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Trials Loom For Parents Who Embraced Faith Over Medicine

Kara Neumann, 11, had grown so weak she could not walk or speak. Her parents, who believe that God alone has the ability to heal the sick, prayed for her recovery but did not take her to a doctor.

After an aunt from California called the sheriff’s department here, frantically pleading that the sick child be rescued, an ambulance arrived at the Neumann’s rural home on the outskirts of Wausau and rushed Kara to the hospital. She was pronounced dead on arrival.

The county coroner ruled that she had died from diabetic ketoacidosis resulting from undiagnosed and untreated juvenile diabetes. The condition occurs when the body fails to produce insulin, which leads to severe dehydration and impairment of muscle, lung and heart function.

“Basically everything stops,” said Dr. Louis Philipson, who directs the diabetes center at the University of Chicago Medical Center, explaining what occurs in patients who do not know or “are in denial that they have diabetes.”

About a month after Kara died, the Marathon County state attorney, Jill Falstad, brought charges of reckless endangerment against her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann. Despite the Neumanns’ claim that the charges violated their constitutional right to religious freedom, Judge Vincent Howard of Marathon County Circuit Court ordered Leilani Neumann to stand trial on May 14, and Dale Neumann on June 23. If convicted, each faces up to 25 years in prison.

“The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “but not necessarily conduct.”

Wisconsin law, he noted, exempts a parent or guardian who treats a child with only prayer from being criminally charged with neglecting child welfare laws, but only “as long as a condition is not life-threatening.” Kara’s parents, Howard wrote, “were very well-aware of her deteriorating medical condition.”

About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, said Rita Swan, executive director of Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty, a group based in Iowa that advocates punishment for parents who do not seek medical help when their children need it. Criminal codes in 30 states, including Wisconsin, provide some form of protection for practitioners of faith healing in cases of child neglect and other matters, protection that Swan’s group opposes.

Investigators said the Neumanns last took Kara to a doctor when she was 3. According to a police report, the girl had lost the strength to speak the day before she died. “Kara lay down and was unable to move her mouth,” the report said, “and merely made moaning noises and moved her eyes back and forth.”

The courts have ordered regular medical checks for the couple’s other three children, ages 13 to 16, and Howard ordered all the parties in the case not to speak to members of the news media. Neither Falstad nor the defense lawyers, Gene Linehan and Jay Kronenwetter, would agree to be interviewed.

An Oath of Office With Flubs by Both Sides

For a couple of smooth-talking constitutional experts, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and President Barack Obama had a hard time getting through the constitutional oath of office.

There was a false start by Obama, who started to respond before Roberts had completed the first phrase. Obama ended up saying the first two words — “I, Barack” — twice.

Then there was an awkward pause after Roberts prompted Obama with these words: “That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” The chief justice seemed to say “to” rather than “of,” but that was not the main problem. The main problem was that the word “faithfully” had floated upstream in the constitutional text, which actually says this: “That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.”

Obama seemed to realize this, pausing quizzically after saying, “that I will execute.”

Roberts gave it another try, getting closer but still not quite right with this: “Faithfully the office of president of the United States.” He omitted the word “execute.”

Obama now repeated Roberts’ initial error of putting “faithfully” at the end. Starting where he had abruptly paused, he said, “The office of president of the United States faithfully.”

From there, smooth sailing.