does not force any religious entity or individual to go against their individual conscience. Within the confines of their church or home school scenarios, clergy and parents have considerable latitude when it comes to teaching the doctrines of their particular faith tradition. (In a similar vein, no law supporting marriage equality will force anyone to perform a same sex wedding. Ordained clergy have the right to refuse to marry anyone for any reason, a simple fact lost on those determined to legislate their view of Americana Christianity on to an ever increasing pluralistic public square.)
Under this law, unlicensed “Christian” counselors can continue their practice of “praying away the gay.” Hence, parents can still find resources should they wish to “cure” their children from the “sin of homosexuality” provided they can pay for the cost of these treatments. However, this law denies those mental health professionals who hold licenses issued by the state of California from engaging in practices deemed to be harmful to minor children. Should they continue to practice ex-gay therapies, they will risk censure and loss of their license. Simply put, if one wants the benefits that comes with having a state issued license such as insurance reimbursement, then one has to follow the civil laws issued by that state.
This law continues in the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University vs. United States (1983) where the SCOTUS decreed that those faith-based organizations who choose to avail themselves to financial incentives offered by the U.S. government like tax-exempt status and federal funding must abide by civil laws or risk losing said financial incentives.
Good. Not the end point, but definitely an important step along the way.
Mentally ill patients suffer from severe abuse at psychiatric hospitals and so-called healing centres in Ghana, with many chained to trees and even denied water, a human rights group said Tuesday.
Some 1,000 residents live in squalid, overcrowded quarters in Ghana’s three psychiatric hospitals, according to Human Rights Watch. Patients face physical and verbal abuse, and some are given electroshock therapy without their consent, said the group’s report.
The abuse is even worse in healing centres known as “prayer camps,” which lack government oversight, it said.
Thousands of mentally disabled people in the West African nation are sent to the camps, usually by their family members to be “cured” by self-proclaimed prophets through miracles, prayer and fasting. In most prayer camps, residents are only allowed to leave when the prophet deems them healed.
At the Mount Horeb Prayer Camp earlier this year, about 120 of the 135 residents there were chained either to trees or to the walls inside cell-like rooms 24 hours a day, sometimes for months at a time, Human Rights Watch said. Most of the chains measured only two meters long.
“People had to bathe, defecate, urinate, change sanitary towels, eat, and sleep on the spot where they were chained,” the group reported.
Medi Ssengooba, Finberg fellow at Human Rights Watch and one of the report’s authors, urged Ghana’s government to end abuses against people with mental disabilities.
“The conditions in which many people with mental disabilities live in Ghana are inhuman and degrading,” Ssengooba said.
Ssengooba said researchers were disappointed to find the level of human rights abuse against the mentally ill in Ghana, which is one of the most progressive countries in Africa in terms of good governance and leadership.
Ghana’s 2012 Mental Health Act went into effect in June and allows people with disabilities to challenge their detention in psychiatric hospitals. But the law does not apply to the prayer camps operating outside of government control.
Many families send their mentally ill family members to prayer camps because there are very few mental health providers in Ghana and almost all of them are concentrated near Accra, the capital.
Besides the three psychiatric institutions around Accra, Ssengooba said there are only four private facilities in the country and they are expensive. And in many rural areas, people equate mental illness with demonic possession, and only think there is a spiritual cure, Ssengooba said.
Yet many mentally ill people face bondage, near starvation, and an inability to challenge their confinement at the camps.
One man with a mental disability at Mount Horeb Prayer Camp told Human Rights Watch he was chained for one year without any treatment. He said: “I want to go home, but they don’t discharge me and they don’t give me any reason.”
Doris Appiah, the treasurer of the Mental Health Society of Ghana, said advocates aren’t asking the government to close the camps but instead to monitor them.
Appiah, 57, was a medical student in her early 20s when she was committed to a mental hospital with severe depression. After escaping from the hospital, her family put her in a prayer camp near the town of Kumasi, north of Accra, hoping for a quick fix.
She stayed in prayer camps for five years, and was tied to a tree with rope. She is now an advocate for mentally ill people in Ghana.
“People are sick and they are not blamed for being sick, but you are mentally ill and it’s your fault. And we hear it over and over again. People say mentally ill people are a liability and we are a menace to society,” she said. “When you have mental illness you are considered sub-human, and that is the truth. You are carried places and things are done to you.”
