Bill would lift spiritual healing exemption in child abuse cases - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Bill would lift spiritual healing exemption in child abuse/neglect cases


MADISON (WKOW) -- A Madison lawmaker wants to eliminate an exemption in state law that prevents the criminal prosecution of parents who choose to heal their children spiritually, instead of medically.  

Experts say the exemption only leads to confusion for both parents and judges.

Assembly Bill 630 stems, in part, from the 2008 death of 11 year-old Kara Neumann of Weston.  She died from complications caused by diabetes, after her parents prayed for spiritual healing from above instead of seeking medical help for her.

"The  American Academy of Pediatrics said they could have saved Kara Neumann within an hour and a half of her death," said Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison), who authored AB 630.

Dale and Leilani Neumann were both convicted of reckless homicide, but appealed their conviction to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The Neumann's argued they were innocent because of a provision in state law that says a person cannot be found guilty of physical abuse or neglect, simply because they chose spiritual healing over medical treatment.

The Supreme Court rejected their argument 6-1, saying the exemption didn't apply in cases of reckless homicide.

But David Prosser disagreed with his fellow justices, saying he couldn't vote to uphold the conviction, because the law is unclear.

"Judge Prosser said that we did, as a legislature, need to deal with the law because the law is, I would say, confusing," said Rep. Berceau.

An expert on these issues says Wisconsin's law is vague at best.

"If we have judges still sort of disagreeing about what the law is, I don't know that we can expect parents to sort of figure it out on their own," said Shawn Peters, a religious liberty scholar from UW-Madison.

Peters says failing to clarify the law could lead to problems in the future, when a different court could reach a different conclusion.

"It aims to add clarity, so that there isn't any question in terms of what the legal responsibility of parents are, in terms of adding medical treatment for their children," said Peters.

Rep. Berceau introduced the bill late last week and is still looking for Republican support.

Dale and Leilani Neumann tried to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices in Washington refused to hear it.

In December of 2013, the Neumann's attorney motioned to have their original six-month jail sentences dismissed, arguing that both have been model citizens while the case has been on appeal.

A judge will hear arguments on that motion January 30th.

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