Sherry Tina Uwanawich, 29, has been sentenced to more than three years in jail in a novel case in Florida. Uwanawich was convicted of swindling a woman out of $1.6 million to lift a curse. A Gypsy healer, Uwanawich claimed to have a direct line to God. The case rekindles questions over the line between legitimate faith (and gifts to religious organizations) and faith-based fraud. Most of the major religions claim miracles as well as communications with God. Most receive large donations, including from people hoping to be healed or helped. The question is when such claims amount to fraud or just faith. We have previously discussed this issue over the liability of fortune telling and super-natural services (here and here).
The government calls it wire fraud, plain and simple.
Uwanawich, 29, operated under the name Jacklyn Miller, and insisted to the court that she did indeed have special divine powers to ward off curses. Such beliefs are common to the Roma culture and Uwanawich has worked as a fortune teller since age 17.
Uwanawich received the money from a medical student from Brazil who was depressed after losing her mother. Uwanawich said that a curse was at the heart of the depression. The woman would ultimately pay Uwanawich with student loans and borrowed money to lift the curse as well as her inheritance.
Most of us view the facts as horrific and fraudulent. However, most of us do not believe in curses or witches or the like. Many major religions bless people to ward of evil and even Sarah Palin witch-proofed herself before running for Vice President. Is the difference one of the extent of the contributions or the basis for the belief? What is not clear in the case is how the court articulated the distinction.
What do you think?