Faith-healing comes under court scrutiny
An East Tennessee woman convicted of child neglect after 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, pictured above with attorney Gregory P Isaacs, fell foul of Tennessee’s Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act. This stipulates that only faith healing performed by “an accredited practitioner” of a recognised church or religious denomination can be carried out.
Crank, according to this report, chose instead to rely on faith healing advice supplied by one 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.
Her 15-year-old daughter died of Ewing’s Sarcoma in 2002. Later, Crank was sentenced to unsupervised probation.
Despite the light sentence, Crank has continued to pursue the case, arguing that faith-healing should be legal for everyone.
Yesterday the Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
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 criminalised.
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 was 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.
Paediatric oncologist Dr Victoria Castaneda testified that Jessica likely could not have been cured by early treatment, but:
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.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions from providing medical care for sick kids – many more lenient than the law being considered by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Three US states (Idaho, Iowa, and Ohio) offer parents a religious defense to manslaughter; West Virginia offers a religious defense to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death; and Arkansas provides parents a religious defense to capital murder.
On the forefront of the issue is Linda Martin, an Idaho native who has become an unlikely campaigner for children’s rights. Martin grew up among a tiny sect that calls itself the Followers of Christ. Last November, Martin led reporters to the Peaceful Valley Cemetery, situated on a lonely hilltop just outside of Boise, Idaho. There, cameras documented rows of ill-tended funeral markers, many carved with the names and fleeting spans of babies, toddlers and even teenagers.
“A quarter of the graves in that cemetery are of children,” Martin said – a shocking figure in an era when most deaths result from diseases of old age.
Denied medical attention because of their parents’ religious beliefs, children of the Followers have suffered painful deaths. Micah Taylor Eells lived only four days before dying of what was, according to the autopsy, “likely an intestinal blockage.” Arrian Jade Granden, 15, contracted food poisoning and vomited for three days before her esophagus ruptured; she fell into cardiac arrest and later died.
In Tennessee, Jacqueline Crank’s attorneys have argued that the state’s religious exemption flops on the constitutional requirement for due process by:
Failing to provide parents fair notice of the point at which reliance on spiritual treatment becomes criminally culpable.
Martin has set up a Facebook group, called “Silent Cries: The Faces of Religious Abuse“. It has attracted hundreds of members, and Martin intends to keep up the pressure on her state lawmakers.
I am communicating regularly with state representatives, and our proposed bill for the 2015 Idaho legislative session is being discussed in Idaho. This is not an issue of religion versus atheism, democrats versus republicans, or conservative versus liberal. It is simply protecting children from child abuse, needless death and permanent preventable disabilities until they are able to make religious and medical decisions for themselves.
Martin is asking the public to get involved by signing an online petition at change.org.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn & M Dolon Hickmon