1 Nov 2010

Courts face new challenges in faith healing cases

Google News - Associated Press June 30, 2009


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Though most states have child abuse laws allowing religious exemptions for parents who shun medicine for their sick children, recent cases have raised the thorny legal issues for parents following less-recognized faiths.

Historically, many of the parents addressed by the laws have embraced faiths like Pentecostalism and Christian Science, while others are Jehovah's Witnesses — all established denominations that the law has gradually taken into account.

It's harder for judges to decide cases involving parents who don't belong to a well-known denomination, yet also don't believe in using medicine for their kids. Legal and religious scholars say it's becoming more difficult for courts to decide when to honor the religious beliefs of parents and when to order conventional medical treatment for extremely sick children.

The manslaughter trial of an Oregon couple who claim they were following their religious beliefs in the 2008 pneumonia death of their 1-year-old daughter was to begin Monday. Carl and Raylene Worthington are members of Followers of Christ Church, which has been investigated for past child deaths.

In Tennessee, Jacqueline Crank and her minister Ariel Sherman face child neglect charges in the death of her 15-year-old daughter Jessica, who died in 2002 with a basketball-sized tumor on her shoulder. Prosecutors say based on Sherman's advice, the girl's mother relied on prayer instead of medicine.

Sherman has been accused of being a cult leader whose Universal Life Church is not a legitimate religion. He has denied such charges and says the church is Christian-based and embraces the Bible.

Believers in faith healing point to a Biblical verse in the Epistle of James, which describes how church elders should be called in to pray over the sick. There's no mention of doctors, and literalists interpret it to mean medical treatment should be eschewed over prayer.

Gregory P. Isaacs, an attorney for Crank, who's out on bond, argues that Tennessee's religious exemption law is untested and too vague.

"It really has a tremendous amount of problems," Isaacs said. "What is an organized religion and what is an ordained minister? What illnesses can you attempt to heal by faith? Those are the two pitfalls in the statute. That's not what's really clear."

Jim Dwyer, a William and Mary Law School professor who's written articles about and participated in litigation on the topic, said it's often more complicated for courts to discern cases with unaffiliated religions because judges and juries aren't as familiar with them and are skeptical of their legitimacy.

"The Supreme Court has adopted a very broad definition of religion," Dwyer said. "But ... you have to show sincere religious beliefs. Some judges might be skeptical of sincerity if it's something they've never heard of, if the person says, 'I don't belong to a certain church. I just have some beliefs that I saw on the Internet,' or 'In our own home, we've developed this set of beliefs.'"

Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, a pediatrician and co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University, says when treatment for an illness is very toxic and the prognosis is dire, courts tend to rule parents don't have to pursue medical treatment. If that's not the case, courts are likely to order the treatment.

"Until medicine became effective, there was no push to say we absolutely have to do medical treatment. There wasn't this notion of deference (to religion) until medicine began to work and to become institutionally powerful."

Besides the states that have religious exemption laws, five states — Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Carolina — have repealed such laws.

Many of the exemption laws were enacted in the 1970s. Rita Swan, director of the Sioux City, Iowa-based advocacy group Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, which lobbies states to repeal such laws, said that since 1975, there have been at least 274 known cases of U.S. children who have died after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.

She says the majority of such cases are still associated with established denominations like Pentecostalism, though "the Internet has opened up some more possibilities than it did before" and there have been some cases involving unaffiliated denominations.

At least two recent high-profile cases involve parents whose beliefs were drawn from Internet-based religious groups.

Authorities in Minnesota convinced a judge to force 13-year-old Daniel Hauser into chemotherapy, prompting his mother Colleen to skip a court hearing and — with her son in tow — go on the run for nearly a week in May.

They headed to Southern California, where they considered a trip into Mexico for alternative cancer treatments, before eventually returning to the Hausers' home in Sleepy Eye, Minn., about 100 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. The boy has since received chemotherapy treatments, which appear to be working.

The family prefers natural healing practices suggested by an Internet-based group called the Nemenhah Band, which says it follows American Indian beliefs.

In Wisconsin, a jury convicted Leilani Neumann, of Weston, Wis., of second-degree reckless homicide in May for failing to rush her 11-year-old daughter Madeline Kara Neumann to a doctor. She died of untreated diabetes in March 2008.

