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Attorney Says Child Abuse Is Religious Freedom (Photos)

An attorney claims Indiana's religious freedom law allows an evangelical Christian mother accused of child abuse to discipline her children according to her beliefs.

In February, Khin Par Thaing was accused of using a coat hanger to inflict 36 bruises and red welts upon her 7-year-old son, WXIN reports.

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According to court documents filed July 29, her lawyer, Greg Bowes, defended her actions by citing the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"I was worried for my son's salvation with God after he dies," said Thaing in court, the IndyStar reports. "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."

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Bowes says the state should not interfere with Thaing's right to parent as her religion dictates.

In addition, Thaing used Bible to defend the beating, stating the popular biblical Scripture-inspired adage, he who "spares the rod, spoils the child."

Prosecutor Matt Savage responded in August stating that the attack went "beyond these religious instructions."

He adds given the extremely violent punishment, the state should be prioritize protecting children in this case over religious freedom.

"When perpetrators of violence against children are prosecuted and ultimately punished," Savage wrote, "the government protects ... the community in general."

Complicating the case further are cultural barriers. Thaing is a Burmese refugee granted political asylum by American authorities.

"It's a matter of cultural practice," Elaisa Vahnie, executive director of the Burmese American Community Institute, explains of the beating. "Sometimes you use a stick to correct them [in Burma]. That's very normal."

Vahnie adds refugees like Thaing need time to learn the new rules of their country after moving.

Jennifer Drobac, professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, agrees.

"If they are engaging in behavior that would be lawful in their country of origin and they're amenable to rehabilitation and education, then it seems our community resources would be better served ... in educating these parents and making sure the family stays together in a healthy way."

Thaing agrees she has since learned from the case.

"I now know that there are effective ways to teach my children good behavior without using physical punishment," Thaing said in her affidavit.

The court will continue debating the case at the next jury trial on Oct. 19.

Sources: WXIN,Indy Star / Photo credit: Secular Coalition For Ohio

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