An Indianapolis woman who beat her 7-year-old son with a coat hanger is citing Indiana's religious freedom law as a defense against felony child abuse charges, saying her choice of discipline comes straight from her evangelical Christian beliefs.
The woman quoted biblical Scripture in court documents. She said that a parent who "spares the rod, spoils the child," and: "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol."
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, enacted in 2015, says the government cannot intrude on a person's religious liberty unless it can prove a compelling interest in imposing that burden, and can do so in the least restrictive way.
The woman, a Burmese refugee granted political asylum in the U.S., also is pointing to cultural differences as part of her defense. The case is complicated by an Indiana Supreme Court decision, one law expert said, that gives parents the right to use cords and belts — and possibly even coat hangers — to punish their children.
The alleged abuse occurred Feb. 3, according to court documents, when 30-year-old Kin Park Thaing said she stopped her son from dangerous behavior that would have seriously harmed his 3-year-old sister. Thaing, documents say, hit both children with a plastic coat hanger before telling them to pray for forgiveness.
"I was worried for my son's salvation with God after he dies," said Thaing, who attends a south-side church, according to court documents. "I decided to punish my son to prevent him from hurting my daughter and to help him learn how to behave as God would want him to."
Two days later, a teacher patted the boy on the back and saw him flinch, according to court records. The teacher saw red welts on the boy and reported the observations to police and child welfare officials.
A doctor at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health found 36 bruises across the boy's back, thigh and left arm. Three photographs submitted to the court show deep purple lines striping the boy's back and several welts on his arm. The boy has one curved bruise on his cheek in the shape of a hook on a coat hanger.
Thaing was arrested in February on felony abuse and neglect charges.
Thaing and her lawyer, Greg Bowes, declined to be interviewed for this story. In a six-page memorandum filed July 29, Bowes argued that RFRA gives Thaing the right to discipline her children in accordance with her beliefs, and that the state should not interfere with her fundamental right to raise her children as she deems appropriate.
Thaing's children were taken by child welfare officials in February, but it's unknown where they are now. Attorneys declined to comment.
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