How much Religious Freedom do We Have?

Today, Jeff and Marci Beagley of Oregon were each sentenced to 16 months in prison for practicing their religion.  It seems that the Beagleys and their church, Followers of Christ in Oregon City, believe in “faith healing”.  Instead of seeking traditional medical treatment for illnesses and other medical issues, this group believes in using prayer, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands to bring about healing.  Well, in June 2008, the Beagleys’ 16-year-old son died after his parents failed to seek proper medical attention for him.  He had a urinary tract blockage.  The courts decided the parents were at fault.

I do not want to debate whether or not faith healing has merit.  I believe God can, and does, bring about healing through prayer.  However, I also believe that God can, and does, use more “ordinary” means to bring about healing (i.e. medical treatment).  In fact, I believe God more often uses the ordinary to accomplish his will than the extra-ordinary.

What I wonder is where the individual’s right to practice their religion ceases to be a right.  If the Beagleys sincerely hold the religious belief, whether the belief is right or wrong, that seeking medical treatment is wrong, how is it that they are being sent to prison for their beliefs?

One argument is that their beliefs caused harm to another person.  Well, what if their son held the same belief?  There is no indication that the son was forced against his will to comply with his parents’ wishes.  Yes, he was only 16 and technically a minor, but when do our constitutional rights begin?  Do we have to reach a certain age before we have freedom of religion?  If so, what is the age and does this apply to all of our rights?

What are your thoughts?

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14 Responses to How much Religious Freedom do We Have?

  1. What about their son’s right to life? If he had had more decent, and more intelligent, parents, he would still be alive. The state has a vested interest in protecting its own citizens, sometimes even from their own parents. It is appalling and grotesque the way you simply discount this young man’s life. You are a monstrous little dogmatist.

  2. Tim Farley says:


    Hmmm…I am not even sure how to respond to you since you obviously have no respect for me. But let me try. First, I never even stated my opinion on this matter. I simply asked some specific (and I think legitimate) questions. How does that make me a “monstrous little dogmatist”?

    Second, the fact that I am trying to respect the beliefs of this boy and his parents shows that I have more respect for their lives than you ever could.

    If you desire to join the conversation, please do, but please address the questions/issues in the original post and refrain from personal attacks. Otherwise, I will have to reject your future comments. Thanks.

  3. thewordofme says:

    It is criminal that parents do something like this to their own children.

    There has never been any proof at all that prayer has ANY effect on illness. Many different studies have been done on the efficacy of prayer against illness…all were negative.

    People need to learn that there is NO magic in our universe…there never has been.

    The couple should probably get 25 years to life for premeditated murder as they knew going in they weren’t going to allow real medicine in treatment.

  4. Tim Farley says:


    Thanks for commenting, but I think you miss the point. Whether prayer works or not is not the issue. The issue is freedom of religion. Were these parents, and possibly this boy, acting within their constitutional rights? If not, why not?

    These parents did seek treatment for their son, it is just not the same treatment that you or I would have sought. Who decides what treatment is the “right” treatment? Government? It sounds like this is erosion of personal freedom to me.

    By the way, if you make a statement like “There has never been any proof at all that prayer has ANY effect on illness. Many different studies have been done on the efficacy of prayer against illness…all were negative.”, please cite your sources. I could just as easily say that there have been many studies that confirm that prayer is effective in healing illnesses. If neither of us actually cites any studies to back our statement, our statements are meaningless.

  5. thewordofme says:

    by Michael Shermer
    April 2006

    You are right, I did miss the main point…I was so mad that parents would do such a thing to their own child I flipped out.

    To answer that point I believe that no parents of children should not have the ability or legal right to keep their children from medical care because of religious beliefs. The right to life of a child trumps religious dogma in ALL cases…no exceptions.

    Long ago, in the dark ages, Christian religion did have control over peoples lives and their track record was obscene.

    3 studies cut and pasted below.