Prosecutors argued she killed the girl by ignoring obvious symptoms — she couldn't walk or talk and was believed to be in a coma — until it was too late. The mother testified she didn't realize her daughter was so ill and did all she could to help, in line with the family's belief in faith healing.

Neumann sought the spiritual assistance of the online evangelical Christian ministry Unleavened Bread Ministries.

In the wake of the Wisconsin case, Swan said legislators there are considering a bill that would repeal the state's religious exemption to its child abuse and neglect law.

"In the U.S. under the First Amendment, we're not supposed to be establishing religion or carving out any preferences for prestigious religions," Swan said. "The courts should not be giving any kind of deference to established denominations and making any distinctions."

On the Net:
Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty: http://www.childrenshealthcare.org/

This article was found at:


Update on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by Perry Bulwer

She says the majority of such cases are still associated with established denominations like Pentecostalism, though "the Internet has opened up some more possibilities than it did before" and there have been some cases involving unaffiliated denominations.

At least two recent high-profile cases involve parents whose beliefs were drawn from Internet-based religious groups.

Those comments from the article above concerning dangerous Internet-based religious groups caught my eye in relation to a recent article posted here on the Children of God/The Family International cult. Here's an excerpt from and link to that article:

"The Family has made a decision to begin constructing a more public profile," he said. "It plans to enhance its Internet presence and adapt its message to the cultures in which it lives.


The cult apologist lawyer who made that comment seems to think that the Family cult's Internet presence is benign. The Family's website is most definitely not harmless. One of that cult's doctrines, Deceivers Yet True, urges them to deceive outsiders. It is based on a perverse interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:8. They also like to cite Jesus' instruction in Matthew 10:16 to be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. Well, they've got the first part down pat, but not the second. They "wisely" lie through their teeth when evangelizing, recruiting, fund-raising, etc., by concealing who they really are, what they really believe, what abuses and crimes their dead false prophet, David Berg, committed, and that the current leaders enabled and participated in those abuses and crimes. In other words, you will not find the truth about this destructive religious group on their website, which is designed to conceal the ugly truth in a cloak of Christian righteousness. But as Berg was fond of repeating ad nauseum to his followers, their righteousness is as filthy menstrual rags. I just now looked that verse up, which is Isaiah 64:6. It is a verse that Berg and other leaders used often to brow-beat and intimidate members. But reading it now, I see it in a whole new light as being perfectly applicable to The Family International cult.

Here's my paraphrase of the King James version of Isaiah 64:6

But The Family International is as an unclean thing, and all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and they all do fade as a leaf; and their iniquities, like the wind, have taken them away.

And here's some KJV scripture that I don't need to paraphrase, as it describes perfectly this deceitful and destructive cult underneath their cloaks of Christian righteousness.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

For such are false prophets, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.


Debate over faith as health care begins in Tennessee courtroom

State Supreme Court to hear appeal from alleged cult leader

Court reverses ruling in death

Oregon parents guilty of criminal mistreatment of baby daughter for relying on faith healing instead of real medical care

Oregon Senate votes to give equal rights to children of religious parents and end faith healing as a legal defense to murder

Faith healing parents guilty but unrepentant, will appeal jail sentence of 6 months for letting child die

U.S. father who prayed while 11 year old daughter suffered and died convicted of murder

Jury Convicts Mother Who Prayed for Daughter Instead of Treating Her Fatal Diabetes

Ex-friend says Wisconsin mother charged with reckless homicide thought illness was sin

Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine

Judge allows charges in prayer death case

Judge in prayer death case: I'm between 'rock and a hard place'

Prosecutors Defend Charges In Prayer Death Case

Parents seek religious exemption for medical neglect murder of daughter

Parents who prayed as daughter died ask judge to drop charges

Healing or homicide? The use of prayer to treat sick children

A Child's Death And a Crisis for Faith

Judge orders parents to stand trial in prayer death case

Faith-based prosecution is first for state, national group says

Faith, medicine collide, and a young girl dies

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith

Two Wisconsin bills would repeal religious exemption in 'faith healing' cases, but only one protects children

Wisconsin lawmakers reconsider conflicting laws that fail to protect children from faith-based medical neglect

