Friday, March 23, 2012

Religious Child Maltreatment

a book review by Edd Doerr

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, by Janet Heimlich. Prometheus Books, 2011, 397 pp, $20.

Journalist Janet Heimlich's book is one of the most powerful and important to appear in the last year. Maltreatment or abuse of children is usually thought of in four separate, but related, categories: physical, psychological/emotional, sexual, and medical neglect (as in dependance on faith-healing). And while these forms of abuse can occur in any social setting, Heimlich shows that they tend to be concentrated in religious authoritarian or fundamentalist culture, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Fundamentalist LDS, or other. I might note that while Heimlich discusses the problem of sexual abuse by priests, she does not adequately portray the worldwide extent of the scandal or the top-down cover-ups at the highest levels.

Among Heimlich's prescriptions for reducing the abuse are these: repealing faith-healing-related legal religious exemptions, requiring clergy to report child abuse and neglect, extending or eliminating sexual abuse statutes of limitations, and having secular agencies reach out to religious communities.

Breaking Their Will and Katherine Stewart's The Good News Club (which I mentioned on this blog recently and which I review at length in the April/May Free Inquiry) should set off all the alarm bells at the increasing penetration of hard core religious fundamentalism into our public schools and politics.

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