Faith-healing comes under court scrutiny

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.

Writing for the Patheos blog, Freethinker contributor M Dolon Hickmon pointed out that:

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

Hat tip: BarrieJohn & M Dolon Hickmon

32 responses to “Faith-healing comes under court scrutiny”

  1. Stephen Mynett says:

    One report has said that Ariel Ben Sherman died of cancer and had himself admitted to a normal hospital for treatment, so much for his faith in his faith healing.

    I find it very hard to believe that a country which claims to be a democracy will allow such blatant child abuse.

  2. Matt Westwood says:

    What, you’re not running with the Peppa Pig story? What a shame, I wanted some fish in a barrel to shoot.

  3. jay says:

    In a perverse way she has a point.There is no legal definition of a “legitimate” faith healer (or exorcist) for that matter. Without that the state has little to stand on.

  4. barriejohn says:

    “Accredited faith healers” indeed; you couldn’t make up this nonsense.

    S. Mynett: Mary Baker Eddy (founder of the ludicrously named Christian Science sect) was forced to visit a dentist. She then claimed that it was not the denntist’s skill that had cured her of her toothache, but her “faith” in him. Beat that if you can!

  5. barriejohn says:

    Jacqueline Crank – what a fitting name for this deluded woman, especially since krank (the probable derivation of American versions of this surname) means “sick” or “ailing” in German.

  6. Norman Paterson says:

    Having a religious defence for these actions is what’s wrong. Religious freedom – and I’m all for that – is the freedom to believe anything; but your actions are subject to the law, and it should be the same law for all. If I am not allowed to pray my child to death then neither should you be.

  7. Norman Paterson says:

    BJ – I like your story about MBE’s faith in her dentist!

  8. L.Long says:

    So she is asking that ‘psychotically delusional’ be an accepted defense for allowing someone to die. Sound OK to me, cuz now when some dimwit say thank gawd for saving me, the savior can toss them back.
    “but judge I was under the delusion that they had all the help they needed as they were giving thanks to someone for saving them, so they did not need my help.”

  9. barriejohn says:

    N. Paterson: I have tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to get confirmation of that story, which I read in a biography some years back. This is very revealing though:,%20Mary%20Morse%20Baker.html

    They’re certifiable, yet millions follow them!

  10. barriejohn says:

    These people have much in common with “Christian Scientists”:

    The church so enthusiastically embraced her beliefs that its members frequently let their children die agonizing deaths from easily treatable illnesses, because “it’s God’s will.”

  11. Norman Paterson says:

    BJ – Thanks for the link – that looks like an interesting site. In return, let me recommend The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

  12. oliver says:

    “Jacqueline Crank – what a fitting name for this deluded woman, especially since krank (the probable derivation of American versions of this surname) means “sick” or “ailing” in German.”

    Her friends Betty Lunatic and Ethel Nutjob fully support her.

  13. Stephen Mynett says:

    Oliver, another of my favourite derivations, although unproven there is some evidence, is the origin of the word bigot, from the Germanic bei Gott, meaning with god, it seems it was an early pagan insult to the annoying Christians of the time.

  14. Trevor Blake says:

    I agree the law is unconstitutional. It favors some religions over others. I will add that Mrs. Crank murdered her daughter to prove this point, making her a contemptible fool.

  15. Matt Westwood says:

    Contrast this story with a recent high-profile one where international police were alerted to arrest a couple who removed their child from the care of a hospital to seek out alternative treatment. Own up now: how many of you grunted to yourselves: “Hmph. Jehovah’s Witnesses” and consign them to nutter-hood? And of those, how many of you had to eat humble pie when a week later the rest of the story unfolded?

  16. Vanity Unfair says:

    I see that the “Universal Life Church” ( will ordain you as a minister, for free, online. No checks on your religiousness but they will check whether the application is in your pet’s name. How?
    You have to be over 13 years old otherwise the ordination is invalid.
    “We are all children of the same universe.” (C) The

  17. barriejohn says:

    Matt: I, for one, am not eating humble pie or any other type of pie, sad to say. I think that the Kings – like so many other faith-heads – behaved arrogantly and foolishly in removing their child from hospital in the way that they did, and that the authorities acted quite correctly under the circumstances. The spin that the media have put on this story has been nauseating; the Mail in particular went into overdrive with front-page headlines like “Moment Ashya and his devoted parents were reunited”accompanied by massive inside photospreads. This is propaganda not reportage, and yet another “heartwarming” story has been carefully engineered to sell newspapers. Even the BBC has been extremely biased in its reporting of the story – but then BBC News resorts more and more to the “magazine” approach to news propagation these days, so that we might be forgiven for thinking that we are watching Morning TV all day long now. It is extremely fortunate that events have had the outcome that they have – things could quite easily have turned out very differently.

  18. Liz Heywood says:

    State laws allowing religious parents to sacrifice their children must be brought to national attention so they can be ended.

    I was one of those children. At thirteen, I contracted osteomyelitis (a gruesome, vicious bone infection) but state law allowed my Christian Science parents to treat the disease with prayer–and a practitioner, which is the CS name for their “healers.” Three years later I could walk on my deformed, fused leg (which was eventually amputated) but I’ve struggled with trauma, depression, PTSD and a crushing sense of shame my whole life.

