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Ritual Abuse Legislation passed by U.S. state legislatures

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Overview:

Laws that specifically criminalize ritual abuse of children have been passed by the states of California, Idaho, and Illinois. They were written in the early 1990's when the public panic over ritual abuse was at its height. Hundreds of adults had been convicted of ritual abuse and were serving long sentences in jail.   These cases were typically based either on the results of recovered memory therapy of adults and/or improper interview techniques of children. Advances in knowledge about human memory has showed that both techniques are unreliable and can easily generate images of events which "feel" like real childhood memories, but are unrelated to real events.

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Idaho Ritual Abuse Law (1990):

The state of Idaho passed an anti-ritual abuse law in 1990. The intent of Section 18-1506A is: "To provide a felony offense for specified abuse of a child as part of a ritual." It states:

1. "A person is guilty of a felony when he commits any of the following acts with, upon, or in the presence of a child as part of a ceremony, rite, or any similar observance:
(a) Actually or in simulation, tortures, mutilates or sacrifices any warm blooded animal or human being;

(b) Forces ingestion, injection or other application of any narcotic, drug, hallucinogen or anesthetic for the purpose of dulling sensitivity, cognition, recollection of, or resistance to any criminal activity;

(c) Forces ingestion, or external application, of human or animal urine, feces, flesh, blood, bones, body secretions, non-prescribed drugs or chemical compounds;

(d) Involves the child in a mock unauthorized or unlawful marriage ceremony with another person or representation of any force or deity, followed by sexual contact with the child;

(e) Places a living child into a coffin or open grave containing a human corpse or remains;

(f) Threatens death or serious harm to a child, his parents, family, pets or friends which instills a well-founded fear in the child that the threat will be carried out; or

(g) Unlawfully dissects, mutilates, or incinerates a human corpse."

2. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to apply to:
(a) Lawful agricultural, animal husbandry, food preparation or wild game hunting and fishing practices and specifically the branding or identification of livestock;

(b) The lawful medical practice of circumcision or any ceremony related thereto; or

(c) Any state or federally approved, licensed or funded research project.

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Analysis of the Idaho Law:

This law seems to have been carelessly written, and fear driven. It has some major deficiencies:

bulletClause (a) is clearly unconstitutional, because it would prohibit animal sacrifices of the type practiced by ancient Israelites in Biblical times, and by followers of Santeria and Vodun today. The US Supreme Court has ruled that a local ordinance in Florida which prohibited the killing of animals during religious rituals was unconstitutional. Santerians ritually sacrifice chickens in some of their special religious rituals. However, they occasionally sacrifice small mammals, like a goat. The latter would fall under this clause. 3
bulletClause (a) contains a "torture" clause which could be used to criminalize any adult involvement in a Native America vision quest where a youth, perhaps under 18, goes into a remote area and seeks visions through the use of sleep deprivation and/or fasting. 
bulletClause (c) makes it a felony to require a child to eat meat. This could mean that a parent could be charged for urging their child to eat their thanksgiving turkey supper if it followed the saying of a grace
bulletClause (c) criminalizes a parent requiring their children to take non-prescription drugs; presumably this could include Vitamin C, if it were done at prayer time
bulletClause (c) criminalizes a parent requiring their children to ingest a chemical compound. Sodium chloride (common table salt) is a chemical compound. In many areas of North America, small amounts of Iodine are added to salt to prevent goiter. A parent who is motivated by a desire to assure their child's health could be prosecuted under this law.
bulletClause (c) criminalizes the forcing of a child to drink urine. Some people (particularly from the Far East), believe in the curative powers of urine and might urge or otherwise require their child to drink some. They might be prosecuted if some sort of ceremonial link were established.
bulletClause (c) criminalizes the external application of chemical compounds on a child's body. If strictly interpreted, this would make it illegal for a Neo-Pagan, New Age or Native American to conduct many religious healing ceremonies. If hydrogen hydroxide (water) may considered a chemical compound, then a Christian baptism or christening ceremony could be criminalized.
bulletA common abuse memory, implanted in children's minds by investigators, involves them being placed in an empty box or coffin and lowered into the ground. Such abuse would not be covered under clause (e) because of the absence of a corpse.
bulletThe language strangely exempts adult victims from protection under this law.

The list of abusive details in this law is obviously derived from children's disclosures in MVMO (Multi-Victim, Multi-Offender) day care and baby-sitting cases like McMartin, Little Rascals, Fells Acre, etc.). These memories are now believed to have been implanted in the children's minds by poorly trained investigators, and do not relate to any actual events. One is struck with how obviously these disclosures are tied to children's fears, preoccupations and fantasies. They seem unrelated to the type of sexual fantasies that abusive pedophiles have.

It would seem that the Idaho law was carelessly written. Its intent seems to have been to raise people's concerns about Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and to lend legitimacy to the SRA myth.

One positive (although probably unintended) aspect of this law is that it could be used to charge perpetrators of Christian Ritual Abuse. This abuse normally takes the form of extreme emotional, psychological and physical abuse during exorcisms in order to drive evil demons from the victim's body. The rationale followed by many amateur exorcists is that if you abuse the victim sufficiently, then the indwelling demon will feel so uncomfortable that they will leave the victim's body. Such treatment could be considered a form of ritual torture, and is used on both adult and child victims. There do not appear to be any statistics on the frequency of these crimes. In most cases, the authorities would never learn of the abuse. But the occasional Christian ritual abuse incident escalates to actual murder. From 1995 to 1998, three such deaths have been widely publicized. There was a beating death of a young woman in California, a similar murder of another young woman in New Jersey, and the torture death of a young child in Ontario, Canada by her grandmother.

