Friday, October 10, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Monday, May 5, 2008
Now that the Marathon County District Attorney, Jill Falstad, has charged them with second-degree reckless homicide, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of Dale and Leilani Neumann, the Weston,
One particularly interesting aspect of the police reports is what they reveal about how Christian religious healing traditions have adapted to the electronic age. Like most devout individuals who turn to prayer to treat illness, the Neumanns took their cue in part from a passage in the Epistle of James that says of those confronted with illness: “They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (5: 13-15). The
Among the materials publicly release this week were email messages exchanged between the Neumanns and individuals connected with Unleavened Bread Ministries, an internet-based ministry interested in exploring, as its Web site explains, “end-time revelations for America and the world.” On March 22, 2008, a day death before Kara’s death, Dale Neumann apparently sent an urgent email to obtain the telephone number of David Eells, the ministry’s leader. The subject of line of the email reflected the Neumanns’ mounting sense of urgency: “Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!” The body of the message indicated that the couple sought from Eells “agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength.”
In a subsequent public statement, Eels revealed the extent of his communications with the couple, and was quick to downplay his influence over them. “Dale and Leilani Neumann from
Eels has disavowed exerting much influence over the Neumanns, but he has highlighted their concern for their daughter and fervently endorsed their approach to healing. In his statement, Eels asserted: “They seem to be a very loving family who want to walk in the steps of Jesus, as do we. When I called they shared concern for their daughter, Kara, who had started getting sick in just the last day or so (not as is reported for the last 30 days). They asked me to pray and agree with them in prayer, basically because she appeared pale and listless (not a quote). They did not seem overly concerned because they had had healings before. This is not an unusual kind of request to us. I and our elders and prayer ministers are used to praying for the sick and have seen many healed by our Lord.”
Also disclosed in the police reports was the text of an email from Bill Rowe, who has been identified separately as the moderator of Unleavened Bread’s online Bible study. Responding to the Neumanns’ earlier request for emergency prayer for Kara, Rowe offered a detailed prayer that referenced several passages from the Christian scriptures, including the oft-quoted section of James. “We add our faith to Dale’s and Leilani’s and command Kara to be healed,” he wrote. “We command that spirit of infirmity to loose Kara now, leave her body, leave her home, and go back from where it came and stay there.” Rowe closed by noting: “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.”
As the prosecution progresses, it seems likely that the Neumanns and their supporters will continue to rely on the internet – this time to drum up support (and perhaps financial backing) for their defense. Unleavened Bread Ministries already has established a Web site (www.helptheneumanns.com) devoted to touting both the legal and spiritual justifications for the couple’s actions. “This family had every right, by law and by Biblical principle, to pray for a healing and not seek medical attention. That is not murder,” the site asserts. “They loved their daughter and were only seeking to do as God teaches in His word. God tells us by faith we are healed.”
Thursday, May 1, 2008
On Monday, Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad made one of the toughest decisions of her professional life. Appearing before a throng of reporters in
Thus ended weeks of speculation regarding the Neumanns’ legal fate. As many observers had pointed out, Falstad might have faced significant hurdles in court if she had chosen to charge the couple under
It would be premature, however, to say that the basic legal issues in the Neumann case have been resolved. If anything, in fact, they promise to get still more complicated, in part because courts in
The Neumanns might argue in court that the charges violate their right – protected by both the state and federal constitutions – to freely practice their religion. If comparable cases in other states can serve as any guide, this claim is unlikely to give them much legal traction: in cases stretching back to the late 19th century, a variety of courts have held that an individual’s right to religious liberty is not absolute, and that it can be outweighed by the state’s interest in protecting others or maintaining public order. In cases involving children and faith healing, courts generally have found that the state’s interest in protecting the welfare of children is paramount.
A much more promising line of defense for the Neumanns might spring from the concept of “due process of law,” which is guaranteed by the Fifth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They could argue that, in effect,
Unlike the religious liberty argument, this claim has proven effective in several other states, including
But this due process argument is by no means an air-tight defense for the Neumanns. Courts in other jurisdictions, most notably
Although these legal matters remain cloudy, one thing seems certain: the Neumann case will not be resolved quickly. And, given the profound legal and ethical issues involved, perhaps that’s a good thing.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
On Thursday, May 1, the Milwuakee Journal Sentinel published a story on this. Bill Glauber wrote:
No such shield exists under charges of homicide.
