[A]n 11-year-old girl named Madeline Kara Neumann [photo], known as Kara to family and friends… died of undiagnosed diabetes on Easter Sunday in March 2008 at her home in Weston, a central Wisconsin village about 140 miles north of Madison.
Kara, who had been growing weak for several weeks leading up to her death, eventually became too sick to speak, eat, drink or walk. Her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, don’t belong to any organized religion or church but identify themselves as Pentecostal Christians and believe visiting a doctor is akin to worshipping an idol. …
Dale Neumann testified that the possibility of death never entered their minds. After the girl died, Leilani Neumann told police God would raise Kara from the dead.
For some reason, that didn’t happen.
So the parents’ defense, in court, was that they had no idea how sick their daughter was. Of course, that smacks of circular reasoning: a proper diagnosis typically requires a medical examination and a physician’s expert interpretation. If you deliberately forego those things, you’re going to stay in the dark.
Not surprisingly, the jury wasn’t moved, and in 2009 the couple was found guilty of second-degree reckless homicide. They faced up to 25 years behind bars.
But guess what? The judge took pity on them, and gave them a sentence that I highly doubt would be available to non-theists. Not only did he order them to serve only six months; each parent would have to go to prison just one month each year. One spouse went every March, the other every September.
If I were in their shoes, I’d be thanking the Lord Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and all the lucky stars in the galaxy for such leniency. But the Neumanns were (get this) miffed. Their lawyers argued up to the state Supreme Court that the couple is owed religious immunity from criminal culpability in Kara’s death.
And they got nowhere.
The court announced its ruling yesterday, and it is a resounding defeat for the prayer-healers:
The decision marks the first time a Wisconsin court has addressed criminal culpability in a prayer treatment case where a child died. The court ruled 6-1 that the state’s immunity provisions for prayer-treatment parents protect them from child abuse charges but nothing else, opening the door to a host of other counts.
We could focus on how insane it is that the child-abuse exemption for faith healers exists in most states’ laws, but that’s a discussion for another day. The Wisconsin court neatly did an end run around the exemption: while implicitly affirming that statute, the justices still said that manslaughter or homicide charges may be laid on parents who let their kids die due to religion-inspired negligence.
Now, if we could please have proper sentences to go along with that (maybe serial child killers Catherine and Herbert Schaible, despite their cloying piety, will actually go to jail for many years)…
(Kara Neumann photo by Butch McCartney/Wassau Daily Herald, via the New York Times)