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.