Friday, April 16, 2021

Michigan Statute Protecting Parents' Faith Healing Includes Subjective Religious Interpretations

Michigan's Child Protection Law (MCL 722.634) provides:

A parent or guardian legitimately practicing his religious beliefs who thereby does not provide specified medical treatment for a child, for that reason alone shall not be considered a negligent parent or guardian.

In In re Piland, (MI App., April 15, 2021), a Michigan state appellate court held that the trial court erred in refusing to give a jury instruction based on this statute in a case in which parental rights for three children were being revoked.  The parents had allowed a newborn infant who developed jaundice to die rather than call for medical help. The trial court had refused the instruction because it interpreted the statute to relate only to the practice of beliefs of a religious organization, and not to individualized beliefs.  The appellate court disagreed, saying in part:

The trial court’s interpretation of the word “legitimately,” as used in MCL 722.634, is that the religious beliefs being practiced must be legitimate. And, that, in order to be legitimate, those beliefs had to be part of the doctrine or tenants of a religion as opposed to a parent or guardian’s subjective interpretation of scriptures. The trial court’s interpretation, however, renders the statute unconstitutional. It is well-established that “government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground” for a person’s actions “is legitimate or illegitimate.”