Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Let's Get Angry

Story here.

I read about this about a year ago. While this example is particularly horrific, it's nothing all that new - some horrible cult (this one happens to count a very low percentage of the world's population among its members, so the rest of the world is calling it a "cult" as well, instead of a respectable institution) murders a child for its religious beliefs.

Usually you see this with faith healing types. Medicine and treatment are withheld, the kid dies, the parents say, "Not our fault!" and the rest of the world says, "Yes it is!" and to jail they go.

Frequently, those same parents will try to claim religious freedom in their defense. Of course, as noted by Judge Vincent Howard in just such a case, "The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief, but not necessarily conduct."

Here, however, we see a court playing into the delusions of the murderers.

A Maryland woman involved with a group described as a religious cult pleaded guilty in the starvation death of her son, but insisted that the charges be dropped when he is resurrected.

Bold mine. That's her plea agreement. They agreed to that.

Let's think about the message that sends to anyone watching - it's not okay to kill your child in God's name if you're wrong, but if your beliefs turn out to be right then we'll accommodate you.

The problem with that is simple. There's are some people on this planet who are absolutely convinced, 100%, that they are right. I call them "everyone." This does absolutely nothing to deter such murders in the future. If anything, from the perspective of the people who really, truly believe that it's really going to work this time, this is a stamp of approval.

Do you really believe what you say you believe? Then what are you worried about? Starve your child to death if he doesn't say "amen" before or after a meal. God wants you to, and the courts will back you up. But only if you really think you're right. Only if you believe with all your heart. Only if you know for sure that God's on your side.

Also, if it turns out that your neighbor's dog really did make you go on a killing spree, we'll set you free and arrest the dog. So, you know, make sure that dog's telling the truth.

What really happened here is likely one of two scenarios:

1) The prosecutors agreed to throw this clause in because they thought they'd get something useful out of the bargain. They figure no harm, no foul, and this way more bad people go to jail. To some extent, they're right. We do want all of the people responsible thrown in jail for as long as possible, but I don't know that we can call legitimizing a claim like this "no harm."

2) The prosecutors feared that they might lose their conviction on the grounds of religious belief. After all, it's difficult to prove that resurrection will never happen. A lot of the people in the jury probably believe it happened at least once. Isn't the defendant entitled to her belief that it was going to happen to her? The answer, of course, is "Yes, but she's not entitled to act on it." It's the difference between thinking dozens of people deserve to die and actually killing them. But they feared a stupid jury, and decided to compromise, setting a disturbing example for the future, so they could sidestep that possibility.

Good thing we don't rely on court decisions for precedent or anything.

1 comment:

Q said...

Well, if they succeeded in finding a jury of her peers, maybe that was a valid fear!