    The Christian Science church wrote those state laws. Please educate yourself and your friends, and support the non-profit group CHILD Inc (Children’s Healthcare Is A Legal Duty) working to reverse these laws. Thanks. ~Liz Heywood

  19. Mike says:

    Wow it’s like religion is stupid bullshit. This woman had total faith in god and her kid still died.

  20. Matt Westwood says:

    @barriejohn: For all you say, I *still* believe that doctors should not have the power to set wheels in motion to allow people to be arrested for not following their treatment plan. Yes, it turned out that the people in this case had the best interests of their child at heart. And in other cases, where the parents are utterly mad, the intervention by the authorities will result in the life of the child being saved and the parents being denied access to said child, etc. etc. And it all boils down to deciding under what circumstances the state has the right to interfere in the decisions of the people within it. There is a point at which you realise that the child belongs to the state and not the parents, or even itself. And that is the stage I have philosophical problems with.

  21. barriejohn says:

    Matt: The medical team genuinely thought that “Baby Ashya” was in danger of dying in this case, yet they have been portrayed by the media as inhuman, fascist monsters. That’s what gets me. I don’t think that they or the police had any other option under the circumstances.

  22. Tim says:

    ‘Wow it’s like religion is stupid bullshit. This woman had total faith in god and her kid still died.’

    No, she didn’t have enough faith – that’s why her child died. That’s the get-out clause I’m afraid.The trouble is, it’s God’s will either way, and you can’t argue with that, can you?

  23. Stephen Mynett says:

    From my limited experience of cancers, three friends, I have noted that blood transfusions, plasma or platelets are often part of the treatment. The fact that the parents were JWs could have posed severe problems had they refused such treatment, which on past cases with the JWs it is very likely.
    I do not see it as a case of who owns the child, all children must be protected from those who would harm them and as soon as the child of a JW family becomes seriously ill or injured that child is at risk of being denied life-saving treatment.

  24. Matt Westwood says:

    “… as soon as the child of a JW family becomes seriously ill or injured …”

    And therein is the thin end of the slippery slope, to manglemix metaphors. The moment you start saying: “They’re JWs, they can’t be trusted to look after their children properly”, you establish an us-and-them mentality in which the “us” are explicitly stated as being better than the “them” — particularly if the law starts to treat them differently.

    In case you can’t see where I’m going with this: if this couple had *not* been JWs, would the doctor have called the police?

  25. barriejohn says:

    Matt: Right from the outset, the hospital said that Ashya had not been denied any treatment on religious grounds, and the fact that his parents were JWs was not the issue. I’m prepared to believe that. The fact is that his parents took him without the knowledge of the doctors, and while he was attached to feeding apparatus which had limited battery life, and that was downright irresponsible. Fortunately, it all turned out OK, but as the leader of Portsmouth City Council said in an interview, what would people have said if the hospital had said nothing and the boy had died? I don’t think that they had any other option UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

  26. John C says:

    Being one of those who “consigned them to nutterhood”earlier in the week, i think that the doctors acted in the best interest of the child, and would of done so regardless of the faith of the parents,What is needed is a clear declaration that faith has no part in healing and a zero tolerance approach to anyone denying kids correct treatment for religious grounds.I do however feel that in this case, where the parents wanted to see an alternative proven treatment ,there should of been a proper process available, rather than the parents feeling they had to act outside the normal framework.Thair faith did them no favours when it came to their assumed motives. Before i heard they were jehovas, i thought “France, nutters off to Lourdes” i guess religion generates so many nutters i have become overly cynical.

  27. Matt Westwood says:

    “…what would people have said if the hospital had said nothing and the boy had died?”

    Sorry, but I still worry that there is a danger of here of relinquishing control to an ever more fascistic state whose motto and mantra is “it’s all for your own good”.

    So at what point *do* you allow parents to make decisions for their children if they believe (whether right or wrong, justified or not) that the doctor is *not* doing the best for the child? Who *has* the “right” to make a medical decision for someone not old enough (or otherwise without the intellectual capability) to make their own decision on a course of treatment? Are we not allowed to make a choice any more?

  28. barriejohn says:

    I’m sorry, but taking a seriously ill child in need of urgent treatment out of hospital without authority is asking for trouble. Read this, as I have nothing more to say on the subject:

  29. Matt Westwood says:

    Pff. More fool me for believing the BBK. I concede.

  30. Stephen Mynett says:

    “In case you can’t see where I’m going with this: if this couple had *not* been JWs, would the doctor have called the police?”

    The simple fact they were JWs meant there had to be measures taken as JWs refuse certain forms of treatment. Every case has to be looked at on its own merit and in this case the doctors were dealing with a family whose belief system was likely to harm the child, ie refusal of blood transfusion, products.

    There is nothing fascistic about trying to save a child from idiot and dangerous parents, it is no different to taking a child into care that is an abusive home.

    “Are we not allowed to make a choice any more?”

    No, I do not believe you should be allowed to make a choice if it is going to cause harm, possibly death to a child.

  31. Lon says:

    Just another piece on the pile of evidence that all religion is shit.

  32. Ex Patriot says:

    When will these nut jobs realize that praying is nothing more than talking to an idiot, yourself. I hope if this stupid woman gets sick she prays herself to death.