The Neumanns convicted of homicide.

Those who have seen my talks on religion know that I repeatedly use the example of Kara Neumann to demonstrate what irrational ideas can do to the good intentions of people.

Eleven-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann died of undiagnosed diabetes on Easter Sunday in March 2008 at her parents’ home in the central Wisconsin village of Weston. Prosecutors said her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, ignored obvious symptoms of severe illness as their daughter became too weak to speak, eat, drink or walk, choosing to pray rather than take her to a doctor. After the girl died, Leilani Neumann told police God would raise the child from the dead.

Those parents loved their daughter and wanted her to recover as much as any loving parents.  But because they had a bad idea about how the universe worked, they wound up killing their daughter instead.  This is the toxic power of irrationality.  I usually conclude those talks by saying that nothing enshrines irrationality and makes it durable like religion.  As if to make my point for me, the Neumann’s said after Kara’s death in 2008 that they would not seek medical assistance for their other children, continuing to rely on god’s beneficence.

That child didn’t have to die.  But at least we can react in the wake of the tragedy.  Finally the Neumanns have been convicted of homicide:

A mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their daughter died in front of them were properly convicted of homicide, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Good.  The trial even highlighted a very disgusting example of religious privilege in Washington:

The couple’s attorneys argued that Wisconsin law protects people from being charged with child abuse if they provide spiritual treatment for a child in lieu of medical assistance. They contended the law protects parents from criminal liability through the point of creating a substantial risk of death, making it difficult to know when a situation has become so serious that parents who stay with prayer healing become criminally liable. State attorneys countered that parents are immune from child abuse charges but not homicide counts. Once they realize a child could die, their immunity ends, they argued.

They couldn’t try the Neumanns for child abuse because if you have religious motivation then it’s legal.  That’s pretty fucking sick.  Nothing should give a parent immunity from consequences if they’re abusing their kids.  If faith doesn’t make homicide acceptable it doesn’t make any other abuse acceptable either.

If you commit a crime for religious reasons, you should still be punished for committing the crime.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • baal

    “State attorneys countered that parents are immune from child abuse charges but not homicide counts”

    I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this idea. I would hope the legislature didn’t intend to allow parents killing their children in the name of religion. But that strikes me as the extreme case. The harms that count as ‘child abuse’ are not trivial and not excusable either.

  • Park James

    So parents who viciously beat a child they suspected of being a witch or a demon couldn’t be charged with child abuse, but might be liable for assault or something? Very strange, and definitely a loophole that needs to be slammed shut.

    • Stev84

      That’s merely following what’s written in the Bible:

      “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.” — Exodus 21:20-21

      • Zinc Avenger


  • Craig

    If you think about it, these folks are just doing what their religious books are telling them. Matthew 21:21, Mark 9:23, etc… It’s really sad that a child had to loose a life because of their parent’s religious beliefs.

    • invivoMark

      And that’s why faith is a pernicious trait. Religion abuses that trait so it can tell people how to live their lives, but religion doesn’t give us a mechanism by which we can distinguish beliefs that are good and those that are bad.

      Real human compassion, bolstered by reason but unfettered by a faith-based worldview, is the most reliable method of determining right from wrong. Religion is the most unreliable.

  • Frank Key

    Good. I am glad that common sense – pertaining to the homicide charge at least – prevailed. But now that the beliefs are embedded in the minds of the other children, one wonders how many generations it will take to remove such irrational thinking.

    • Stev84

      They got charged alright, but the sentence is ridiculous. The way I read it, it’s 6 months each. And of that they only have to serve one month per year. WTF?!?!

      • randomfactor

        It’s so they can indoctrinate the OTHER kids.

      • Derrik Pates

        Sadly, yes. I was amazed when that was the decision handed down by the judge – and then doubly amazed that, even after that weak-ass sentence was *all* they got, they still weren’t going to just say “we caught a break, let’s quit while we’re ahead”. The crazy is strong with these ones.