U.S. courts in medical neglect cases give more lenient sentences to faith-healing parents than to non-believers

Oregon bill targets faith healing parents who rely on spiritual treatment as a defense to homicide charges

A century of vaccine paranoia scares many parents away from protecting their children and communities from deadly diseases

Probation for fundamentalist parents who let baby die without medical care, ordered to protect other children from religious beliefs

Pastor and lawyer claim religious persecution of parents charged for allowing 2 year old to die from pneumonia without medical care

Philadelphia 'faith healing' parents face criminal charges for letting 2 year old die without medical care

Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children

Faith healing parents charged with criminal mistreatment of baby with life-threatening tumor on eye

Is it ever OK to seriously harm your child in the name of religion? If so, which religion? 

Should Parents Who Call God Instead of the Doctor Be Punished?

Faith-healing deaths reported in The Oregonian from Nov. 1998 to Jan. 2009

Parents and church members knew infant was suffering, but had no thought of calling a doctor

Prosecutor asks church members: What would it take to call a doctor for ailing child?

Jury acquits parents of all but 1 misdemeanor charge in daughter's "faith healing" murder

Verdict in 'faith healing' baby manslaughter case a miscarriage of justice

Trial in death of infant raises questions of parental rights, religious freedom

Oregon judge tells church members to stop killing children with faith 'healing', parents jailed 16 months for son's death

Teen died agonizing death from ruptured appendix while parents, relatives and church elders did nothing but pray for 3 days

Fundamentalist parents on trial in 'faith healing' murder case claim it was son's free choice to shun medical care

Faith healing parents guilty of criminally negligent homicide in son's death, but exempt from mandatory sentencing due to religious beliefs

U.S. courts in medical neglect cases give more lenient sentences to faith-healing parents than to non-believers

16-year-old with ties to controversial faith healing church, Followers of Christ, found dead

Exploring legal issues courts must consider in cases involving parents' use of faith healing

Courts face new challenges in faith healing cases

$3 worth of medicine could have accomplished what prayer alone did not

Provision in U.S. healthcare bill endangers children by including pray and faith healing as legitimate clinical medicine

A Child's Death And a Crisis for Faith

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith

When Parents Call God Instead of the Doctor

Trust in God - A look at 'faith healing' in America.

Little-known religions complicate faith-healing cases

Child deaths test faith-healing exemption

Christian Science theology opposes both medical treatment and diagnosis and demands denial of symptoms

Expert: Change in prayer law would protect Christian Scientists, not kids


  1. Mother, spiritual father convicted in faith-healing case but questions remain

    By Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel May 8, 2012

    LOUDON — Ten years after a 15-year-old Loudon County girl died from a rare form of bone cancer, two questions that have dogged the case from the start remain unanswered.

    When, under Tennessee law, can a parent rely on God — not medicine — to heal a sick child? And, what duty of care does a non-parent owe that sick child?

    At a hearing Tuesday in Loudon County Circuit Court, Judge Eugene Eblen ostensibly offered answers by deeming Jacqueline Crank and Ariel Ben Sherman guilty of misdemeanor neglect for the September 2002 death of Jessica Crank. He sentenced them to probation. But he offered no legal analysis and both sides appeared to accept his decision as a mere prelude to the ultimate legal platform in this ongoing debate — the state's appellate courts.

    "We once again want to go to the Tennessee Supreme Court to address these constitutional questions," said Jacqueline Crank's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs. "She feels and my law firm feels no other parent should have to be placed in this situation. A parent has an absolute constitutional right to rely on faith."

    "I believe everybody understands this is a case with much bigger legal implications," said Sherman's attorney, Donald A. Bosch.

    Even prosecutor Frank Harvey, who technically won Tuesday's hearing, conceded the legal issues raised in the case "need to be decided in the state of Tennessee in a very clear manner."

    The case began when Sherman moved his Universal Life Church flock to a six-bedroom house in Loudon County. There, he lived with Crank, her two children, Jessica and Israel, and a half-dozen other parishioners. Sherman held himself out as the "spiritual father" of Crank's children and was reportedly Crank's lover.

