We rightly cringe at the idea of religious exemptions from the law when we’re talking about requiring children to get vaccinations or prosecuting Christian Scientists who kill their sick kids because they wouldn’t take them to the doctor.
But if none of those stories convince you that these exemptions are often abused, just wait till you hear about Deborah Stokes.
Amy Julia Harris, writing for The Center for Investigative Reporting, has a jaw-dropping article about how Stokes ran awful day care after awful day care… and got away with it because she ran them as “churches.”
Needless to say, no religious services ever took place in her buildings.
Each of her day cares has been dogged by complaints of abuse and neglect. Workers said she hit children with flyswatters, locked them in closets or rapped them with rulers. She’s failed to pay so many employees that one reportedly slapped her in the face and another threatened to hurl a pickle jar at her, according to police reports.
She has been arrested multiple times, for crimes ranging from theft to child endangerment.
In total, Deborah Stokes has operated at least a dozen Christian day cares across southern Alabama. Every time she is chased out of town by furious parents, workers or landlords, she reopens in the next town over. In the process, she has collected at least $86,000 in taxpayer funding to run her day cares with almost no oversight.
She doesn’t need a license. She doesn’t need a curriculum or qualified workers. All she needs is a building with a roof, desperate parents and a piece of paper saying she runs a church.
That piece of paper means she’s not subject to all the regulations designed to keep kids safe. And while church leaders might call her an anomaly, she’s the direct result of what happens when unqualified people are allowed to do a job that really needs some damn regulating.
She’s not the only one:
Combing through records around the country, we identified at least 80 operators who rebranded themselves as religious — sometimes just days after regulators took the extreme step of shutting down their licensed day cares
Here’s the potentially good news. After that article was published yesterday, one Alabama legislator said she would introduce a bill to eliminate the religious exemption for day cares, requiring them to get a license:
Alabama Rep. Patricia Todd announced today that she will introduce a bill to license the more than 900 religious day cares in the state that currently operate without a license and almost no government oversight.
Because the legislative session ends very soon, this bill probably won’t go anywhere right now, but Todd said she would re-introduce it at the next opportunity.
In the meantime, remember that there are Christian groups who will still oppose this sort of legislation because they believe God provides all the oversight they’ll ever need. Even when evidence of how that faith is abused is right in front of them.
They don’t care. They’ll gladly put kids in harm’s way if the alternative means giving up some of their precious “religious freedom.”
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)