In 16 states, religious day cares are exempt from at least some regulations. Credit: Scott Pham/Reveal

A growing online petition calls for the end of “The God Loophole,” the patchwork of laws around the country that exempt faith-based day cares from licensing rules designed to protect children.

The petition on Change.org, which has more than 24,000 signatures so far, asks the U.S. Congress to end the exemptions for religious day cares and “pass a law that holds care facilities responsible for the lives they were charged to care for.”

“This is not an issue of faith, but rather about protecting children,” says the petition.

Tiana Brownen, a junior at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri, said she was inspired to start the petition after reading Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting’s stories that exposed the dangers of these religious day care exemptions.

“I found your research shocking and unacceptable so I started the petition because I was inspired to try and initiate change,” Brownen said.

At least 16 states exempt religious day cares from standard licensing rules. That means that some faith-based day cares don’t have to train their workers or have workers in the same room as the children in their care, and can physically punish children – with little oversight. The results can be tragic.

A 2-year-old in Indiana drowned in a baptismal font when day care workers – who weren’t required to always be able to see or hear him – lost track of him. A newborn died in Virginia after his caregiver, who had never been trained to handle infants, put him face-down to sleep in a stuffy electrical closet. Dozens of children were hit so hard in the name of God that they developed bruises and welts. And some notorious day care operators who are religious in name only have exploited the religious exemptions to run dangerous day cares with impunity.

“The lack of common sense rules in religious daycares has proven disastrous as numerous children are abused and neglected in these facilities,” according to Brownen’s petition. “The God Loophole has allowed daycares to neglect and hurt children for far too long and it is time for changes to be made.”

The petition is not Brownen’s only advocacy on the issue, either. She is on her college’s speech and debate team and now speaks out about reforming the religious exemption laws at tournaments around the country.

Amy Julia Harris can be reached at aharris@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amyjharris.

Amy Julia Harris

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal, covering vulnerable communities. She and Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also led to four government investigations, including two criminal probes and four federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery and fraud.

Harris was a Livingston Award for Young Journalists finalist for her investigation into the lack of government oversight of religious-based day cares, which led to tragedies for children in Alabama and elsewhere. In a previous project for Reveal, she uncovered widespread squalor in a public housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and traced it back to mismanagement and fraud in the troubled public housing agency.

Before joining Reveal, Harris was an education reporter at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She has also written for The Seattle Times, Half Moon Bay Review, and Campaigns and Elections Politics Magazine.