    When Jessica developed a tumor on her shoulder, Sherman advised Crank to rely on prayer. Although she took Jessica to a local clinic at one point, the mother ultimately decided to rely on faith. Authorities intervened but Jessica died anyway.

    Crank and Sherman were charged with felony child neglect, but Bosch and Isaacs successfully argued medical proof showed treatment would not have saved Jessica's life. Harvey then pressed forward with the misdemeanor case, various aspects of which have been appealed with no definitive resolution.

    State law allows a parent to choose faith over medicine provided that parent is heeding the doctrine of a "recognized church or denomination." But the law is silent on what constitutes a "recognized" religion. Isaacs argued Tuesday Crank's belief in the power of prayer is rooted in "genuine" faith.

    Sherman's case turns on how far a duty of care for a child extends. Can a boyfriend be held liable? A baby sitter? A pastor? Bosch noted at Tuesday's hearing that only a parent or legal guardian is allowed under the law to authorize medical treatment for a child.


  2. Supreme Court will review case involving prayer vs. medicine in caring for sick child

    By JAMIE SATTERFIELD, The Knoxville News-Sentinel April 17, 2014

    The Tennessee Supreme Court may soon provide clarity to the murky issue of when parents can legally put their faith in prayer rather than medicine to heal a sick child.

    The state’s high court has agreed to hear an appeal in a 12-year legal battle in Loudon County that pitted mother Jacqueline Crank’s religious freedom rights against state authorities who deemed her choice of prayer over medicine to be child abuse.

    The grant of an appeal by the state’s top court is rare and typically signals the court’s desire to set precedent in unsettled areas of the law. Courts nationwide have been split over a parent’s right to shun medicine in favor of prayer, and the U.S. Supreme Court has been silent on the issue.

    Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said Wednesday he and Crank are “extremely pleased” the state Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue.

    “This is an important question — fundamental rights involving parents’ privacy — that needs to be addressed in the state of Tennessee,” Isaacs said.

    Jacqueline Crank’s daughter, Jessica Crank, died at the age of 15 in September 20002 from a rare form of bone cancer. Her mother, acting on the advice of alleged cult leader and Jessica’s “spiritual father” Ariel Sherman, spurned treatment in favor of prayer. After years of legal wrangling, both Crank and Sherman were convicted of misdemeanor child neglect. Sherman died from his own medical woes last year.

    Isaacs is asking the state Supreme Court to consider the state’s Spiritual Treatment Exemption provision of a child abuse law, which he argues is too vague to pass constitutional muster as it provides no clear line for either parents or law enforcement to determine just when a reliance on faith healing is legal.

    The Crank case began when Sherman moved his Universal Life Church flock to a six-bedroom house in Loudon County. There, he lived with Crank, her two children, Jessica and Israel, and a half-dozen other parishioners. Sherman held himself out as the “spiritual father” of Crank’s children and was reportedly Crank’s lover.

    When Jessica developed a tumor on her shoulder, Sherman advised Crank to rely on prayer. Although she took Jessica to a local clinic at one point, the mother ultimately decided to rely on faith. Authorities intervened but Jessica died anyway.

    State law allows a parent to choose faith over medicine provided that parent is heeding the doctrine of a “recognized church or denomination.” But the law is silent on what constitutes a “recognized” religion. It also offers no guidance on when or how courts should apply the Spiritual Treatment Exemption.


  3. Tenn. Supreme Court Hears Faith Healing Case

    By TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press September 4, 2014

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An East Tennessee woman convicted of child neglect in her teenage daughter's cancer death is asking the state Supreme Court to declare that she is innocent because she relied on prayer to heal the girl.

    Jacqueline Crank was sentenced to unsupervised probation after her 15-year-old daughter died of Ewing's Sarcoma in 2002. Despite the light sentence, Crank has continued to pursue the case, arguing that faith-healing should be legal for everyone.

    The Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in Knoxville on Thursday.

    State law makes it a crime to fail to provide medical care to children, but there is an exception for those who rely on prayer alone for healing. However, the Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act applies only to faith healing performed by an accredited practitioner of a recognized church or religious denomination.

    In turning to prayer for her daughter's healing, Crank relied on the advice of Ariel Ben Sherman, who called himself the girl's "spiritual father." Testimony showed Sherman was accredited by the Universal Life Church, which will accredit anyone who fills out an application.

