Trial starts Tuesday in faith-healing murder case

A Washington state law that allows faith healing for Christian Scientists but not other religions is not arbitrary, an Okanogan County judge has ruled. The decision clears the way for the Tuesday start of a second-degree murder case against a Carlton couple.

The Wenatchee World reports

Greg and JaLea Swezey — members of the Church of the First Born — are charged with second-degree murder by “criminal mistreatment” in the death of their 17-year-old son, Zachery, in 2009. He died of a burst appendix while his parents and other church members prayed for his recovery, and failed to call a doctor or ambulance.

Under the law, criminal mistreatment includes withholding basic necessities of life, including healthcare.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The Swezeys’ attorneys last week asked Judge Chris Culp to dismiss the case, arguing that their constitutional right for equal treatment under the law is being violated because Washington’s law for criminal mistreatment exempts prosecution of Christian Science practitioners.

“… a person who, in good faith, is furnished Christian Science treatment by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned,” the law states.

“How can the law give an exemption for one religion and not another?” asked Omak lawyer Douglas “Gil” Webber, who is representing the Swezeys.

Webber said on Thursday that the Swezeys will appeal Culp’s decision if a jury finds them guilty, but he doesn’t think that will happen. “We’re confident that the facts are not going to support a conviction,” he said. […]

Culp’s ruling found that the Swezeys failed to establish that they are “similarly situated” to Christian Scientist practitioners.

In his ruling, he referred to a definition of a practitioner as someone who is licensed by the state to practice medicine. “The term ‘practitioner’ includes a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner,” the definition states.

Culp wrote that such practitioners are subject to licensing and reporting requirements of state law. […]

However, Christian Science practitioners are not licensed by the state, according to Kate Lynch, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. She said the judge’s ruling referred to domestic law, and definitions of child abuse, which is not part of what the state Department of Health oversees. […]

“They’re accredited only by the church,” said Rita Swan, president of CHILD Inc., a nonprofit group formed to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices. Swan said Washington is the only state in the nation that specifically exempts Christian Scientists in its criminal codes, although other states do allow exemptions for faith healing without specifically exempting the Christian Science faith. […]

Swan said religious exemptions in most states were the result of a powerful lobbying effor by the Christian Science Church, which in 1980 attempted to get exemptions in Washington.

It should be noted that Christian Science is neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘Science.’

Due to the belief that all is Spirit and matter is an illusion, Christian Science denies the reality of sickness and death. [source]

The unwillingness of many Christian Science parents to seek help from physicians for their critically ill children has led to many painful and unnecessary deaths and, increasingly, to legal actions that have become burdensome to the Church and its members [source]

Christians consider Christian Science to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

The term ‘faith healing’ refers to healing that occurs supernaturally — as the result of prayer rather than the use of medicines or the involvement of physicians or other medical care.

But while faith healings do take place today just as they did in the early Christian church, the teachings of some churches, movements and individuals on this subject amount to spiritual abuse.

Legitimate churches and movements do not equal using drugs or receiving proper medical attention with unbelief, insufficient faith, or otherwise sinning against God.

Research resources on faith healing

There are many churches that use the phrase ‘Church of the First Born’ in their name. But one particular ‘denomination’ of sorts — the General Assemblies and Church of the First Born — is known for its extreme, unbiblical teachings regarding faith healing. It’s doctrines have led to unnecessary deaths, which have resulted in several prosecutions.

Two other members of that group of churches are currently also facing prosecution in a faith healing case. Russel and Brandi Bellew, in Creswell, Oregon, have been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of their 16-year-old son.

Murder charges filed nearly three years after teen’s faith healing death
Swezey Motion to Dismiss Denied PDF file
Research resources on faith healing

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 28, 2012.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at