Florida court exonerates Christian Scientist parents

On July 2 we received word that the Supreme Court of the State of Florida unanimously overturned the convictions of William and Christine Hermanson. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that, in cases involving reliance on spiritual means for healing, "it was the first time a state's high court overturned the criminal convictions of parents who cited religious beliefs ... and it could broaden the rights of others who favor prayer over medicine, attorneys and church leaders said Thursday." The Tampa Tribune reported, "The ruling means that the Hermansons' records will be wiped clean ... " They cannot be tried again.

Members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and others who support religious freedom have prayed deeply over this issue and will be grateful for this judicial rectification. This case follows a decision last year by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which refused to permit the prosecution of a Christian Scientist couple in light of the state legislative provision for spiritual healing.

Here are some of the leading points made by the Florida court. Referring to two Florida statutes, the court ruled, "In summary, we find that sections 827.04 (1) and 415.503 (7) (f), when considered together, are ambiguous and result in a denial of due process because the statutes in question fail to give parents notice of the point at which their reliance on spiritual treatment loses statutory approval and becomes culpably negligent. We further find that a person of ordinary intelligence cannot be expected to understand the extent to which reliance on spiritual healing is permitted and the point at which this reliance constitutes a criminal offense under the subject statutes. The statutes have created a trap that the legislature should address. Accordingly, we quash the decision of the district court."

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The prayer "Thy will be done"
August 10, 1992

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