Are Religious Beliefs a Defense to Criminal Charges?Many different people practice many different religions in the United States for various reasons. Some people practice to an extent, some never attend mass at all – however, so long as a religious belief is sincere, you can stick to that belief with no problem. However, with sincere beliefs come conflictions with the law. The law will rarely accept a religious belief as a defense to criminal charges. If certain behavior is seen as illegal, then there is usually no excuse to continue the activity because of religious beliefs alone.

In many cases that you may have heard in modern times (such as ones involving vaccination decisions) it may be hard to grasp the thought of a child dying from an easily treatable illness. The sad matter is that many parents, in the past and probably in the future, have and will claim an exemption to child abuse for religious reasons. This often happens when the unfortunate event occurs that a child dies because of a parent’s failure to seek medical care for a sick child. Religious exemption can be extremely controversial but, even so, many states will allow parents to escape charges of abuse. Parents in these modern times will physically claim that they choose to pray for their children rather than take them to a doctor.

State and Federal Exceptions
States will occasionally make religion-based exceptions to criminal laws such as those where alcohol is illegal to give to minors except in a situation where a religious ceremony is involved. The Federal Constitution can also create religious exceptions to criminal statutes. In past cases, the Supreme Court has relied on the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and held that certain convictions would violate a parents’ religious freedoms.

To put things into perspective, consider a situation in which a religious ceremony is being held and members of a church are drinking tea that contains a controlled substance. A shipment of the tea is seized by the federal government and prosecution is threatened as a result. However, it is found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the government to show a compelling interest in order to prevent the church’s religious use of the tea. The government explains reasoning behind the Controlled Substances Act; however, the Court says that the reasoning isn’t compelling enough in this particular case.

In another example based on State v. Neumann, a Wisconsin mother has a child with the diabetes condition. Because of religious beliefs, the mother does not provide the child with medical treatment. As a result, the child dies and prosecutors charge the mother with reckless homicide. In Wisconsin, there is a law that provides prayer over medical treatment. However, it only applies to charges of child abuse and not homicide. Even if she is as religious as she says, her beliefs will not constitute a defense to the charge.

Everybody in the United States has a right to religion if they so choose. However, there is a point in which religious beliefs no longer apply and criminal charges cannot be exempt. You must consider the state that you reside in and the crime that you have committed. You may want to consult with an experienced attorney if you have a case. Call The Blair Law Firm today to speak to an attorney that you can trust!