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. This does bring a conundrum. Faith based healing and pure neglect and or abuse. Where does one become a judge of the persons god within? I guess you need to take a look at the mens rea of each and the subjective element of the care provided.

  2. I think, in an age where education is free to all, that uneducated people acting on what they think is biblical is inexcusable.

    The bible never teaches to avoid medical treatment. In fact, it encourages people to get understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.

    Pastors that preside over these uneducated people are at fault, for allowing such stupid thinking.

    This means the pastors have no clue what the bible says either, and that they should be removed from their positions.

  3. None of this should be surprising in the least. We have national holidays for all sorts of realigeous occasions. Religeousity (even if obviously fake)is a prerequisite to running for higher public office. Our nation is clawing its way backwards to the stone age.

    On a rational note, there is nothing improper in a court making some distinction bewteen malfeasence and nonfeasence. But it begs the question, who is inflicting the damage to their kids in a more knowing and purposeful manner, the crack head or the bible thumper. I suspect the courts think (incorreclty) it’s the mom who sells her W.I.C. card for crack. The courts also should consider who is more likely to offend? Sh_t, no brainer there either, the bible thumpers are actually sort of proud of the extreme sacrifice (just like Abraham, only one-upping him) they made to appease an all-powerful God.

    I’ve never been anatheist or even an agnostic, but with the growing legions of religeous ass-clowns in this country I’m getting ready to declare myself a Satanist just to get some distance. Peace.

  4. marianne:

    “The bible never teaches to avoid medical treatment.”


    Sorry again, marianne, it does.

    “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. Mark 10:52

    Even followers can get in on the act:

    “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Mark 16:17-18

    You really need to get a copy and read this Book–it’s great you know.

  5. “These cases suggest a considerable discount given people who claim a religious motivation rather than simple neglect.”


    My argument for leniency to the judge would be:

    “Aren’t they punished enough by their baseless reliance on superstition and fear as opposed to reason and experience? Can they truly be rehabilitated after years and years of collective brain washing? Aren’t they just as captive and coerced as Patty Hearst was to a dogma that preaches unless they accept this foolishness, they and their children will be condemned to an eternity in a fiery oblivion? The punishment should fit the crime. I respectfully submit a lifetime of part-time community service at a nearby Children’s Hospital is the better course, where they can see that science does heal, lives can get better, and we do not live in the religious fog of the 13th century any longer. You want punishment? Now here’s punishment–finding out you could have saved your child, but your foolishness and religiosity stopped you. That’s a life sentence indeed, Your Honor.”

  6. seamus wrote:

    “Religeousity (even if obviously fake)is a prerequisite to running for higher public office.”

    Notwithstanding the sic, (religiosity) I think this is a major problem with our elected leaders. Unfortunately, there is no way an atheist could be POTUS—perhaps in a decade or two.

    The only real good Mr. Bush’s presidency accomplished is that it demonstrated how deadly and destructive ‘gods’ voice can be to the worlds’ peoples and I think that intelligent people who once simply accepted religion as good—on the balance—are starting to question the sheer illogical precepts that faith-based beliefs represent and the devastating harms they frequently elicit.

    I cringe every time I hear Mr. Obama say, God Bless…, and God Bless America. However, he, others, and I know that he has to ‘lie’ to the world to fit the mold as a godly, reverent man.


    Mespo, I think that your innovative sentence fits the crime

  7. Mespo,
    I would agree with you on your sentencing appeal, except if the offending parents have other children. If they have other children, the court should remove them from these religious wingnuts. This is another example of what happens when religion trumps science.

  8. I beg to differ about an atheist being POTUS. We have one. Sure he hides it..first in order to win favor with the in-laws and then, to get involved in community organizing, most of which takes place at the faith based level. I would say we cannot yet have an admitted atheist.

    I would not put faith based death parents in prison. I would put them in Richard Dawkins study groups and re-educate them. How long? As long as it takes. They can do community service at the same time.

  9. Mespo’s solution makes sense to me, since prison will teach them nothing. I suspect the hesitance to treat religious healers the same as other abusers is the double edge of the separation of Church and State sword. The clause was meant as much about the State not interfering with religion, as it was about the State not imposing a religion. I suspect this along with the fear of political retribution constrains Judges and Prosecutors.

    Indeed, is not one of the great battles of this age that between those who would drag us back into the dark ages against those who want humanity to progress? We see fundamentalist religions now advocating such insane (and counterproductive)measures as “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Nevertheless, returning to Mespo’s point locking these aberrant people up serves no useful purpose, nor informs them and his more creative method of punishment is attractive. However, my only caveat is that any other children should be removed from the home.

  10. Redplanet,
    I would suspect that few of our POTUS’s have ever been religious men, but in the US politics appearances go a long way.

  11. Gyges,
    That is a damned good question and I don’t have an answer. the obvious implication that they define themselves is of course a tautology in the end, because one can never trust their self definitions.

