The Good Faith Defense: Parents Given More Lenient Treatment When Children Die in Faith-Based Neglect

thumb_praying_handsWe have another case of a child dying from a relatively minor condition while surrounded by praying adults. Kent Schaible, 2, died of bacterial pneumonia because the parents Herbert and Catherine Schaible believed in faith-healing and declined to get medical attention for the child in Philadelphia. This is strikingly similar to the case of Leilani and Dale Neumann in Wisconsin who were recently given light sentences in such a faith-based case. As shown below, difficult questions are raised by the disparate treatment given parents who neglect children for religious as opposed to non-religious reasons.

For almost two weeks, Kent’s conditions grew worse and included a variety of obvious symptoms of growing medical danger, including sore throat, congestion, liquid bowel movements, sleeplessness and trouble swallowing. A simple prescription of antibiotics or even Tylenol may have kept him alive. Instead, the parents and other adults prayed around him until he was dead and then called a funeral home.

The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

Herbert Schaible, 41, and Catherine Schaible, 40, are members of the First Century Gospel Church. They told police “[w]e prayed to God for victory . . . We were praying that he would be raised up.”

For the Philadelphia story, click here.

What is fascinating about this case is that treatment in the legal system. In cases where parents simply neglect their children, the courts and prosecutors often seek murder charges or long sentences. However, if you fail to take the same measures as a religious matter, you often face lesser charges and more lenient treatment. In this case, the court simply called the parents “misguided” while holding them over for arraignment.

In another case in Wisconsin, Dale and Leilani Neumann declined to get medical attention for their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes. While they could have received 25 years in prison, the court gave them six months in jail and 10 years probation.

Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Howard said the Neumanns were “very good people, raising their family who made a bad decision, a reckless decision.” He then gently encouraged them to remember that “God probably works through other people, some of them doctors.”

Kara also died surrounded by adults praying rather than calling for medical help. Medical staff was not called until she stopped breathing. Leilani Neumann, 41, was unrepentant at sentencing (something that usually results in higher sentences): “I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health. Did we know she had a fatal illness? No. Did we act to the best of our knowledge? Yes.”

Dale Neumann, 47, also reaffirmed the correctness of their actions: “I am guilty of trusting my Lord’s wisdom completely. … Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God.”

Notably, the parents will not even have to serve six months consecutively, but will serve one month in jail each year for six years and must allow a public health nurse to examine their two underage children at least once every three months.

Dale Neumann, a former Pentecostal minister, however, promised to continue undeterred in their faith-based policies: “We live by faith. We are completely content with what the Lord has allowed to come down, but he is not done yet.”

The faith-based cases are only the latest such cases in a series of such deaths of children, here.

The policy question is why parents who neglected their children and cause injury (as opposed to death) are given far harsher punishments as parents who actually kill their children as a matter of faith. Clearly, intent and scienter should play a role in sentencing but the difference in punishment is remarkable. The Neumann’s actions resulted in the death of their child and they received a sentence close to what Russell J. Wozniak Jr., 26, and Jennifer Ann Wozniak, 23, received for allowing their two-year-old to wander around covered in vomit with a full diaper, here.

ElizabethThornton_I090505084818Consider the comparison with the case of Alex Washburn, 22-months, who died a couple days after falling and hitting his head. Elizabeth Dawn Thornton, 22, and Christopher Steven Washburn, 32, insisted that the boy fell a lot and hit his head on the corner of the table and his chin on a toilet. No evidence was submitted to contest that account. Moreover, the parents apologized for not seeking medical help and agreed to terminate their parental rights to the other children. Christopher Washburn told the court “I wish I did seek medical treatment for my son faster. That will definitely be with me for the rest of my life.”

The Court imposed sentenced both parents to three to 15 years in prison. So, the Neumanns get one month in jail for six years (and keep their children despite refusals to apologize) and the Washburns get up to 15 years in prison (and agree to give up their parental rights).

These cases suggest a considerable discount given people who claim a religious motivation rather than simple neglect. While the former cases occur with intent to deny medical care, they are treated as bad choices rather than serious crimes in many cases.

For the full story, click here.

43 thoughts on “The Good Faith Defense: Parents Given More Lenient Treatment When Children Die in Faith-Based Neglect”

  1. billy the one trick p(h)oney:

    is that all you can say? So you want to cast people who don’t believe what you believe into the fire? Well that is nice. You certainly know how to evangelize for your faith.

  2. Byron,

    I should mention that that’s the King James translation, which is a bit dated, I learned most of verses from the New International Version.

    There’s a whole range of controversy surrounding different translations, and unless you know the ancient versions of three or four different languages, your SOL when it comes to knowing what the Bible “really” says.

    If you’re interested in a neutral historical account of parts of the Bible, you can’t go wrong with “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible.”

    If you’re interested in a less charitable analysis of the text, with lego guys…

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