« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION: Appeals exhausted

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The case of Dale and Leilani Neumann is an interesting academic exercise. Wisconsin has a faith healing law. It protects people who believe God heals through prayer in lieu of medical care. And freedom of religion protections are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The Weston prayer death care – whether parents’ belief in prayer can extend to their seriously ill children – sounds like a topic for the moot court at a law school.

It’s far too easy to forget that an actual person has died. Kira Neumann, whose juvenile diabetes could have been treated, lost her life because her parents didn’t take her to a doctor. The testimony at trial made it clear she was gravely ill. She fell in the bathroom, too weak to take care of her own bodily functions. She wasn’t strong enough to feed herself. Friends and family pleaded with her parents to call of doctor. Dale Neumann testified at his own trial that he thought about turning to medicine, but thought that would show he was weak in his faith. He acquiesced to his wife, who was unwavering that, through prayer, God would either take or heal their daughter.

The Neumanns were, correctly, found guilty of reckless homicide. They were also sentenced to a comparatively light sentence: having to spend one month in jail each year for the next 6 as part of serving 10 years on probation. Yesterday’s court ruling, upholding their sentence, gives them until September to get their affairs in order and to begin serving the jail time.

I have one memory from the trial that suggests to me that the Neumanns belong in jail. After they were convicted, but before they were sentenced, the court placed travel restrictions on the family. They would only be out of town with court permission. Their lawyer would have to get any travel requests approved in advance with the court administrator. The Newmanns asked to travel to see relatives in Ohio. The trip was approved. In fact they were going on a tour of evangelical churches around the country. Prosecutors discovered the web site that promoted their appearances, which were supposed to be kept secret. The court should have factored contempt into the sentence, but didn't.

The Neumann’s have received the lightest possible sentence for taking a life. Their appeals are over. Now is the time for the punishment to begin.

Chris Conley

Image: 'The Virgin in Prayer' Giovanni Battista Salvi "Il Sassoferrato", National Gallery - London  via WikiCommons.com