Religious daycares across the country take million in government subsidies — and due to a “God Loophole” based in complaints regarding the separation of church and state, they’re often exempt from typical regulation and even licensing that keeps the children that attend them safe.
As flagged by David McAfee at Patheos’ “The Friendly Atheist,” a recent investigation by The Virginian-Pilot found that in Virginia alone, religious daycares received at least $6.8 million through the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program.
“Licensed day cares have to undergo frequent inspections, background checks and staff training, much of which religious day cares can avoid,” the Virginian-Pilot report reads. “Centers that take subsidies have to comply with some, but not all, of those rules.”
As McAfee notes, however, the issue is far from contained to Virginia — and the dangers of such unregulated centers were exposed more than 18 months ago in an April 2016 exposé by Reveal News.
Reveal found that six states are the “most hands-off” culprits that take advantage of the loophole: “Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia offer religious day cares the most leeway.”
In many cases uncovered by Reveal, daycares were understaffed and did not comply with typical state regulations requiring specific rations of children to workers, causing single workers to be forced to take care of up to 16 children themselves. This neglect comes with many results — children left in dirty diapers so long “their bottoms became blistered and bloodied,” soaking in their own vomit and wandering off onto highways. In a Missouri case from 2013, workers laughed about drugging kids with Benadryl to get them to fall asleep.
In one particularly egregious instance in Indiana, one-year-old Carlos Cardenas drowned in a baptismal font in 2012 after workers at Indianapolis’ Praise Fellowship Assembly of God lost him. Though typical regulation requires childcare workers to be “within sight and sound” of the children under their watch, Praise Fellowship was “absolved from most of the rules designed to keep kids safe” because it was attached to a church.
Carlos’ father Juan intended to take the boy out of the daycare after he picked him up in full darkness, and when he questioned the peculiar lack of light, an employee responded “Do you want to pay for the lights?” Inspection of licensing records revealed the daycare received over $143,00 in subsidies from 2010 to 2012. In the aftermath of Carlos’ death, courts determined that the church’s “lack of a supervision policy” resulted in his death, and no individual was held criminally responsible.