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Ore. Parents Get 16 Months in Son’s Faith-Healing Death

(RNS) A judge sentenced two Oregon parents to 16 months in prison on Monday (March 8), calling their decision to not seek medical care for their 16-year-old son a “crime that was a product of an unwillingness to respect the boundaries of freedom of expression.”
Marci Beagley sobbed as the sentencing was read, and shortly after, defense attorney Wayne Mackeson objected to the sentence.
The parents, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, had been found guilty of criminally negligent homicide on Feb. 2 in the death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley, who died in June 2008 of complications involved with a urinary tract obstruction.
“The idea of sending Jeffrey and Marci Beagley to prison is heart-wrenching,” Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Steven Maurer said in a lengthy explanation of his sentence. `
“I think, certainly, that I’m in complete agreement with the jurors who observed that the Beagleys are good people.”
But the decision was necessary, Maurer said, because “the magnitude of their crimes simply warrants it.”
Maurer touched upon religious freedoms, saying he thought the local community was very respectful to beliefs from congregations like the Followers of Christ Church, which believes in faith-healing at the exclusion of most medical care.
But there are boundaries for religious freedom, he said.
“It is up to us as a community and a criminal justice system, and government, to take very seriously that societal obligation … and recognize that investment and interest we have in each and every child,” he said.
The sentence could be a “pause for reflection” or re-examination for the Followers of Christ church, said Maurer, who added that he believed the church was capable of “softening the rigidity” of their beliefs on excluding medical care.
The courtroom was packed with Beagley supporters, including their daughter Raylene Worthington and her husband Carl Worthington. Both were tried last July for second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their infant daughter, Ava Worthington. Carl Worthington was found guilty of criminal mistreatment, while the two were acquitted of all other charges.
The two families are members of the Followers of Christ Church. The church’s lengthy history of child deaths stemming from lack of medical care led to a 1999 law that eliminated the religious freedom defense in cases involving the welfare of a child.
Maurer repeated something he stated during the Worthington
sentencing: the case was not a referendum on the church, yet ignoring the church’s impact on the couple would be self-deluding. “The church is imprinted upon them,” he said.
Before the sentencing, prosecutor Greg Horner urged the court to impose the presumptive sentence of 16 to 18 months for the case. “Only a penitentiary sentence reflects the seriousness of this crime,” Horner argued.
A strong sentence could send a deterrence message to the close-knit church community that had been closely watching the twin trials, he said.
“The court has the opportunity to deliver a clear message that this idea that one can let a child die while they’re praying without medical attention is not supportable,” Horner said. “It must be addressed.”
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, were adamant in recommending probationary sentences without prison time, noting that both defendants had no criminal record.
“Prison would be more destructive than productive,” said defense attorney Steve Lindsey, who represents Marci Beagley.
Mackeson, arguing on behalf of the father, spoke to the closeness of the Beagley family and asked the judge to note that the boy’s death came just months after the couple’s granddaughter, Ava, died under similar circumstances.
He also stressed the personal faith of Jeffrey Beagley, saying his father’s faith was an integral part of the teenager’s life. The teen’s level of maturity, age, and his religious beliefs should be considered by the court, Mackeson said.
The Beagley’s situation was a “unique case,” Mackeson said, with “unique defendants.”
By NICOLE DUNGCA (Nicole Dungca writes for The Oregonian in Portland.)
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Henrietta22

    Sixteen months. They have a lifetime of regrets to live ahead of them. It will be interesting to see if this stops this Church from having more children lose their lives because of it. I hope so. If it happens again, then what?

  • pagansister

    16 months….IMO…isn’t long enough, but it is I suppose, better than getting off with probabion “because they didn’t have a criminal record” like the defence attorney wanted.
    It seems the couple didn’t learn ANYTHING when their granddaughter died from lack of medical attention…not too intelligent.
    One can hope that the church’s members, when confronted with another sick child, will have the good sense to take their child to a doctor or call for help …and pray while the doctor’s do their job! Why do I think this isn’t the only young life that will be lost due to the influence of this particular religion.

  • nnmns

    It’s a start. If they have other children at home, the longer they are away from home the safer the kids are.

  • cknuck

    I’m sure their lives are hurting enough the sixteen months is unnecessary.

  • pagansister

    How can you say that the 16 months was unnessary, cknuck? No secular punishment for letting your child die without trying to help? Isn’t there something somewhere in that book that says “God helps those who help themselves”? They didn’t try help outside of calling on an invisible being to heal their child. And if their lives are indeed hurting, then good. They are responsible for their son’s unnecessary death.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    Same challenge as applies to all such cases:
    Suppose parents who are atheists denied medical care to their sick child simply because they have philosophical objections to medical practice. The child dies. The parents are genuinely distraught, but still believe they acted in accordance with their secular values.
    Yes or No: Are they guilty of a crime?
    If they are, then so are the religious parents — if not, then we are officially declaring that the rule of law does not apply equally to all citizens, that an act deemed criminal for one person is excusable for another solely on the basis of religious beliefs.
    If parents who let their child die needlessly are guilty of a crime, then sentencing should be the same regardless of whether the parents are religious — if not, then we are again officially declaring a separate rule of law based on religious beliefs.
    Religious fanaticism takes many forms: terrorist bombings, murder of abortion providers, and “good God-fearing people” who stand by and let their sick children suffer and die needlessly. In each case, the fanatical act reflects a conviction of being right with God, irrespective of the law and of the rights of others.
    It is past time for the clergy of all the mainstream religions to denounce not just fanatical acts of violence but fanaticism itself. Fanaticism is not an unusually strong expression of faith; it is an irrational state that is starkly incompatible with true faith.

  • cknuck

    then Jesus certainly was a fanatic. He did not lose a person He healed everyone that had faith. Not to say that these folk are Jesus but they certainly could be seeking that level of faith. I don’t know them personally but I am assuming they would not take the same course of action again. Never the less I believe their lost is way more painful than any punishment folk might want them to suffer.

  • Your Name

    Jesus would have slapped these people up-side their heads. Medical knowledge is a gift from God as much as faith is. These horrible parents allowed their son to spend months in agony (according to doctors who know about the urianry track blockage he suffered from)before he died. If his parents are suffering, GOOD! They deserve it.
    May their prison stint give them the space to re-evalute their beliefs
    and become more rational.

  • pagansister

    cknuck: Good luck with that level of faith that their divine being will actually stick his/her hand down and heal someone. I have (as I have mentioned) many family members who are devout Christians, but they aren’t dumb enough to think that medical care isn’t important. They do their share of praying regularly and in difficult times, but they also think doctors are around for a reason! IMO, the name “caring parents” doesn’t apply to those folks who allow their children to die in front of their eyes, in pain most often, without doing anything but praying!
    Actually I tend to doubt the healings done by JC as mentioned so many, many years after his death, in the Bible.

  • cknuck

    Well I’ve seen faith healings pagan so I have no doubt. These people definitely made a horrible mistake and they are paying for it.
    I don’t know which YN is speaking but it is clear you know little to nothing about Jesus.
    folks who do pray should pray for these folk

  • pagansister

    cknuck, I’m glad you have seen “faith healing”. Hope they had some medical intervention too. Otherwise were those folks that ill?

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