Joe Paterno is Not the Victim. Joe Paterno is the Perpetrator!

As it is reported, Coach Paterno was told, by a graduate assistant under his employ, that his Assistant Coach Sandusky was forcing sodomy upon a 10 year old boy in the shower. Coach Paterno referred the graduate assistant to the Athletic Director and the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business. This is where the situation becomes unfortunate.Let us assume that you are the director of accountants for an accounting firm. One of your interns comes to you and says that he saw one of your accountants “raping” a 10 year old boy in the shower. This is an act that, arguably, has nothing to do with accounting. He was not “doctoring the books” of a client. Again, arguably, the 10 year old did not work for your firm. Do you consider this as an internal matter, one to be handled “in-house” by those involved such as your boss? What do you do? Is your first thought to go to your immediate supervisor, the director of directors? Why is this scenario different than that of PennState?

My contention is that accounting firms are not like college football programs in that college football programs are tantamount to religious organizations. Their games are like worship services wherein congregants participate in the sacraments–touchdowns, sacks, fumbles. Their players are high-profile clergy. Their coaches are the bishopric of doctrine. The comparisons are endless, in multiple ways.

College football, though, is not different from an accounting firm. The rape of a child is not an internal matter that you can report to your immediate supervisor. You did not do your duty. You did not, honestly, clear your conscience of moral culpability. You do not report the theft of your car to your director. You do not tell your supervisor about how someone physically assaulted your neighbor. You do not tell your athletic director that someone raped a ten year old child. You report crimes to those men and women we charge in society with mitigating and controlling crime, the police. If you do not report crimes to the police, you become an accomplice in that crime. Not only do you become an accomplice, you help to further that crime.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best when he said that “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

The firing of PennState head football coach over his role in the allegations of child sexual abuse is nothing short of predominant for this community conversation. My point is not to try Coach Paterno, but rather to make a point, a point that is fundamental to us as emerging ethical leaders in American society. We need to be more proactive in our society about the abuse of children, in all of its forms.

Unfortunately, our religious communities help to perpetrate this horrendous practice. Many of our religions have practices of abuse towards children, which has caused society to see these acts as private matters to be handled by the religion or by the family. This needs to stop. We need to combat this in every way possible. Abuse of children does not have to be a part of our faith. It does not have to be fundamental to our beliefs and practices. We have to reject the notion that physicalmental abuse, and sexual abuse helps our children become better people and better believers.

According to Hopper (2009), the very notion of “child abuse’” is a controversial idea, particularly with regards to its definitions and the statistics about its prevalence. From the attempted sacrificial slaying of Isaac by Abraham to the treatment of Jesus by his Father to the sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic Priests in recent years, history is riddled with anecdotal instances of child abuse. Society has nearly always seen acts of child abuse as a private matter–something to be handled and dealt with within the family. Only the rarest, most grotesque cases were considered as crimes (Nelson, 1984). It is only in recent decades, however, that child abuse has come to be commonly known as a social problem. Despite this, there are still prevalent notions that the treatment of children is not the business of the State.

Congress and 30 states have decided that “religious” exemptions to child abuse are acceptable and do not violate social mandate to reduce the instances of child abuse. CAPTA provided exemptions to child abuse statutes, definitions, and regulations for practicing one’s religion on a child. For instance, there is an exemption for parents that use prayer and/or faith-healing as a means of healthcare. Essentially, the public law mandated that states provide a “religious exemption” to the federal definitions and regulations of child abuse in order to receive federal grants (Monopeli, 1991). Such exemptions prompted many states to create constitutional amendments that provided parents with the authority to disregard the aforementioned mandates.

As Monopeli (1991) asserts, this mandate was changed in 1983 to state that the federal law was not to be construed to force any state into requiring or prohibiting the finding of neglect when a parent uses their faith as means of child healthcare. The new provision allowed for the courts to intervene if the child’s life was in danger. The Department of Human Services changed their mind about this again in 1987 and required states to remove all “religious exemptions” language from their statutes (Monopeli, 1991).

Eventually, they settled on the notion that medical care decisions are best left to the state and local governments to decide. This caused many states to amend their constitutions. However, in 1996, Congress amended CAPTA to include an exemption for parents that refused medical care for their children that was against the tenets of the parents’ faith, while upholding the dangers of child abuse and calling for its mitigation (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010).

Currently, there are 30 states (Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming) — and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam — that offer state constitutional amendments that allow parents to practice faith-based medical care for their children without threat of prosecution. Three of the states (Arizona, Connecticut, and Washington), however, provide a specific exemption for members of the Christian Science movement. Of the 30 states, 16 provide for the medical intervention by the courts if the child’s condition warrants it (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010).

U.S. child abuse policy has been connected to many contentious issues in American politics and policy, namely federal intervention in state affairs, parental prerogatives, and children’s rights. However, the relationship between child abuse policy and the Constitutional mandates that Congress not establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise is particularly divisive. Despite federal and state legislation and court rulings, the policies and laws affecting the treatment of children in religious ideologies continues to be an issue of conflict between religious communities and the state.

