Email #263: “religious accommodations”?

Your press releases don’t typically allude to your religious beliefs, but when you condemned the Neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville earlier this month you said: “We are all created in the image of God,  and I strongly condemn such detestable views against fellow human beings.”

I share and again thank you for your condemnation of racism, but I would like to better understand your other personal religious views. Last spring when you praised President Trump’s “Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” you said:

“Congress and the courts have made clear that the federal government must provide religious accommodations in our laws and protect our freedom of speech, and it is time for the federal government to enforce these protections. Unfortunately, we’ve seen unprecedented discrimination by the federal bureaucracy in recent years against Americans who wish to live their lives according to their faith. Today’s executive order by President Trump on the National Day of Prayer is a welcomed step in the right direction to dismantle these unfair burdens. No American should live in fear of reprisal from the federal government based on what they believe.”

Could you clarify the nature and extent of the “accommodations” you support? I understand that you are a Christian Scientist. I know very little about the denomination, and so I apologize if I have any information wrong and ask that you correct me. For instance, is it correct that you believe that diseases are not physical in origin but are mental illusions that are best treated by prayer and not medicine?

While this does not require current followers to avoid all medical treatment, it has in the past. At the end of the 19th century, several children in Christian Scientist families died, and some of their parents were convicted of neglect and manslaughter. After a Christian Scientist was convicted in 1967, the church lobbied for a religious exemption, which they received in 1974. The exemption was then struck in 1983, after children’s healthcare advocates lobbied against it. The church was successfully sued in 1993 after the death of an eleven-year-old who was denied an insulin injection, but an appeals court overturned the $10 million in damages.

Do you agree with the court’s ruling?

Given the President’s new executive order, do you feel that the 1967 federal exemption for Christian Scientists should now be reinstated?

Since you see the executive order as only “a welcomed step in the right direction,” what steps do you advocate next?

I ask these questions respectfully, but as someone who believes diseases have physical causes that require physical cures, I am confused how your atypical religious beliefs influence your political positions regarding health care and physical reality in general. For example, do you oppose the ACA and its Medicaid expansion to people living in poverty because you feel those people should be praying more instead of relying on medical insurance?

I also read that Christian Science has been in sharp decline for several decades. Searching the official Christian Science online directory, I see the First Church in Lynchburg is the only Christian Science church in all of our 6th Congressional District. Since only the tiniest fraction of your constituents are fellow Christian Scientists, it would be helpful to us all if you would better explain your religious views.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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