Yet, because parents can be shielded in child abuse cases, the Neumanns could claim they are being denied their constitutional right to due process.
That defense is not unusual, according to Shawn F. Peters, a
"They can say, 'Which law were we supposed to follow?' " Peters said. "On one hand, one part of the code says spiritual healing is permissible, but on the other hand, under second-degree reckless homicide, it's not permissible."
Peters said there have been several cases over the years in other states with very similar circumstances and conflicts.
"Courts have come down on both sides," he said. "Some cases, that claim worked. And in other cases, it has not worked."
In one case,
Peters said it was unlikely the Neumanns would stake the case on a First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
"I think the due process argument is much better legally," he said. "Most people (among the general public) would say they're not being charged under a child abuse statute, so that statute shouldn't matter. But it does. It's still looming out there."The Wausau Daily Herald reported on Tuesday, April 29, in a story written by Bob Mentzer, that scholars Marci Hamilton and James Dwyer also see potential hurdles for prosecutors. According to the Wausau paper:
An apparent contradiction in Wisconsin criminal law could provide the basis of Dale and Leilani Neumann's legal defense against homicide charges in the death of their 11-year-old daughter, Kara.
Kara died as a result of untreated diabetes when her parents chose to pray for her recovery rather than seek medical treatment. Wisconsin's criminal code includes a legal exemption for "treatment through prayer" that appears to conflict with the statute under which District Attorney Jill Falstad will bring charges today. According to legal experts and people who have studied faith healing cases, the Neumanns' legal defense is likely to hinge on this conflict.
"They're going to be arguing that there wasn't enough clarity in the law, so that the parents could not conform their conduct to the law," said Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law scholar in New York and the author of "God vs. the Gavel," a book about religious freedom and the law.
Though most states have some form of a legal exemption, Wisconsin's law is unusual in that it is a part of the criminal code rather than being confined to civil law.
"The (parents') claim is stronger in Wisconsin, where the exemption is in the criminal code," said James Dwyer, a law professor at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, who has written about faith healing and the law. "Among those types of claims ... I'd say this one is relatively strong."
Overall, Dwyer said courts in other states have been "about 50-50" in accepting this type of legal argument.
Some courts "have just denied the claim, saying parents should be on notice that they can't let their child die," Dwyer said.
Shawn Peters, a University of Wisconsin-Madison instructor who studied faith healing cases for his book "When Prayer Fails," called the legal hurdles faced by Falstad "significant."
"There hasn't been a case like this in Wisconsin, so in some ways they're operating without a clear legal road map," Peters said.
Monday, April 28, 2008
In her press conference, the DA, Jill Falstad, acknowledged that she was essentially blocked from charging the couple under the state's abuse and neglect laws because they contain provisions that explicitly protect parents who treat their children with prayer rather than medical or surgical treatment. The reckless homicide statute contains no such caveats.
The Neumanns' attorneys almost certainly will seek to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that their right to due process of law has been violated. They probably will argue (in effect) that Wisconsin law is contradictory, and thereby unfair, in that conduct protected under one part of the law (the child abuse statute) apparently is not protected under another part of the law (the reckless homicide statute).
There isn't much precedent in Wisconsin for this defense, but it has proven very effective in some other jurisdictions, including Minnesota. In 1990, prosecutors there tried a similar end-run around a religious-healing exemption, and three different courts (the trial court, the state court of appeals, and the state supreme court) ruled against them. The courts all ruled that (as one opinion put it) that the laws "provided 'inexplicably contradictory' definitions of prohibited behavior so as to violate due process requirements." The precedent in that case (State v. McKown) isn't directly controlling in Wisconsin, but it almost certainly will be invoked by the defendants. To find the appeals court's ruling in that case, see 461 N.W. 2d 720.
(Please note that this Minnesota case is not the civil suit made famous in Lundman v. McKown, although they involved the same defendants. The "inexplicably contradictory" ruling was in the criminal matter.)