She said minimum standards at prayer camps need to be set by the government, and people in Ghana need to be educated about the causes of mental illness.
“Whether you are in chains or not, being mentally ill is like being incarcerated,” Appiah said.
A Texas court has declared it legal to pray for harm to come to someone as long as no one is actually hurt.
Judge Martin Hoffman, presiding judge of the 68th Civil District in Dallas County, dismissed a lawsuit brought by Mikey Weinstein against former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who allegedly used “curse” prayers in an attempt to harm Weinstein and his family.
According to the suit, Klingenschmitt urged his followers to pray for the destruction of Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He used Psalm 109, an “imprecatory” prayer text that calls for the death of an enemy and curses for his family.
Weinstein said Klingenschmitt’s actions have led him to receive death threats and resulted in damage to his property, including windows shot out of his home, according to the Religion News Service (RNS).
“We believe the judge made a mistake in not understanding that imprecatory prayers are code words for trolling for assassins for the Weinstein family,” Weinstein told RNS.
Klingenschmitt’s attorney John Whitehead praised the April 2 decision, saying that banning these types of prayers could force the shuttering of “half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country.”
If it were just prayers, it would be fine, go ahead, your magic words do nothing. But the prayers are apparently inciting people to actually act out, which is not fine. At all.
The New York Times ran an interesting piece recently about religion in public schools, making it clear that even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory, school-sponsored prayer nearly 50 years ago, many problems remain.
In some parts of the country, especially in areas where there isn’t a lot of religious diversity, some public education officials demonstrate great resistance to the high court’s school prayer rulings, noted Times reporter Erik Eckholm.
Americans United has been grappling with this issue for a long time. We believe most public school teachers and administrators are professionals who realize that it’s not their job to preach to students. But there are approximately 14,000 public school districts in America, so there are bound to be some misguided individuals who ignore the law. Attorneys at AU receive a steady stream of complaints related to religion in public schools.
What amazes me about some of the issues we deal with or read about in the media is the incredible arrogance of the proselytizers. In Chesterfield County, S.C., where the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit over fundamentalist Christian practices in public schools, a North Carolina “traveling evangelist” named Christian Chapman said, “I definitely think that we should try to get our relationship with Christ back into the schools. Jesus represents everything we want our students to live by.”
Worse yet, Chapman was captured on tape claiming that a school principal told him, “I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.”
The principal, Larry Stinson, isn’t talking to the media, so we don’t know for sure what he said. But we do know that this school allowed a fundamentalist Christian evangelist and a Christian rapper to preach to youngsters in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Now for a thought experiment: Imagine if the principal had said something like, “I want these kids to know that Allah is God, and I don’t care what happens to me” or “I want these kids to know that Scientology has the answers, and I don’t care what happens to me” or perhaps even, “Too many of these kids are fundamentalists. I want them to know that liberal Christianity is a better way, and I don’t care what happens to me.”
Imagine if that school official brought in a speaker to tell the kids all about Islam. Or a Mormon who told them that there is another testament of Jesus Christ equal to the Bible called The Book of Mormon. Or an atheist who told them that all religion is hogwash.
I suspect what would “happen” to that school official is unemployment.
Put aside the fact that these school officials are ignoring 50 years of Supreme Court precedent. Put aside that they are mocking constitutional values. Put aside that what they’re doing is illegal (nice message to send to youngsters, right?).
The real problem with what they’re doing is that it violates parental rights – a concept religious conservatives claim to hold sacrosanct. When principals, administrators, teachers and others who work in public schools turn children over to evangelists or pressure them to take part in sectarian activities, those school officials are saying, “I don’t care what these kids are learning at home. I don’t care what their parents are teaching them. I don’t care what religion or philosophical system their parents have chosen. I know what’s best for them. And I have the right to pressure them to change their views.”
This astounding arrogance infuriates many parents, and it motivates them to contact Americans United for help. AU is eager to assist, and our attorneys never hesitate to step right up. We send a simple, but powerful message to the public school proselytizers: Stop what you are doing immediately – or we’ll see you in court.
It’s discouraging that we still have to fight this battle 50 years after the Supreme Court ruled on this issue, but as we do we always remember this: How bad would the situation be if Americans United wasn’t there to defend the rights of parents and their kids?