Wisconsin Faith-Healing Parents Sentenced

A Wisconsin couple who prayed for their daughter instead of taking her to a doctor were sentenced Oct. 6 on convictions of second-degree reckless homicide.

Madeline Kara Neumann died on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, from complications of undiagnosed diabetes. Her parents, Dale Neumann, 47, and Leilani Neumann, 41, refused to seek medical help for Kara because they believe only in faith healing. They had separate jury trials earlier. Circuit Judge Vincent Howard sentenced them to 10 years probation and 30 days in jail for each of the next six years. They could have been sentenced to as much as 25 years in prison. The sentence was stayed pending appeal.

The sentence requires one parent to serve jail time in March and the other in September.

The Neumanns must also ensure their three surviving children get medical care until age 18. The judge provided a list of conditions of when the children should be taken to the doctor.

Each made a statement to the court before sentencing. Dale Neumann read from the bible and said, “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.” He said he was “guilty of staying true to my conscience and not looking to the world for help.”

Leilani Neumann told Howard they were treated unfairly. “Everything we say gets diced up. They scratch for anything to vilify us. People do not know who we really are and how much we love people.”

The Neumanns have a Web site named opentheglorygates.com, which includes the heading “What the World Condemns, God Approves.” They posted their reaction to the sentence, including praise for Howard for preserving their family unit. “The judge also realizes that jail time will not reform us, because he has witnessed our faith runs very deep.

“Dale and I are glad this first legal stage is over,” the Web post says. “It has been stressful, but the challanges [sic] are teaching us much. It has taught us that our freedom lies within, and no one can take that freedom away.”

Before sentencing, Howard berated the Neumanns for lying. Four days after Dale was convicted, they got court permission to leave the state to visit Leilani’s sick grandmother in California. But prosecutors found out they never went there. Instead they went on a ministry tour to Indiana, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, said Marathon County Assistant Dis­trict Attorney LaMont Jacobson, citing details on the family’s Web site.

On the Web site, the Neumanns wrote about visiting the Dallas site of President Kennedy and how one of their children led worship at a conference in Houston.

“Our trip was awesome. We left with only $200 in Dale’s pocket, but that will not pay gas for a long road trip, and food, but all along the way God provided, and we returned with the exact same amount in our pocket, amazing!” the Neumanns wrote.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president, is concerned that the Christian Science lobby will gut Wisconsin faith-healing reform efforts. State law now exempts certain faith healing from prosecution.

A draft bill (LRB 1147) proposed by state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, would let judges decide, after a death, if prayer in lieu of medical treatment for a child was “reasonable.” The proposal, masquerading as a “repeal,” also would create an “affirmative defense” for parents who provide a “standard of reasonable care.”

“No other state gives spiritual healers a privilege from all conduct otherwise criminal,” said Gaylor, who said a draft proposal (LRB 2190) by state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, would simply repeal the faith-healing exemption.

Shawn Peters, a University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer and author of When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January that the Taylor bill could make prosecution for abuse more difficult.

“An affirmative defense says you can’t be prosecuted if the court says you made a reasonable attempt to provide medical care,” Peters said. “It gives them an out if they provided medical care and the prosecution can’t prove they’re criminally negligent.”

On their ministry site, the Neu­manns say they “walk in JOY knowing Kara is in a most glorious place called Heaven. She is with Jesus.

“Madeline Kara Neumann . . . You ran a good race. Enjoy your crown be­loved.   2 Tim 4:7-8.”

The Neumanns may lose their home in Weston. U.S. Bank filed foreclosure papers Sept. 15. The Neu­manns defaulted on a $250,000 loan and owe $259,359. The property was assessed at $286,100 in 2007.

Freedom From Religion Foundation