Faith Healing Parents Assert Religious Rights
They Want Charges Dropped in Faith Healing Death of Their Toddler
By DEAN SCHABNER
Dec. 10, 2008
A Clackamas County, Ore., couple accused of letting their infant
daughter die by relying on prayer, rather than medicine, today asked
that the charges be dropped, arguing that they infringe on their
freedom of religion and their right to raise their children in their
Carl Worthington, 28, and his wife, Raylene, 25, belong to a church
that believes in faith healing, and police said that, instead of
going to a doctor when their 15-month-old daughter Ava got sick, they
turned to prayer.
The infant girl died March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and
an infection, both of which could have been cured with common
antibiotics, the medical examiner said.
The Worthingtons face charges of second degree manslaughter and
criminal mistreatment charges. They surrendered to police in March,
but were subsequently released after each posted $25,000 bail.
The motion filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court by the
Worthingtons' lawyer today claims that their prosecution is a
violation of the rights guaranteed them under both the state and
"Mr. and Mrs. Worthington maintain that their prosecution contravenes
their right 'to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of
their own consciences,' as guaranteed by the Constitution of the
State of Oregon and the Constitution of the United States," the
motion said. "Further, Mr. and Mrs. Worthington urge that this
prosecution contravenes their fundamental right to raise their
children without interference by the State." A hearing on the motion
is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2009.
The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ Church in
Oregon City, that has a history of shunning medical care in favor of
Another Oregon City couple who belong to the same church face similar
charges, after their son -- who was Ava Worthington's uncle -- died
Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and Marci Rae Beagley, 46, pleaded not
guilty Oct. 3 to criminally negligent homicide charges in the death
of their son, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley.
Neil died June 17 from complications of a urinary tract blockage,
according to medical examiners. The condition, which doctors say is
easily treatable, caused kidney and heart failure.
A decade ago, the church received national attention after ABC News
affiliate KATU-TV in Portland, Ore., reported that the state medical
examiner believed approximately 20 children, whose parents belonged
to the church, had died from untreated illnesses that were curable.
For more of KATU's coverage of the case, click here.
After that story broke, the Oregon state legislature changed the law
to bar defendants, in most cases, from claiming their religious
beliefs prevented them from seeking medical help.
According to the Worthingtons' motion filed today, their case is the
first application of that revised statute.
Though the revised law removed the so-called "spiritual healing
defense," there is still a provision that allows judges to give
parents a lighter sentence, based on their beliefs.