For a few days I’ve mulled over whether or not I should comment on this story:
Accepting a plea bargain that her attorney described as unprecedented in American jurisprudence, a 22-year-old Maryland woman yesterday agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other defendants in the death of her son under the condition that charges against her be dropped if the child rises from the dead.
The boy’s mother, Ria Ramkissoon, is shaping up as prosecutors’ star witness against a 40-year-old Baltimore woman named Queen Antoinette. Prosecutors allege that Queen Antoinette led a small cult, called One Mind Ministries, based in a West Baltimore rowhouse. In early 2007, prosecutors say, Queen Antoinette instructed Ramkissoon and others to deprive Javon of food and water because he didn’t say “amen” before breakfast.
I’m inclined to make a comparison to infant circumcision for religious reasons. It’s easy to make even though there are many steps between the two points, but I worried about the perception that I’m claiming a moral equivalence between circumcision and death. I am not, so I stayed away. Then I read this entry by Rogier van Bakel, which I think gets the angle correct (emphasis in original):
Yeah, no insanity there. I mean, since she felt compelled by God to let her baby die a drawn-out, miserable death, why would anyone question her mental capacity? That just wouldn’t be respectful to the Big Guy, and to people of faith, now would it?
I’m more or less agnostic on religion, and I don’t care what people believe. My only concern is how our civil government uses religion as a guidance on rules. Specifically, I’m concerned about how government treats what one person does to another in the name of religious faith.
This case demonstrates that we collectively believe our government must not rebuke religious intent in individuals who inflict objectively harmful practices on another. And we must punish only the most egregious examples. In America, belief in a higher being is a sign of increased rationality. We mistakenly accept that parents may undertake certain unjustifiable actions against their children because we do not wish to imply that the verifiable is superior to the unverifiable. That is wrong.
This case is obvious, so the deference to religion in pursuit of convictions is understandable, if not entirely acceptable. The mother is obviously incompetent, so we shouldn’t pretend that she is. That will only perpetuate further violations of the rights of children because it gives religious justifications credibility they do not deserve.