Herbert and Catherine Schaible lost two children in four years because they chose to trust God to provide healing rather than seek medical help for their sick children. Now, in a case legal experts have described as "thorny," the couple's special brand of faith is about to put religion on trial.
In 2009, the Christian couple whose First Century Gospel Church dismisses medical care as an insult to God, were arrested and tried for involuntary manslaughter of their 2-year-old son Kent.
Kent had died from a deadly case of bacterial pneumonia and according to the Philadephia Enquirer, the couple listened to medical experts in court who testified how their son could have been saved if only his parents had taken him to a hospital where he would have received appropriate lifesaving medical care.
The judge in the case imposed 10 years' probation and ordered them to ensure their remaining children received medical care when they got sick.
Four years later, however, their 8-month-old son Brandon died in their home from bacterial pneumonia as his parents prayed over him on April 18.
Pennsylvania authorities seem prepared to send a very strong message this time around. The couple was cited for violating their probation and all their children were removed from their home. They have also been charged with third-degree murder this time around instead of manslaughter – a charge that attracts a 20-40 year prison term.
Until a June 12 preliminary hearing of the case, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner has ordered that the couple be remanded in custody without bail charging that they might flee or be harbored by fellow believers.
While religion did not factor much during the first trial of the couple, Temple University law professor David Kairys, a longtime criminal and civil rights lawyer, explained that religion may have to be an issue in this case even if it's only to show the mindset of the couple.
"When the jurors get this case, you want a strong feeling among enough jurors that this just isn't a crime," Kairys told the Philadelphia Enquirer. "It's horrible, but they didn't intentionally kill."
"These are really difficult and sad cases," highlighted Steve Crampton, general counsel for Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based legal organization that focuses on religious issues, in the report.
This case, said Crampton, "lies at the intersection of society's right to protect the life of the child and the parents' right to both the free exercise of their children's religion and [control over] the upbringing of their children."
"For parents, there is no religious exemption, no absolute license that lets you do what you want in the name of religion," Crampton said.