Indiana Case Raises RFRA To Justify Child Abuse

Image by  Imgorthand /Getty Images

Image by Imgorthand/Getty Images

An Indiana mother is claiming that religion can be used to justify abusing her child.

Kin Park Thaing, an Indianapolis resident, is hoping to use the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a defense to charges of child abuse. She was charged with battery and neglect of a dependent after her seven-year-old son’s teacher discovered 36 deep welts and bruises on his body in February. She hit him with a plastic hanger, saying she acted on her religious beliefs to punish him.

The Indiana RFRA, signed into law by vice-presidential hopeful Gov. Mike Pence just last year, generated enormous national controversy. Most of the outrage was based on the fact that it was aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people. At the same time, though, the county prosecutor warned that RFRA could be used in cases like these. This week he explained, "We predicted this was exactly was going to happen, is individuals would assert their religious freedom to justify what is clearly criminal conduct.”  

In July, Thaing’s attorney asked the court to dismiss her case, citing RFRA as one reason. The judge denied her request and the case will go to trial in October. 

Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental American value. It ensures we all are free to believe—or not—as we see fit. But it does not allow us to act on our beliefs if doing so harms others. Religious freedom does not license abusing children.

This is a textbook case of what’s wrong with RFRAs today and a perfect example of why RFRAs should be clarified to ensure they can’t be misused to cause harm to others, including children. That’s what the Do No Harm Act will do for the federal RFRA. Urge your Representative to co-sponsor this important legislation now. 

Stay tuned—we will continue to watch this case as it unfolds.

Follow Rokia Hassanein at @rokiahass