    Records from the Department of Children's Services said Crank and her children lived "in a cult type religious environment with many people (estimated 30) living in their home and all of whom they consider 'family,' although none are actually related."

    In briefs, Crank argues that Tennessee's Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act is unconstitutional because it treats some faith healing as legitimate while allowing other faith healing to be criminalized.

    The state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against Crank in 2013, saying that even if the state's faith healing law were unconstitutional, striking it down would not undo Crank's conviction. It would simply erase the exceptions for faith healing, leaving the law intact that makes it illegal not to seek medical treatment for a child.

    Crank argues in a brief to the state Supreme Court that simply deleting the faith healing exemption would have the effect of punishing her for an act of which she is innocent.

    Crank initially was charged with a felony. Those charges were later downgraded after doctors said that her daughter Jessica most likely would have died even if she had gone to a hospital right away. Jessica was eventually taken into the custody of the Department of Children's Services and admitted to East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

    According to court records, the cancer caused a grapefruit-sized tumor on the girl's shoulder that appeared to give her severe pain.

    Pediatric oncologist Dr. Victoria Castaneda testified that while Jessica likely could not have been cured by early treatment, "it would have helped in dealing with her condition and symptoms and positively impacted the quality of her life."

    Sherman was convicted with Crank of misdemeanor neglect in 2012. Both appealed the conviction, but before the appeal was complete, Sherman died. Records showed he was suffering from cancer and had sought medical help for himself, dying in a hospital.


  4. Tennessee lawmakers approve repeal of spiritual treatment exemption

    By Richard Locker, Knoxville News Sentinel, April 14, 2016

    NASHVILLE — The House gave final legislative approval today to a bill repealing a controversial 1994 law that was at the center of a long court fight over the 2002 death of a Loudon County child whose mother refused medical care in favor of "spiritual treatment" and prayer.

    The bill repeals the "spiritual treatment" exemption to Tennessee's child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption was intended to provide a shield from child abuse and neglect prosecution for parents and others if a child "is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner" of the church or denomination in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

    The repeal bill, Senate Bill 1761, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, a lawyer. It won unanimous Senate approval in March and an 85-1 vote Thursday in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who's expected to sign it into law.

    The exemption came into play less than a decade after its enactment, in the death of Jessica Crank, 15, of Loudon County in 2002. Her mother, Jacqueline Crank, was a follower of Ariel Ben Sherman, who conducted religious services under the name of the Universal Life Church in a rented house in Lenoir City.

    Jessica became ill with what was diagnosed later as Ewing's Sarcoma. Her mother and Sherman declined — after an initial visit with a chiropractor and later a walk-in clinic — to pursue doctors' urgent referrals to hospitals for treatment. After the child's death, her mother and Sherman were indicted on child neglect charges. Both were eventually convicted after courts ruled that Sherman's group was not a "recognized church or denomination" covered by the exemption.

    Sherman died during appeals. But the mother's conviction was finally upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in February 2015 in a ruling that also held the spiritual treatment exemption is not so vague as to render it unconstitutional.

    Briggs and Farmer introduced the bill this year in an attempt to repeal the exemption. Briggs cited his experience with a similar case years ago, when he was a general surgeon in another state and a teen boy was brought to see him with a ruptured appendix. His parents initially opposed surgery on religious grounds but later agreed to treatment.

    The bill was backed by a Kentucky-based group, Children's Healthcare Is Legal Duty (CHILD), that works for repeal of similar spiritual treatment exemptions across the country. Its President Rita Swan issued a statement thanking lawmakers for repealing the exemption in Tennessee.

    "CHILD believes all parents, regardless of their religious belief, should have a legal duty to obtain medical care for their child when necessary to prevent serious harm," Swan said. "Courts have never ruled that parents have a constitutional right to abuse or neglect children in the name of religion, and Tennessee should not give them a statutory right to do so.

    "The passage of HB2043/SB1761 is a significant advancement toward giving Tennessee children equal protection of the law. We are grateful to Senator Richard Briggs and Representative Andy Farmer, the prime sponsors, and to the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Tennessee Medical Association, and Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, who joined CHILD in working for the bills."