    In a long-awaited comprehensive scientific study on the effects of intercessory prayer on the health and recovery of 1,802 patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery in six different hospitals, prayers offered by strangers had no effect. In fact, contrary to common belief, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications such as abnormal heart rhythms, possibly the result of anxiety caused by learning that they were being prayed for and thus their condition was more serious than anticipated.

    The study, which cost $2.4 million (most of which came from the John Templeton Foundation), was begun almost a decade ago and was directed by Harvard University Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson and published in The American Heart Journal, was by far the most rigorous and comprehensive study on the effects of intercessory prayer on the health and recovery of patients ever conducted.

    In addition to the numerous methodological flaws in the previous research corrected for in the Benson study, Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and author of the forthcoming book, Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine, explained:
    This study is particularly significant because Herbert Benson has long been sympathetic to the possibility that intercessory prayer can positively influence the health of patients. His team’s rigorous methodologies overcame the numerous flaws that called into question previously published studies.
    In 2001, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published a study by three Columbia University researchers claiming that prayer for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization resulted in a pregnancy rate of 50%, double that of women who did not receive prayer. Media coverage was extensive. ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Timothy Johnson, for example, reported, “A new study on the power of prayer over pregnancy reports surprising results; but many physicians remain skeptical.” One of those skeptics was a University of California Clinical Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics named Bruce Flamm, who not only found numerous methodological errors in the experiment, but also discovered that one of the study’s authors, Daniel Wirth (AKA “John Wayne Truelove”), is not an M.D., but an M.S. in parapsychology who has since been indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, for which he pled guilty. The other two authors have refused comment, and after three years of inquires from Flamm the journal removed the study from its website and Columbia University launched an investigation.
    ‘No health benefit’ from prayer
    The world’s largest study into the effects of prayer on patients undergoing heart surgery has found it appears to make no difference.

    15 October 2003

    The MANTRA study, run from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, involved 750 patients.

    Before their operations, they were randomly split into two groups, and half were prayed for by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims.

    However, checks revealed they had fared no better than those not prayed for.

    The results of the controversial study contradict earlier findings from the same team which suggested a drop of a quarter or more in “adverse outcomes” – including death, heart failure or heart attack.

    However, that trial involved only 150 patients, and the more extensive research, completed this year, found no evidence of any benefits.

    The study is the subject of a BBC “Everyman” documentary to be broadcast next week.

  6. Little Frog says:

    Wow–obviously touched a hot spot! The question is religious freedom–this is suppose to be a discussion, not a trial.

    Tim, I applause your courage to even bring it up!

  7. Ranita Ashbrook says:

    As a homeschooler, in a community which has Amish, and a city with much diverse religious beliefs nearby (Kalamazoo), this is an interesting question. I have had others who are certain I have “harmed” my children by homeschooling them.

    It seems that the “tolerant” and “loving” aren’t necessarily so to those who do not agree with their position. This is a good life lesson for all of us.

  8. Tim Farley says:


    Thanks again for your comments. You wrote: “To answer that point I believe that no parents of children should not have the ability or legal right to keep their children from medical care because of religious beliefs. The right to life of a child trumps religious dogma in ALL cases…no exceptions.”

    I agree that the child had a right to life as well. I also feel that if the parents withheld medical treatment from their son against his wishes, it was wrong. However, what if the son held the same beliefs as his parents?

  9. Tim Farley says:


    Again, the aim of this post is to discuss religious freedom, not so much to discuss whether prayer does or does not work, but I wanted to quickly reply to the studies you mentioned in your last comment. I do not usually like to cite Wikipedia as a source, but since this is a blog and not an academic paper I think it is sufficient to make my point. If you read through this article: , I think it will be evident that no firm conclusions concerning prayer can be drawn based upon studies that have been done.

  10. thewordofme says:

    Hi Mr. Farley,

    You write:
    “I agree that the child had a right to life as well. I also feel that if the parents withheld medical treatment from their son against his wishes, it was wrong. However, what if the son held the same beliefs as his parents?”

