Can You Claim Religious Beliefs as a Defense?

At the end of June 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) published its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Simply put, the court held 5-4 that corporations could cite religious beliefs as a valid reason to opt out of compliance with certain laws. Though that case involved the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the decision may make you wonder whether it may be possible to cite religious beliefs to avoid consequences of violating other laws, as well. Specifically, can you use religious freedom or beliefs as a defense to a criminal charge?

Generally speaking, citing religious beliefs will not automatically get you off the hook for an alleged crime. For example, stating that you believe in religious human sacrifice is not a defense to murder, and claiming your religion requires you to smoke marijuana is not a defense to possession or distribution of pot. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however, and they vary from state to state with a few on the federal level. The following are two examples of how Illinois law sets out exemptions to laws based on religious beliefs.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Normally, parents or guardians are required under the law to provide adequate nourishment and medical care, otherwise they may be charged with child abuse or neglect. However, some religions are against certain types of medical treatments or even against any medical treatment at all.

For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that people should never ingest blood or blood components and therefore are against followers from receiving blood transfusions. The belief is so strict that followers who receive blood transfusions are believed to have disassociated themselves from the church. Therefore, parents who are followers of Jehovah’s Witness refuse to allow their children to undergo transfusions even if it is medically necessary. Additionally, Christian Scientists believe that illness should be treated with prayer and that medical care is not necessary. A number of Christian Scientist parents have made headlines when they failed to provide medical care for a preventable illness and caused the death of a child.

However, Illinois specifically sets out that a child is not abused or neglected simply because a parent chooses to rely upon prayer or other spiritual means to cure a child instead of taking them to a doctor. Therefore, a parent may cite religious beliefs as an exemption from abuse or neglect laws.

Underage Drinking

Illinois residents who are under age 21—the legal drinking age—can legally drink alcohol as part of a religious ceremony or for other religious purposes.

Contact a Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you are facing criminal charges, it may be difficult to determine which criminal defenses may or may not apply in your case. Applicable defenses often depend on the specific circumstances of your case and type of charge. Experienced criminal defense attorney Steven Goldman will analyze your case and knows how to make the best use possible of any available criminal defenses for you. It is always imperative to have a qualified and skilled attorney, so call Goldman & Associates for help today.

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