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Religious Freedom: The Impact on Children

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, addresses psychological studies arguing the effects of religion on children. In this novel, Judy Blume shows the trials and tribulations a young girl goes through trying to fit in religion. Margaret is raised by parents with two separate religions, but practices neither. After she moves to a town where everybody conforms to one religion, she is faced with judgment from her new friends. Feeling different she chooses to explore both of her parents religions, while also dealing with the cliques and bullying of her friend group. Judy Blume is quoted with saying, “I felt as if I’d always known Margaret. When I was in sixth grade, I longed to develop physically like my classmates. And like Margaret, I had a very personal relationship with God that had little to do with organized religion. God was my friend and confidant.” Judy Blume wrote this story to connect with young people struggling with social cliques and religion.

The positive effects of raising a child with a organized religion. Many parents assume that raising a child with religion will cause their children to behave in a moral manner, and many studies corroborate this belief. According to Regnerus, “The potential benefits associated with personal religiousness have been well-documented. They may include less drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; lower rates of depression and suicide; better sleep quality; and greater hopefulness and life satisfaction”. Religion can help people make sense of a confusing world, provide encouragement, motivate kindness, and bind communities together. There have been many scientific studies confirming these results, stating that religion is somewhat of a buffer system between the stress and anxiety of the external world. According to Michael, “A child who experiences a sense of belonging, or cohesion, is a much healthier child able to withstand stress. Belonging means more than relationships. Belonging is the sense that our life matters to others,”. Some sources show that children raised with religion are psychologically healthier than children raised without religion. These results show that children who are raised in religious homes and attend religious events react better to discipline and control themselves easier. Bartkowski famously said,’Religion emphasizes moral codes designed to instill values such as self-control and social competence”. Religion is also known to help children with their identity, and for some children religion provides an anchor, especially during periods when they are confused by their choices. According to Ungar Ph.D., “Religious activities give them the chance to make decisions, even if that decision is only whether to participate wholeheartedly in the practices of their faith,”.

The negative effects organized religion has on children. Organized religion is defined as a structured system of faith or worship, especially one followed by a large number of people. For many years people have used religion to justify horrendous actions. Children are taught from a young age that God watched his innocent only child get murdered for humanities wrongdoing, and because of this action humanities sins are somehow forgiven. Also, growing up believing that if you do not behave, or if you commit an act of “sin”, when you die you will go to hell with a wicked demon lurking prepared to torture you for eternity. According to Revelation, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death,”. Also, according to the Quran, “Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them,”. Imagine growing up and believing that those who accept Jesus as their savior are going to earn their rightful place in heaven, while those who can’t or don’t have those same beliefs are destined to rot in hell.

The effects of raising a child with religious freedom. Religious freedom is defined as, “the right to choose a religion (or no religion) without interference by the government.” Religious freedom, or freedom of conscience, is a significant component of a diverse society. Studies show that children who are encouraged to discover their own religion or lack thereof, have a better sense of who they are and a positive self-expression. Religious freedom is a ‘fundamental right’ for all American citizens, including children. Religious freedom is more than just getting to believe what you want, but it is also the freedom to talk about and practice your core beliefs without anyone or the government interfering. Of course there are exceptions to this right, and there are cases where people try to abuse this. Although most people have good intentions in mind, there are some with ill intentions. For example the radicals from 9-11 who orchestrated this attack tried to use their right to religious freedom to justify their actions. Although this event and many more are examples of people abusing their right, this should not be a reason to infringe on children’s right to express their religion.

The effects of denying children their religious freedom. Denying your child religious freedom and choice in most states is a form of child abuse, like denying your child medical care because of a parent’s beliefs. In 34 states (as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico), there are exemptions in the civil child abuse statutes when medical treatment for a child conflicts with the religious beliefs of parents. Aleksandra Sanstrom says, “In most cases, adults are free to make their own decisions as to how or even if they want to treat an illness. But when the patient is a minor and still legally under the care of parents or guardians, from child welfare and medical necessity to parental rights and religious liberty.” An example of this occured on May 9th, 1989, in Minneapolis, Minnesota where juvenile onset diabetes was left medically untreated. The boys mother and stepfather were Christian Scientists and had their son treated by a church practitioner rather than a medical doctor. This was against the boy’s plead for help, and the boy later died in a diabetic coma. According to MassKids, “ On October 9th, 1989, the parents and the Christian Science practitioner attending the child were indicted for manslaughter by a grand jury. However, in April, 1990, a trial court judge dismissed all of the manslaughter charges, citing a Minnesota religious exemption statute. A Minnesota court of appeals upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss the charges and in September, 1990, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-2 to uphold the dismissal of the charges. All three courts based their rulings on the due process fair notice requirements of the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They determined that the Minnesota religious exemption law gave the parents the right to assume they could withhold medical care and, therefore, the parents were not given ‘fair notice’ that their behavior was criminal,”. This child’s death was a direct consequence of the parents denying their child’s right to religious freedom. This 11 year old boy pleaded with his parents to take him to a doctor and they blatantly disregarded his wishes.

In the above, many concerns and psychological studies addressing many aspects of religion and child development are addressed. There are both positive and negative results to all of the above mentioned options. Having done all of this research, There is not a defined right or wrong, it is a case of what in one’s opinion is moral. While taking all of this into consideration, in the end it is one and one’s child’s decision to decide the best religious pathway.

Works Cited

  1. “Are Religious Parents Better Parents?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,
  2. Foglesong, Marilee. Lives and Works. Young Adult Authors. Grolier Educational, 1999.
  3. Lesley, Posted by Alison. “An Increasing Number of Parents Are Raising Kids Without Religion.” World Religion News, World Religion News, 19 June 2018, Accessed 4 April 2019.
  4. McGowan, Dale. Parenting beyond Belief: on Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion. American Management Association, 2017. Accessed 1 April 2019.
  5. “Religion as It Relates to Human Development.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Accessed 3 April 2019.
  6. “Religion and Education: Evidence from the National Child Development Study.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, North-Holland, 9 May 2006, Accessed 4 April 2019.
  7. “Viewpoint: The Importance of Religious Freedom.” Church News and Events, Accessed 10 April 2019.
  8. Wenner, Melinda. “Study: Religion Is Good for Kids.” LiveScience, Purch, 11 Jan. 2008, Accessed 8 April 2019.  

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