Friday, April 22, 2011

Religious practices in the law

On April 1, 2011, a revision to the Iowa Administrative Code by the State Board of Education removed an accommodation that had exempted high school students participating in interscholastic sports from a physical examination if the exam is in conflict with religious tenets or practices.  As the article in the Des Moines Register correctly states, this revision was not opposed by representatives of the Christian Science Church.  This is the case even though Christian Scientists were likely among the sponsors initiating the accommodation when it first went into law several decades ago.

The decision not to oppose the revision can be seen as an update in policy as is reasonable to keep stride with changes in societal norms and laws, but not a change in Christian Science.

As a Christian Scientist, I wish to be able to practice the spiritual health care I have found effective.  For me and others I know, that means more attention to spiritual understanding and less attention to the body.  However, I may also wish to play on sports teams with others.  Although it would not be my desire to have a physical exam for my own purposes, the results of the exam would indicate to teammates and athletic officials that I satisfy a measure of health set for participation.  Acceptance of the physical exam reduces the occasion to question my health status or fear it.

To me the practice of Christian Science is about discovering one’s fundamental, spiritual nature and demonstrating its effect in our lives.  It never means to place personal activities ahead of care for our neighbor.  Love for God and our neighbor is a foundation of the Science. 

The religious accommodation, in my view, was for the public as much as for those practicing spiritual health care in Christian Science.  It allowed the public to know that there are some who are practicing spiritual health care in their midst.  It also illustrates the diversity of health care approaches throughout the national population.  It says that state laws do accommodate responsible spiritual practices.

The Church does not tell a member whether to have a physical exam or not to have one.  That choice is always up to the individual.  The teachings of Christian Science provide the practical, spiritual rules that enable any individual to discover their spiritual nature in the likeness of God.  With these teachings as a foundation, the individual is equipped to make choices about life and how to live it.

Does it help our neighbor to reject an exam that would show the school and students that the participant is in good health?  In this case, it seems more caring today of the school and others to allow the exam that is required of teammates, and to continue to hold onto the good spiritual ideas.