Christian Science Journal

6 June 2016

They did what they thought was right or appropriate for their child as every parent in the world does. I don’t practice a religion with that kinds of beliefs that involves medicine and faith, but my grandmother is a Jehova’s witness.

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She is so determined and sure about her religion that would never do something that contradicts her beliefs. My neighbour is a Christian Scientist and an excellent father, who really cares about his children and would never make something to harm them. That is why he teaches them the Christian scientist religion.

I think people have the right to have their own beliefs and practice them, as long as they don’t harm other person’s rights. I think they are free to decide their way of thinking and believing.

A jury has convicted a Sarasota couple of third-degree murder and child abuse in the death of their 7-year-old daughter, ruling that the parents should not have deprived her of medical care because of their religious beliefs.

In handing down the verdict Tuesday, the jury in Sarasota County Circuit Court rejected arguments by defense lawyers that the parents, William and Christine Hermanson were practicing their religion when they decided to have their daughter, Amy, treated by a Christian Science practitioner shortly before her death of complications from diabetes on Sept. 30, 1986.

It was the first case in the United States in 22 years in which Christian Scientists have been held criminally responsible for the death of a child after relying solely on prayer to cure an illness.

Assistant State Attorney Mack Futch said state guidelines called for the Hermansons to be sentenced to three to five years in prison. Defense attorneys said they would move for dismissal of the jury’s verdict and ask for a new trial. The judge also has the option of dismissing the convictions on one or both of the charges.
Couple Remains Free

Because the Hermanson case is the first of six similar current cases to go to trial, it has been closely watched by legal scholars, child advocacy organizations and religious groups. Defense attorneys in two of the cases, both in California, attended the trial here. Until they are sentenced, the Hermansons will remain free on their own recognizance, as they have been since their arrest in November 1986.

The Hermansons were quickly ushered out of the courtroom by their attorneys and could not be reached for comment. At the time of his daughter’s death William Hermanson, who is 42 years old, was the vice president of a savings and loan organization. Christine Hermanson, 38, operates the Sarasota Fine Arts Academy. In the Hermanson case, the wording of parental religious exemptions in Florida statutes was a key issue.

Those exemptions, enacted in 1978, say that any parent who, for religious reasons, does not provide medical care for a child may not, for that reason alone, be considered ”abusive or neglectful” or a ”negligent parent.” At the same time, however, Florida’s criminal code says a person who ”through willful or culpable negligence” withholds medical treatment from a child is guilty of criminal child abuse.

”The way the statute reads is that the parents have a right to practice Christian Science healing or spiritual healing, but when they go ahead they’re arrested,” said Robert Boston, a spokesman for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a group based in Silver Spring, Md..

A national spokesman for the Christian Science Church said it was too early to draw conclusions from the Hermanson case. ”I think Christian Scientists will be very careful not to draw final conclusions because of today’s verdict,” said Nathan Talbot, who attended the weeklong trial. ”But if we were at the end of the road, and a final decision had been made, then, yes, it would have a chilling effect” on the practice of the Christian Science religion.

Rights of the Parents In closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Deno Economou told the jury that the Hermansons abused their daughter by forcing their religious beliefs on her as she died. ”If they wish to become martyrs for their religion, they have that right,” Mr. Economou said. ”But I contend to you that they do not have the right to make a martyr of a 7-year-old girl.” 1

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