Tampa Bay Times:
So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal.
By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.
Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down.
Not in Florida.
In this state, unlicensed religious homes can abuse children and go on operating for years. Almost 30 years ago, Florida legislators passed a law eliminating state oversight of children's homes that claim government rules hamper their religious practices.
Today, virtually anyone can claim a list of religious ideals, take in children and subject them to punishment and isolation that verge on torture — so long as they quote chapter and verse to justify it.
The Tampa Bay Times spent a year investigating more than 30 religious homes that have housed children in recent years across Florida. Some operate with a religious exemption, legally regulated by a private Christian organization instead of the state. Others lost their exemption and operate with no legal accreditation at all.
Although most drew few complaints, nearly a dozen have been hounded by allegations of abuse. A review of thousands of pages of investigative files and interviews with dozens of former residents found:
• State authorities have responded to at least 165 allegations of abuse and neglect in the past decade, but homes have remained open even after the state found evidence of sex abuse and physical injury.
• The religious exemption has for decades allowed homes to avoid state restrictions on corporal punishment. Homes have pinned children to the ground for hours, confined them in seclusion for days, made them stand until they wet themselves and exercised them until they vomited.
• Children have been bruised, bloodied and choked to unconsciousness in the name of Christian discipline. A few barely escaped with their lives. In addition, in two settled lawsuits, a mother said her son was forced to hike on broken feet; a father said his son was handcuffed, bound at the feet, locked away for three days and struck by other boys at the instruction of the home.
• Adults have ordered children to participate in the punishment, requiring them to act as jailors, to bully troublemakers or to chase, tackle and sit on their peers.
• Teens have been denounced as sinners, called "faggots" and "whores," and humiliated in front of their peers for menstrual stains and suspicions of masturbation.
• Parents share the blame. Some sign away their children for a year or more without first visiting a home or checking credentials. But state officials bear some responsibility because they have not warned the public about programs they believe are abusive.
• Florida taxpayers have supported some unlicensed homes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in McKay scholarships — a government program to help special needs students pay tuition at private schools.
In Florida, the vast majority of children's homes are regulated and inspected by the state Department of Children and Families. But under Florida law, a home can shield itself from that oversight by claiming a religious exemption.
Instead of state-trained child safety workers, these homes are regulated by the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, a private, nonprofit group run almost entirely by the same people who run the homes.
One of my major complaints about how Christianity is viewed in this country, and as you know I have several, is that it often provides a certain moral camouflage. In other words if somebody identifes themselves a "Christian" they get quite a substantial benefit of the doubt. Without knowing anything else about them, they are automatically considered ethical, moral, and trustworthy.
For decades this has allowed flim-flam men to take advantage of the elderly, allowed organizations to brutalize their workers or clients, and allowed politicians to push for truly barbaric policies while hiding behind the Bible.
In reality people are people. The idea that one religious group or another has the market cornered on morality is ridiculous. Just as it is ridiculous to assume that those who don't "fear God" are somehow less trustworthy and more apt to do terrible things.
However having said that there is ALSO a danger when people are informed in how they interact with others using the Bible as their guide. That book is NOT a reasonable textbook for how to raise children, treat your spouse, or deal with conflict.
Any book that contains such a phrase as this: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Often translated as, "Spare the rod, spoil the child,) should NEVER be used as the cornerstone of how to discipline a child. And the superstitious point of view that identifies normal adolescent behaviors as "sinful" provides an impetus to treat the children in their care in the most barbaric fashion imaginable, in the hopes of driving out the "evil."
Of course these places desperately need to have oversight, just like any other business that cares for children. In fact, in my opinion, due to their primitive guidelines they likely need even MORE oversight.
Is anybody of a different opinion?