INDIANAPOLIS – A Burmese woman was arrested after beating her 7-year-old child with a plastic coat hanger, causing heavy whip marks on his back. Her reasoning for the discipline? Indiana’s religious freedom law.
Kin Park Thaing, who now lives in Indianapolis, said RFRA allows her to discipline her child as she sees fit.
On March 26, 2015 Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law during a private ceremony. The law acts as a safeguard against businesses being forced to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds.
Changes to the bill were added in April 2015 that included sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the law's language and that the law cannot discriminate against anyone.
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Business owners and community members expressed concern about the law, annual conventions left Indiana off their list of places to visit and lobbyist sued Carmel and Indianapolis over their non-discriminatory ordinances.
In short, the state lost $60 million due to RFRA.
When it comes to Thaing’s case, Marion County Prosecutor, Terry Curry said it’s child abuse.
“We’ve been frustrated with the RFRA law since it was enacted because we advised at the time and told legislators if it didn’t exempt criminal code, people would serve it as a defense for criminal conduct,” said Curry.
The 30-year-old mother has been charged with battery against a person less than 14 years old, and neglect of a dependent after beating her son with a plastic coat hanger.
Burmese immigrant, Rev. Hre Mang said cultural differences may have given Thaing the impression her actions were legal.
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“The government has no authority, legal authority to intervene with parents on how to discipline their children. Unless the situation is life threatening. That is the situation in Burma where they come from,” said Mang.
While those laws apply in Burma, they do not apply in the US. The photo of the child’s back could provide a compelling piece of evidence at trial.
"People use belts, they use electrical cords and the Supreme Court has approved use of those items for discipline as long as it is reasonable. You can’t beat a child a thousand times with a belt and say its reasonable discipline, but can you hit them with a plastic coat hanger 20 times? I don’t know, that's why we have juries,” said veteran defense attorney, Jack Crawford.
After Thaing was arrested, she was required by juvenile court to take parenting classes, where she learned other discipline methods other than physical punishment.