Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Religious Freedom or Child Abuse . . . You be the judge!

Risking a volatile outburst from some Community Matters readers, there is troubling news from the Philadelphia courts. I have been following this story from January 2009 and the case had its day in court yesterday. Although the verdict was guilty, I am far from satisfied by the sentencing. If you are not aware of this specific case, here is the background.

In January 2009, 2-year old Kent Schaible of the Rhawnhurst section of Philadelphia became sick. His parents, Herbert Schaible, 42 and Catherine Schaible, 41 are members of the First Century Gospel Church of Juniata Park, which teaches healing through prayer. For 10 days, the couple remained in this Northeast home praying over their son, believing their son’s symptoms, including a sore throat, chest congestion, diarrhea and trouble swallowing and sleeping were signs of the flu or of a cold. The parents did not seek medical treatment for their son. Following the fundamental teachings of their church, they believe that the sick can be healed by praying to God, not by turning to doctors or medicine.

Kent died of bacterial pneumonia on January 24, 2009. When the Schaibles discovered that Kent was dead, they called the church’s pastor who came to the house. He joined the parents in prayer and then called a funeral director. The Philadelphia medical examiner ruled the death a homicide but noted that it could have been prevented with basic medical care. Herbert and Catherine Schaible were arrested in April 2009 and charged with involuntary manslaughter and related counts.

The trial began late last year and at one point Herbert read a statement to the jury, which included “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end the devil won” as part of their defense. I supported the Schaible’s conviction in December of involuntary manslaughter but was shocked by yesterday’s sentence. The sentence for the death of their 2-year old son was 10 years probation, as imposed by Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Temin!

Why no prison term for the couple? Temin decided against prison for the couple because they had no prior criminal record and they have seven other children, now ages 1 to 15, and they needed their parents. Temin says that she made it clear that the parents must get the children regular medical exams. Do we really think that is going to happen . . . ? Commenting on the sentence, Herbert’s attorney, Bobby Hoof, commented there is a clear message that “religious freedom is trumped by the safety of children.”

As an aside, Mr. Schaible teaches at the school that is attached to their church, the fundamentalist First Century Gospel Church, of which they are members. Mrs. Schaible’s father is principal of this school. How can the Schaible’s support the doctrines of the church and school and have regular check-up and medical care? The church and school teachings believe that all medical treatment is a sin.

The couple could have received 5-10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and 3 ½ -7 years for endangering the welfare of a child. In handing down the probation sentence, Judge Temin said that if the Schaible’s violate the terms (which means seeking medical care and regular check-ups for their other children they will be sent to jail. What happens if their violation of medical treatment causes another death of a child? How can these people be allowed to retain custody of their children?

When it comes to religious beliefs, I support the rights of an individual. However, I draw the line when a religious belief causes harm or worse, . . . death. Maybe I am going out on a limb on this, but I view The Schaible’s actions as a form of religious child abuse. The fundamental teachings of their church, directs those that seek medical attention are to be shunned . . . so how is that this couple is going to remain members of the church, teach in the school and follow the terms of the sentence in the raising of their seven children? Not possible.

Here is an interesting thought . . . would the proposed school voucher plan work for parents wishing to send their children to the fundamental First Century Gospel Church School? Good possibility that this church school located in Juniata Park could be located close to one of the 144 low-performing public schools and therefore would qualify to receive a student with a voucher. Isn’t that a scary thought?

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  1. Religious freedom?? No way, child abuse is more accurate. This couple kills their child, gets 10 yrs. probation & goes home to their 7 kids. Shame on the legal system for allowing this happen – is that judge going to be around to make sure that these kids receive medical treatment when needed? No………….!

  2. Clearly, the law has established that parents’ right to hold certain religious beliefs does not supercede their responsibility to protect and care for their children. [Prince v. Massachusetts]

    The expert defense witness testified that pneumonia can kill within 24 hours, suggesting they were not negligent. But the child suffered for 10 days before he died. And they called their pastor instead of 911 when they found the child dead.

    Under the circumstances, Judge Temin’s decision to let the Shaibles off the hook insures that their surviving children will continue to be victimized by their parents’ primitive belief that illness is a manifestation of sin. The kids will continue to be indoctrinated into what amounts to a cult and sent to a school that employs h.s. drop-outs as teachers (their father who teaches there dropped out in the 9th grade.) They will continue to be isolated from community resources and supports that could literally save their lives.

    I guess Temin is counting on the Shaibles’ parole officer to supervise their obligation to seek medical care for their kids when needed. Good luck with that. And she judged they would be better off living with misguided parents than split up and put in foster care.

    I couldn’t help but notice that the Shaibles’ seven children range in age from 1 to 15, meaning that they have had another child since their son Kent’s death.

        1. Au contraire, children are absolutely necessary to the propagation of the species. You could look it up.

          Doritos, less so. Doritos are like Democrats; fun to have around, especially if you are entertaining, but you could get along perfectly well without them. And you would probably lose weight to boot.

  3. Considering that less than 5% of children who go into foster care end up with a college degree, and based on my own experience with the foster system (kids in this community who were foster children, then adopted and educated in TE schools who ended up in prison), I’m not going to second guess the judge. This is why when I see people picketing abortion clinics, I want to stop and ask why they don’t go out and open some day care centers with all that passion. Not that these parents are the right example for this comment, but the system is overburdened, and people who love and care for their children don’t always do it the way we want. If you have any friends who are Christian Science believers and other prayer-based systems, you would learn a lot listening to them, and while I too disagree with what appears to be “primitive” beliefs, I’m just not sure any of us is qualified to make a different judgment. We don’t know what the foster system would look like for these kids, but I’m assuming the judge believes the parents “primitive” approach trumps that of a paid foster parent. We all should foster children if we believe we can make a difference, not challenge the way a judge concludes a child will be safer. How would we feel if the judge had required sterilization for the parents?

  4. Mad Anthony,

    Hope you’re having fun.

    I don’t plan to respond to your bait, You’ve provided a chuckle for your own kind on a dreary winter day. Good for you!

    Your pseudonym brings to mind why local historical figure Anthony Wayne is referred to as “Mad” Anthony.” Rather gruesome and sad, really. After many years of service to his country, General Wayne died and was was buried in Erie, PA where he had been visiting. Some years later, his family had his body disinterred and BOILED to remove any remaining flesh. Then it was transported in saddlebags to a family grave site in St. David’s.

    The legend is that some of his bones were carelessly dropped along the route from Erie to St. David’s (along today’s Route 322) and that his ghost wanders the route from time to time.

    Mad Anthony, may your recent appearance on CM be as long-lived as a bag of Doritos during a super bowl game.

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