    If the child is not 18 he/she is not considered an adult and the court should be able to step in.

    Regarding prayer efficacy, the various religions have been trying to prove it works forever…my feeling is that they keep trying and trying and can show no real results–most likely nothing to it. Kind of puts the lie to James 5:13-16 and others.

    “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

    “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

  11. Tim Farley says:


    You said: “If the child is not 18 he/she is not considered an adult and the court should be able to step in.”

    Correct me if I misunderstand, but you seem to be saying that freedom of religion only applies to adults, not minors. This is a valid argument. However, would you say that this applies to the entire First Amendment? If not, I do not see the logic in separating the different areas addressed in this amendment (i.e. freedom of speech, religion, assembly). If so, I bet your views would be met with a great deal of resistance by those who believe freedom of speech and religion apply to everyone regardless of age.

    Another point: This boy was 16 years old, not 6. If he had committed a crime, most courts would try him as an adult because they realize 16 year olds are old enough to be held accountable for their decisions. If we are holding this age-group accountable as adults in the courtroom in certain instances, how can the court think of them as less than adults in others? This seems inconsistent to me.

    Your interpretations of James 5:13-16 and John 14:13-14 are interesting, but flawed. It is actually a good example of what happens when we try to take a single verse out of the Bible without balancing it with what ALL of scripture has to say on the topic. Christians do not believe that prayer is a magic trick that automatically guarantees certain results if you do it correctly. God answers our prayers, but not always the way we would desire. However, for the believer, we have faith that however God chooses to act, it is for the greatest good. So, as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 tells us, we are to pray for “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  12. Ben Archambault says:

    Why does the magic age of 18 grant certain rights? Voting rights are the only rights guaranteed by turning 18. The other rights are, according to the Constitution (IMO), given at birth b/c the words state:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    No age is mentioned.

    That, of course, opens a huge can of worms. A two-year-old refusing medical treatment b/c she’s afraid of needles is still treated. And a 14-year-old who’s been brainwashed into believing that he can spontaneous regenerate cells and defeat cancer through the use of his Leptomatic Incerator Z-15 Ray Gun (a ball of aluminum foil) will also be treated.

    So what’s the answer?

    Honestly, the best answer I have is to enact a law that says something like:

    “Medical Treatment cannot be refused for religious reasons unless the patient is of sound mind as determined by a judge appointed by the state. Further refusal will be treated as a suicide/homicide depending upon who is to blame as determined by a judge.”

    In that way, if a religious zealot does go against their society in a radical way, they can have the privelege of being sentenced for their off-the-wall beliefs. Few zealots mind some prison time if it makes a point.

    If their point is made and many flock to their understanding, then they will have changed things for the better. If not, then they probably were just a religious nut who refused to comply with normal societal values.

    I know it’s rough and it’s not very fair or fun, but it’s the best I got for now.

    Thanks for the brain-bender, Tim. (I hope I was mostly intelligible)

  13. Tim Farley says:


    Good to hear from you. It has been a while. Concerning your comment, what would you say about an adult refusing treatment for him-/herself? Would a judge still need to “approve” of the decision or is your idea only concerning adults deciding for children?

    Also, how do we determine when this new law kicks in? Do I have to get medical treatment for EVERY illness or injury? Even minor things? We all get sick and injure ourselves at times, but do not feel the need to seek medical treatment. Who decides what is minor and what is major? Just a few questions that I think a law like the one you propose would have to address.

  14. Ben Archambault says:

    I would say that a judge decides for everyone whenever a hospital ethics committee or a doctor says “You MUST have treatment.”

    Then the judge can determine who is of sound mind and who isn’t.

    It’s a horrificly slippery slope, but it seems safer than allowing crazy* people to refuse treatment for themselves or their children.

    *of course, “crazy” is so pregnant with meaning that it would take a hundred books to determine just how pregnant it is with meaning.

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