Governmental involvement in child abuse is predicated on the legal notion of parens patriae. This concept refers to the government’s legal ability to intervene on the behalf of a child when the parents are not comporting themselves responsibly or are acting neglectfully and/or abusively towards the child. It is common knowledge that the federal government has consistently and progressively intervened in how children are to be treated (Nelson, 1984). The role that the federal and state legislative and judicial mandates have in child abuse is extensive.

Conversely, freedom to practice one’s religion has been a perceived component of American life since the beginning of the Republic. Moreover, the metaphoric wall of separation between the church (religion) and the state Jefferson so masterfully spoke of is often considered a fundamental element of American government.

However, a brief study of case law indubitably proves that the United States has clearly struggled to define its complicated relationship with religion. This intersection of religion and politics in American public life is often wrought with images of walls, discussions of accommodation, and notions of neutrality as well as a common opinion of a freedom to exercise that religion. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the freedom of religious expression and the notion of a ban on government-established religion are not without clarifications. The idea of child abuse and religion is the paradigmatic example of this struggle.

The federal government has determined minimum definitions of child abuse as a matter of federal law, most recently in the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003. This legislation requires that states include minimum definitions of abuse in their statutes in order to receive federal monies, but the state may go further in how it defines child abuse. However, the federal government has determined that definitions of abuse are not to be construed as a forceful mandate that prohibits religions from acting contrary to that religion’s proscriptions, particularly with regards to withholding medical treatment, offering spiritual prayer/healing as a means of healthcare, or neglecting to provide basic needs such as food as well as engaging in physical abuse for disciplinary purposes. The federal law establishes a directive that permits the individual states to decide if they will allow for exemptions to the definitions of child abuse. Therefore, some state legislatures have enacted constitutional amendments that provide “religious” exemptions to the definitions of child abuse.

In other words, Congress and some individual states have mandated specific ideas of child abuse and for specific reasons, which are outlined in the congressional findings for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and its many reauthorizations. Congress has justified this policy as a public good. They found that over 900,000 children suffer some form of abuse or neglect each year and that 60% of those children were neglected. Moreover, 19% were physically abused and 10% were sexually abused.

How and why do Congress and the individual states assent to the idea that religious ideologies that are carried into practices are not understood as violating the federal or state enacted definitions of child abuse if and when the abuse occurs in accordance with the tenets of the religious faith? It could be argued that the abuse then essentially negates the importance of mitigating the child abuse this legislation intended to diminish. There is an ontological supposition that God’s law as dictated in religious texts has more authority than the law designed to protect children from abuse. The inclusion of religion in the discussion of child abuse policy creates a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws. The religious exemptions to U.S. child abuse policies create problems for children, their parents, and the states as well as the First Amendment.

The policies and laws affecting the treatment of children in religious ideologies continues to be an issue of conflict between religious communities and the state. Religion has a profound affect upon child abuse policies and laws, particularly in light of the ambiguities in the law that occur through sentencing disparties, prosecutorial leniencies, and judicial prefrences as well as as jury sympathies and reduced criminal charges.

The broadly defined statutory “religious” exemptions to child abuse create massive confusion about what rights parents have and how the state can respond to instances of abuse. The various agenda-setting dynamics such as problem definitions, framing mechanisms, and particular policy images keep the legal exemptions to child abuse active and engender profound confusion for parents and law-makers. The existing research determines that “religious” exemptions to U.S. child abuse policies create problems for children, their parents, and states, as well as First Amendment jurisprudence (Jarvis, 2007Monopeli, 1991).

The lack of uniformity between states regarding the First Amendment interpretation, children’s 14th Amendment rights, and parental due process is noteworthy. Understanding why Congress and many states have decided that “religious” exemptions to child abuse are acceptable and do not act contrary to its mitigation needs to be clarified and changed. The inclusion of religion in the policy discussion engenders a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws.

The unassociated crimes of an accountant are not, typically, reflective and indicative of the organization. The crimes of coaches and players are, however, considered representative of their football program. Therefore, there is more incentive to maintain secrecy. If one has something to protect such as an image or perception of your football program or your church, one might be willing to make concessions for something maintained as more important than the welfare of a child.

The Catholic Church hid sexual abuse for decades, if not longer. They would simply allow priests to “repent” of their “sin” and move to another parish or district wherein they would not have contact with the children. Penn State is no better than this organization. They have done the exact same thing. They simply took away Assistant Coach Sandusky’s locker room keys rather than reporting his crimes to the authorities. They should have gone to the police. There are no exceptions to this mandate. The consequences are too dire. Because of their inaction, more children were molested.

When you place the unblemished, untarnished image of your organization and its success above the welfare of those it serves, you are in serious trouble of moral failure. We have seen this too often. Where is our outrage as a community? Why are there protests shouting “F— the Trustees” and “We want Joe” and not moral outrage? In this instance, I believe that we, as a religious community, are also perpetuating these acts of abuse. I usually like to ask where our voice is in the conversation; unfortunately, I know where it is in this conversation.

We too are protesting and screaming “F— the children,” and “We want our Joe [our traditions, our conveniences, our practices, our successes, our image, our unblemished, untarnished images].” We need this to change-now. Again, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Image taken from Author Milliped from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.” The link to this image can be found at:

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