DOJ attorney: Dale, Leilani Neumann caused daughter’s death by praying: The case of a couple convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in the faith healing death of their 11 year-old daughter is being reviewed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The statutory construction and constitutional issues raised in these appeals are appropriately decided by the supreme court rather than an error correcting court. The issues raised are matters of first impression in Wisconsin, and the foreign authorities are split on these issues. The issues are likely to arise in future cases.
We submit that it is appropriate for Wisconsin’s highest court to determine the scope of the prayer treatment exception and to inform trial courts regarding the appropriate jury instructions when that exception is raised in a reckless homicide case.
Attorneys for Dale and Leilani Neumann argued that the couple didn’t know when the state’s legal protections for prayer healing ended and criminal liability began.
But Assistant Attorney General Maura Whelan told the justices that Wisconsin’s religious protections clearly don’t apply when a child dies and the couple caused the death of their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara, who was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes.
“They created an unreasonable and substantial risk of death,” Whelan said. “They did so knowingly and they caused Kara’s death.”
The Neumanns are appealing their conviction in a case that poses charged questions for the justices about when the state’s responsibility to protect children trumps religious freedom.
More than a dozen states have some form of legal protection for parents who choose to heal their children through prayer rather than seek conventional medical help, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The states have been grappling for years with how far those protections extend…
— Religion News (@religionnews) December 5, 2012
About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, said Rita Swan, executive director of Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty, a group based in Iowa that advocates punishment for parents who do not seek medical help when their children need it.
Criminal codes in 30 states, including Wisconsin, provide some form of protection for practitioners of faith healing in cases of child neglect and other matters, protection that Ms. Swan’s group opposes.
Wisconsin Court of Appeals Certification
Information and research resources on faith healing
When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Amazon.com), by Shawn Francis Peters. Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
More articles about faith healing cases