Regular murder and manslaughter legislation has traditionally been used to prosecute such cases. It is doubtful that a special ritual abuse law is actually needed.

One negative (although probably unintended) aspect of this law is that it may convince some people that they live in a violent society in which secret, underground religious cults are sexually, physically, spiritually and psychologically abusing children. People, seeing this law, would assume that it was written in response to a real need. They might assume that such groups exist and that this form of abuse is widespread. It appears that these groups do not exist.

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California Ritual Abuse Law (1995):

Senator Newton Russell introduced a bill which is very similar to the Idaho legislation. After being scaled down, it became law in 1995 as section 667.83 of the California Penal Code. It took the form of a ritual abuse sentence enhancement. A person who is convicted of child abuse under certain other sections of the code would have their sentence automatically extended by three years if  "the offense was committed as part of a ceremony, rite, or any similar observance." The law reads:

"667.83. (b) For purposes of this section, a "ceremony, rite, or any similar observance" shall mean any of the following:

  1. Actual or simulated torture, mutilation, or sacrifice of any mammal.
  2. Forced ingestion, or external application of human or animal urine, feces, flesh, blood, or bones.
  3. Placement of a living child into a coffin, open grave, or other confined area containing animal remains or a human corpse or remains."

Section (c) contained a series of exclusions for agricultural, hunting, fishing, circumcision, or acts done within a legitimate research project.

Section (f) required that California Department of Justice to send to the Legislature before 1998-JAN-2 a report on the number of cases in which this section was actually used to extend a criminal's sentence.

Section (h) stated that "This section shall not be construed to infringe in any way upon the rights and practices of legitimate religions." This wording implies that the state of California considers some religions are legitimate, and others illegitimate. Many people would be nervous about a state deciding such matters. The U.S. constitution forbids state legislation regarding the establishment of religion. This section would appear to be unconstitutional.

Section (i) stated that this section would be automatically repealed as of 1999-JAN-1 unless extended by the legislature.

The California act appears to be a cut-down version of the Idaho legislation, with some of the same weaknesses and illogical provisions. 2,4 In addition, section (b,3) could appear to criminalize a parent disciplining their child by confining them to their bedroom, if there happened to be a dead fly or other insect in the room.

This law was repealed by Section 10 of Chapter 817 of the Statutes of 1997. extend the life of this law. "No other section was enacted." 6 The law is no longer on the books.

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Illinois Ritual Abuse Law (1993):

The State of Illinois Public Act #87-1167 is titled "Ritualized Abuse of a Child." It became effective on 1993-JAN-1. Section (a) appears to be an exact copy of the Idaho law. It reads: 5

A person is guilty of a felony when he commits any of the following acts with, upon, or in the presence of a child as part of a ceremony, rite, or similar observance:

  1. actually or in simulation, tortures, mutilates or sacrifices any warm-blooded animal or human being;
  2. forces ingestion, injection or other application of any narcotic drug, hallucinogen or anesthetic for the purpose of dulling sensitivity, cognition, recollection of, or resistance to any criminal activity;
  3. forces ingestion or external application of human or animal urine, feces, flesh, blood, bones, body secretions, non- prescribed drugs or chemical compounds.
  4. involves the child in a mock, unauthorized or unlawful marriage ceremony with another person or representation of any force or deity, followed by sexual contact with the child;
  5. places a living child into a coffin or open grave containing a human corpse or remains;
  6. threatens death or serious harm to a child, his or her parents, family, pets, or friends which instills a well-founded fear in the child that the threat will be carried out; or
  7. unlawfully dissects, mutilates or incinerates a human corpse.

This law would appear to have the same drawbacks as the Idaho legislation.

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Other States:

We have been able to find a reference to a bill on this topic in Louisiana, but the exact text eludes us. House Bill 1689 was introduced into the Massachusetts House, but apparently never became law. We have learned that the Webmaster of a ritual abuse site has located one more state with a ritual abuse law. But she is unwilling to share the information with us, because she doesn't like the content of our site.

Please E-mail us if you know of any similar legislation passed or under development in state legislatures.

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Use of These Laws by Anti-Cult Groups:

By getting these laws on the books, individuals and groups who are attempting to raise public consciousness about ritual abuse and ritual sacrifice have achieved a great victory. As Lauren Stratford wrote: 1

"...if there is no evidence of ritual abuse and/or sacrifices - then why in the world would intelligent, successful and clear thinking politicians... work so tirelessly to get bills passed through the legislature making the ritualized abuse of a child a felony?"

But ultimately, their efforts may backfire. To our knowledge, there has never been a charge, trial or conviction under any of these laws. The California law has already been annulled. After sufficient time has past, people will realize that the absence of convictions add weight to the belief that Satanic Ritual Abuse either does not exist or is phenomenally rare.

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References:

  1. Lauren Stratford, "Stripped Naked: Gifts for Recovery", Pelican Publishing, Gretna, LA (1993)
  2. The California Legal Code is accessible at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/
  3. U.S. Supreme Court, "CHURCH OF THE LUKUMI BABALU AYE, INC., et al. v. CITY OF HIALEAH," decided on 1993-JUN-11. A portion of the ruling is available on this Web site.
  4. "Carol Hopkins and the Justice Committee," is an essay at the web site: "Cults, Sadistic Sex Rings and Bizarre Crime" at: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/7736/
  5. "Illinois Law on Ritual Abuse of Children," at: http://www.seflin.org/survivor/survritual.4.html
  6. Letter: Janet Gaard, director of Legislative Affairs, Attorney General's office, State of California, dated 1999-JUL-14, to the author.

Copyright 1996 & 1999 to 2001 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2001-MAR-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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