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H. R. “Bob” Haldeman And John Ehrlichman Still Making Trouble For America

March 23, 2015

Hat Tip to John Taylor.

I excerpted passages from a long and troubling article that underscores how religion and political power are two entities that should not mix.

In 1971, presidential hopeful Senator Walter Mondale (D-Minnesota) created the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Youth, a power base from which he would mobilize Congress to protect children. In 1972, the subcommittee published a book titled “Rights of Children,” setting the stage for Mondale’s seminal piece of legislation: the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

Although he had frequently butted heads with Richard Nixon, Mondale eventually got the legislation he wanted. “Not even Richard Nixon is in favor of child abuse!” he quipped. Mondale’s  bill allocated $86 million for a center within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human  Services) that  would compile a  list of  accidents involving children, publish training materials for case workers, and create a national commission to study the effectiveness of state surveillance. By the mid-1970s, all fifty states had mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws.

The impact was immediate. In  1963,  public authorities had identified more than a hundred thousand cases of child abuse; by 1982, the number had climbed to 1.3 million. Advocates hailed the new legislation as a watershed event for children’s  rights. But not everyone was celebrating. One group saw the legislation as a direct threat to its way of life. And it was going to do everything it could to exempt itself from public scrutiny.

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Although the Watergate scandal consumed much of their efforts from June 1972 until their resignations on April 30, 1973, Haldeman and Ehrlichman still had enough time to insert a religious exemption into CAPTA: “No parent or guardian who in good faith is providing a child treatment solely by spiritual means—such as prayer—according to the tenets and practices of a recognized church through a duly accredited practitioner shall for that reason alone be considered to have neglected the child.”

Haldeman and Ehrlichman had tipped their hand; only Christian Scientists would refer to their prayers as treatments and to faith healers as practitioners; and only the Christian Science Church accredits its healers.

Now, if state officials didn’t abide by Haldeman and Ehrlichman’s mandate,  they couldn’t  receive money from Mondale’s  program; within a few years, forty-nine states (the exception being Nebraska) and the District of Columbia had laws protecting religiously motivated medical neglect. By 1984, the Department of Health and Human Services, realizing the absurdity of the mandate, eliminated it. But it was too late. The damage had been done.

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The problem created by Haldeman and Ehrlichman continues. As of 2013, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia still had religious exemptions for child abuse in their civil codes, and seventeen had religious exemptions for felony crimes. In the end, these ambiguities benefit no one. Not children, who may be denied life-saving therapies. Not  parents, who remain uncertain about when the line is crossed to criminal behavior. Not prosecutors, who are often unclear about what constitutes medical neglect. And not society, which is charged with protecting its youngest, most vulnerable members. The issue won’t  be resolved until  all fifty states eliminate religious exemptions from both civil and criminal child abuse statutes.

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