Rita Swan, PhD

Board of Directors

Kentucky USA

Rita Swan, PhD, speaks and writes about child abuse and neglect related to religious or cultural practices. After losing their son in 1977 because of their faith in Christian Science, she and her husband left the church and became advocates for the rights of children to medical care. In 1983, they founded Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), a national non-profit membership organization. CHILD disseminates information about ideological child abuse and neglect, opposes all religious exemptions from child health and safety laws, lobbies in support of rights of children to equal protection, and files amicus briefs in support of those rights. Swan earned her doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University.

Selected Books:

book cover
The Last Strawberry (Hag’s Head Press, 2010). This memoir was written in 1979 but remained unpublished until late 2009, when a shorter version of it appeared in The Dublin Review. This is the author’s extended account of the death of her fifteen-month-old child who died of a medically treatable condition, but received only “treatment” from a series of Christian Science practitioners. Also contains a “Note from the Father” and an afterword, presented in a limited edition.

Selected Publications:

  • “Religion and Child Neglect,” in C Jenny, ed., Child Abuse and Neglect: Diagnosis, Treatment and Evidence (Saunders, 2010).
  • Does one bizarre health care policy merit another?,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2009 Oct 19.
  • “Medical neglect related to religion and culture,” in NA Jackson, ed., Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence (Routledge, 2007):475-483.
  • “Religious attitudes toward corporal punishment,” in NA Jackson, ed., Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence (Routledge, 2007):205-208.
  • Letting children die for the faith,” Free Inquiry, 1999, 19(1):6-7.
  • “On statutes depriving a class of children of rights to medical care: can this discrimination be litigated?” Quinnipiac Health Law Journal, 1998; 2(1):73-95. [Excerpt]
  • “Child fatalities from religion-motivated medical neglect” (with SM Asser), Pediatrics, 1998 Apr; 101(4):625-9. [Abstract]
  • “Children, medicine, religion, and the law,” Advances in Pediatrics, 1997; 44:491-543.
  • “First Amendment does not give the right to injure children,” The Los Angeles Times, 1990 Jul 14:F16.
  • “Fragile life: religious beliefs that kill children,” Kentucky Hospitals, 1989 Winter; 8-12.
  • The law should protect all children,” Journal of Christian Nursing, 1987 Spring; 4(2):40.
  • “Christian Science, faith healing, and the law,” Free Inquiry, 1984 Spring; 4():4-9.
  • “Faith healing, Christian Science, and the medical care of children,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1983 Dec 29; 309(26):1639-1641.

Selected Presentations:

  • Oregon State University Hundere Lecture in Religion and Culture, 2010 Jan 28.
  • Florida’s First Coast Conference on Child Maltreatment, Jacksonville, 2001 Apr 19.
  • Northern New England Conference on Child Maltreatment, Portland, 2000 Sept 18.
  • “Religion-based Medical Neglect: Update on the Status of Children We Abandon,” a general session lecture, San Diego Conference on Responding to Child Maltreatment, 1998 Jan 28.
  • "The Religious Exemption Issue in the 1995 CAPTA Hearings,” National Child Abuse Coalition, Washington DC, 1994 Dec 13.
  • "Medical Neglect of Children on Religious Grounds,” Freedom from Religion Foundation conference, Madison, 1994 Oct 1.
  • "Religiously-based Medical Neglect: Legal Child Abuse?" (plenary lecture) and "Cultural Barriers to Medical Care of Children” (workshop), National Association of Counsel for Children Conference, Philadelphia, 1992 Oct 19.
  • "Public Policy on Religiously-based Medical Neglect,” United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect hearings, Los Angeles, 1992 Apr 3.
  • "Medical Neglect in the Context of Religious Beliefs," a general session lecture, San Diego Conference on Responding to Child Maltreatment 1992, 1992 Jan 24.
  • "The Christian Science Parent in a Health Care Crisis,” 27th Annual Postgraduate Symposium on Medicine and Religion, Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City KS, 1991 Oct 16.
  • "Children's Rights to Medical Care,” Symposium in Pediatric Medical Ethics, Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital, Orlando, 1988 Nov 8.
  • “Religious Exemptions from Parental Duties of Care,” Seventh National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Chicago, 1985 Nov.
  • “Paranormal Health Cures,” Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Buffalo, 1983 Oct 28 Oct.
  • “Faith Healing Sects and Children's Rights to Medical Care,” Fifth National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Milwaukee, 1981 Apr.


  • Wisconsin House Children and Families Committee; 2010 Mar.
  • Nebraska Unicameral Health and Human Services Committee; 2007 Jan, 2006 Feb, 2000 Jan.
  • Iowa House Education Subcommittee; 2006 Jan.
  • Maine Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services; 2005 May.
  • Nebraska Unicameral Education Committee; 2005 Feb.
  • Rhode Island House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee; 2004 Feb.
  • Missouri House Judiciary Committee; 2003 Apr
  • Colorado Senate Health, Environment, Children, and Families Committee; 2001Apr.
  • Maryland House Judiciary Committee; 2001 Mar.
  • Colorado House Criminal Justice Committee; 2001 Feb.
  • Oregon House Criminal Law Committee; 1999 Mar.
  • South Dakota House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees; 1998 Feb.
  • Michigan House Judiciary Committee; 1997 Feb.
  • U. S. Senate Labor and Human Resources staff briefing; 1995 Jun.
  • Minnesota House Judiciary Committee; 1994 Mar.
  • Minnesota House Judiciary Committee; 1991 Dec.
  • Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee; 1991 Mar.
  • South Dakota House State Affairs Committee; 1990 Jan.
  • California Assembly Committee on Public Safety; 1989 Oct.
  • Ohio House Children and Youth Committee; 1989 Mar.
  • Ohio House Children and Youth Subcommittee; 1985 Mar.
  • North Dakota House of Representatives; 1979 Jan.


  • Outstanding Social Justice Work Award, given by the Iowa Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, 2010 Jun 6.
  • Honoris Causa Award, given by Omicron Delta Kappa chapter at Morningside College, 2003 Apr 27.
  • Outstanding Legal Advocacy Award, given by National Association of Counsel for Children, 2001 Oct 1.
  • Child Advocacy Service Award given by Oregon Pediatric Society, 2000 Jun 17.
  • Award for Child Advocacy, given by Oregon Peace Officers Association Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Investigators, 1999 Nov 2.
  • Distinguished Alumna Award, given by Emporia State University, 1994 Oct 21.
  • Award for Risk-Taking and Service, given by The Giraffe Project in Langley, Washington, 1993 Jan 12.
  • Human Rights Service Award, given by Sioux City Human Rights Commission, 1991 May 2.
  • Child Advocacy Service Award, given by South Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1990 Sep 14.

In the news:

R&E Newsweekly
Faith healing court cases,” Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 2009 May 15. [Watch]

  • “Christian Scientists Claim Healing Efficacy Equal If Not Superior to That of Medicine,” by Andrew Skolnick, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1990 Sep 19, 264(11):1379-1381. [Excerpt]

The Online Rita Swan: