Reveal: The Religious Freedom Loophole

By Julia B. Chan

America was built on the idea of protecting religious liberty. But what happens when religious groups take advantage of these special freedoms to make money, skirt rules or hurt children?

We revisit an hour of Reveal that explores the tricky territory of religious freedom and how different groups have exploited this loophole.

In our first segment, reporter Amy Julia Harris and producer Delaney Hall go to Alabama to follow the trail of a woman who’s been able to open almost a dozen problematic day carecenters by claiming she’s a church.

There are virtually no rules for religious day cares in Alabama. The state doesn’t even have the authority to investigate problems, let alone stop them. Children have been beaten, locked in closets and wandered off alone because they were poorly supervised – and the day cares have stayed open.

We’ll also hear what’s happened since we first aired this story and what’s being done in Alabama to close the religious freedom loophole.

In our second segment, we head to Nashville, Tennessee, with reporter Dan Weissmann to hear how one man cited religious freedom to try to keep his sex club open.

And finally, reporter Abigail Keel takes us to Heartland, a privately owned Christian community in Missouri. The area is most well known for its school, and parents from all over the country send their children for a Bible-based Christian education. At Heartland, teachers don’t spare the rod – they use it. And the state can’t investigate because the school claims a religious exemption. So who’s making sure kids are safe?

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Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, check out our website and subscribe to our podcast.

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