    I remember after Mother Theresa’s death a lot of story’s came out about her own lack of faith in God and to the effect that she was an egomaniacal person. Is she a saint, or a sinner and can we ever know for certain? Who in the end knows the truth of whether someone is pious or a fraud? Some might say by their actions, but were MLK, JFK and RFK bad people because they were adulterers and yet professed deep religious belief?. Who is to make that judgment?

    I know in my life and I suspect in everyone’s, there are people who would say what a wonderful man I am and others who would say I’m a selfish bastard. What is the truth and really do I even know?

  12. Jack and Bobby should have been one tenth as virtuous as Mother Teresa. They were both adulterers, spare me. Mother Teresa an egomaniac? The world should be filled with such egomaniacs..

  13. Billy,
    Read me again, I wasn’t dissing Mother Theresa, I was talking about books that were written about her after her death and not crediting them with being true. I also wasn’t elevating adulterers above her. My point was humans are unable to really judge what is in anyone’s heart and I would think that you as a good Catholic would understand that and you would believe that God is the only true agent of judgment. I picked Mother Theresa because most people in the world believe she was saintly in the work she did and yet even there, people disagree. Sometimes you are too quick to judgment and too quick to take offense, when none was meant.

  14. Mike,

    Who is to say that religious and “being a good person” are tied together? By all accounts Ghengis Khan was deeply religious, and yet he put his friend to death for simply breaking one of the Khan’s less expensive possessions. I’d bet Torquemada was just as dedicated to his God as any other priest of the day. I know as many atheists involved in charity work as I do religious people.

    Religion like so much else in life is both good and bad, and religious people are in the end just people.

    Personally I define a religious person as someone who claims religion as a motivating factor in their life. Yes I mean both ‘claims’ and ‘factor.’

  15. Those who would discredit her are but a few misguided souls, with an axe to grind against the memory of a wonderfully pious and humble woman, whose entire life was devoted to servitude. Those who would discredit her, would do well to analyze their own lives and motivations, before attempting to impugn the life of Mother Teresa. By “their fruits” you shall know them Mike..

  16. Gyges,
    Good point. Remember Cotton Mather, the Salem Witch Trials, and the leading Televangelists, etc., etc. I’ve knwon some people in my life who were truly religious in the best meaning of the term. Yet I’ve also known people who expressed piety but were horrible human beings. We personally of course make judgments, but then two it’s like the blind men feeling around and elephant.

  17. Mike,

    I just don’t think religion should get an automatic pass on the fallacy of the unbounded middle that it likes to throw out. Something about knowing a true Scotsman by his Fruits. Although that’s one of the best pieces of PR ever written.

    The flip side of all this is that I can think of many examples of people motivated by religion to do what I think of as good as I can of what I think of as bad. There have been as many great works of art created because of religion as those destroyed as heretical.

  18. “Although that’s one of the best pieces of PR ever written.’

    Not to here Craig Ferguson, from the Late, Late Show tell it. How would I know though I neverlooked under a kilt.

  19. Billy,

    Once again, I’ve been preached at by people much better at it than you.

    You can say “Nope, they weren’t truly Christian because they did X” till you’re blue in the face, and it still won’t matter. Because there will always be that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” aspect. The one that gives you a free pass for every sine you commit, and lets you still call yourself a Christian. The one that allows every crooked preacher to cheat on his wife, and get forgiven by his flock because he’s since he “asked God and his family to forgive him, and gone to spiritual counseling.” Wasn’t David a man after God’s own heart? Didn’t Abraham doubt and conceive a child with his wife’s servant?

    There’s only one unpardonable sin in the Bible, and it’s not torturing, murder, kicking puppies, cannibalism, genocide, infidelity, using Communion wafers to plug up vampires’ tombs, selfishness, slavery, or drinking the last of the lemonade without making more.

  20. Certainly, David committed adultery, in fact he even led a man to certain death. He knowingly sent Bathshebas’ husband (Uriah) to the front lines, knowing it would cost him his life in battle, thereby he would have Bathsheba to himself. God still loved David and saw fit to inspire him to write the Psalms.

  21. You know Gyges, “sometimes theirs’ just know gettin’ on your good side”, despite my considerable efforts…

  22. Billy,

    By the way, what I should have said originally (quoting the Bible quoted at me tends to get me grumpy) is this:

    Since everyone’s religious beliefs are different, how those beliefs manifest themselves is also different. Your fruiting tree may be another’s weed. Especially since religion has much more diversity than simply being a single grove of Christianity.

  23. Gyges:

    nicely done, especially in light of the fact that Billy is always taking about fruits it was definitely apropos.

    And what does “by their fruits ye shall them” actually mean? From what I have read on this site most of the regulars seem to have succesful, happy lives with good relationships and isnt that “good fruit” and what a just God would want for people?

  24. Byron,

    Mathew 7:16-20

    16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
    17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
    18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
    19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
    20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    Here’s the whole chapter of Mathew 7

    The reference to Fortitude et al was simply listing the 4 “Cardinal virtues”

    I think he’s trying to answer “how do you define a religious man?” Thus my comment about their being a more to religion than Christianity.

  25. 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…

  26. 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.

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