It appears that Wednesday, July 3, will bring some resolution to the legal saga of Dale and Leilani Neumann. The Wausau, Wisconsin, couple were convicted in separate trials in 2009 for second-degree reckless homicide for their roles in the March 2008 death of their 11-year old daughter, Kara, who died from complications from diabetes. The Neumanns were charged and convicted because, in lieu of conventional medical treatment, they relied solely on spiritual means to heal Kara's illness.
I've been following the case with great interest since 2008 because Kara died not long after my book When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2007) was published. For the book, I researched hundreds of similar cases dating back to the early 19th century. I thus wasn't completely surprised by how the legal issues in the Neumann case have played out over the last five years.
My sense is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling with turn on a controversial provision in the state's child abuse and neglect statutes that seems to protect parents who engage spiritual healing practices from criminal prosecution. The Neumanns were charged under another statute, but their best legal argument is that Wisconsin's laws are confusing: conduct that is protected under one part of the law is prohibited by another statute. According to this claim, their right to due process of law thus has been violated.
These cases are interesting because of the complex legal, ethical, and religious issues involved, and it's difficult to predict how they will turn out. They seem to defy conventional "conservative" and "liberal" interpretations of the law. So it's possible that we could see some odd bedfellows in the court's majority.