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?