1. Religion & Spirituality
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Austin Cline

Faith-Healing Child Killers Sentenced to Prison

By November 13, 2011

Follow me on:

Dale Hickman and Shannon Hickman had a baby son who was born prematurely and who died shortly after birth. You probably shouldn't feel sorry for them, though, because their newborn son had a 99.9 chance of survival if they had only gotten him to a hospital. Instead they had the birth at home and decided to pray over the boy instead of seeking medical help. When he turned blue and gasped for breath, no one did anything to assist -- they just kept praying. So he died gasping and the parents were brought up on criminal charges.

Dale and Shannon Hickman were sentenced to 75 months in prison, which is only the minimum and probably far too little for what amounts to cold-blooded murder. But it was a faith-based murder, and that's why they have so many supporters who wanted to see them freed entirely. You see, it's not really a crime if you are acting from a "sincerely held religious belief."

Prosecutor Mike Regan took a hard line on the couple, seeking a maximum of six years. He hammered on both the Hickmans and the church, saying the couple continually resisted negotiations with prosecutors because "they did not think they did anything wrong."

Regan railed at the version of events presented by defense during the trial, when they argued the couple knew nothing was wrong until about fifteen minutes before his death. "Are these an arrogant and stubborn group of martyrs with no contrition whatsoever?" he asked.

A message needed to be sent to the church, Regan said. Child abuse for any motive, he said, is still child abuse.

"These generally are good, decent, law-abiding folks, except in this one narrow area of their lives," Regan said. "One (area) where they have told us stubbornly - and arrogantly, if I may - that 'We are not going to change.'"

"The law of civil society demands that they change," he continued. "It demands that we sent a message to all of them that whether you believe this or not in Oregon, you cannot act upon that belief."

Regan said he was loathe to use the cliché of asking the judge to "send a message," but said he thought it was necessary. Using an exaggerated analogy of a pagan group that sacrifices children in the woods, he asked Herndon how the effect of that groups differs from the situation at hand.

"The only thing different in the effect is that we have a religious group sacrificing children's lives, year after year, decade after decade," he said. "In order to stop that effect, we have to do something."

Source: Oregon Live

Basic decency and morality also require that this church change. Putting their "faith" before the lives of infants isn't acceptable. They are free to be martyrs for their faith and to die for what they believe, but they aren't free to cause the death of others for the sake of what they believe. They killed that infant just as surely as if they had put a pillow over his face and smothered him.

One interesting facet of the trial was how the defense team for Shannon Hickman tried to get extra leniency for her because of a second aspect of her faith: they believe that the woman must follow the orders of the husband at all times, no matter what. So it still amounted to a faith-based defense of callous, murderous behavior and it wasn't accepted either.

Dale Hickman and [John Neidig, Shannon Hickman's attorney] seemed to ask the judge for even more special consideration for Shannon Hickman. Neidig, her attorney, said she did not have as many chances to call for help: in their church, the decisions are made by the husband.

"That is a function of their religion, a religious practice," Neidig insisted. "The husband is the head of the household, like Christ is the head of the church." ...

Shannon Hickman said even if she had wanted to call 9-1-1 she was powerless to act because her church calls for wives to submit to their husband's decisions -- to do otherwise is a sin.

Regardless of her views, jurors said she still had parental responsibility.

If "just following orders" didn't work at Nuremberg, it shouldn't work in American courts either. Shannon Hickman voluntarily adopted an ideology where she could pretend to be relieved of moral accountability for her actions but the court needed to show her that this was just a fantasy -- just as much of a fantasy as the rest of her religion. You don't get freed of moral and legal responsibility simply because you think there is a god which requires you to blindly obey the orders of someone else.

Some of the most damning testimony came from the Hickmans and their relatives -- all lifelong members of the Followers of Christ.

The church witnesses exhibited "a fatalistic attitude all the way," Fleming said.

Prosecutors said David Hickman's fate was sealed when he took his first breath. The boy -- a great-great grandson of church founder Walter White -- would never have received medical treatment, regardless of his condition. They said he was born into a family bound to the belief that life-and-death decisions were a test of faith. God, not doctors, would determine who survives and who succumbs -- even when an illness is treatable by medicine or a minor medical procedure.

That point was made clear by Lavona Keith, a church midwife and Shannon Hickman's aunt. "It wasn't God's will for David to live," she told jurors. ...

Source: Oregon Live

Funny, but I haven't seen any "pro-life" organizations come out to oppose the actions of churches like this. I haven't seen any "pro-life" organizations lobbying for an end to the laws which have allowed faith-healing churches like this to continue killing children. It's only the secular authorities which have acted on their own to put a halt to the abuses -- though too slowly.

If Shannon Hickman had had an abortion, the "pro-life" groups would have opposed that. Once the baby was born, though, she could let it gasp, struggle, and die without those groups raising a peep of protest. Why, if the are "pro-life"? What happened to all those attempts to equate abortion with infanticide? This is one of just many examples which demonstrate that "pro-life" is a misnomer. It's all and only about eliminating choices for women; the fate of the children they have is irrelevant.

November 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm
(1) Karen says:

I cannot fathom — just cannot get my mind around — the concept of letting a baby, let alone your own baby, lay there and die. For whatever reason.

These people are disgusting. I hope their time in prison allows them to rethink some of their beliefs and perhaps edge a little closer to being true humans.

November 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm
(2) Ron says:

Austin. A few years ago, you published an Article entitled: Conscience Without Consequence. If these people insist upon following their conscience, then they should be prepared to accept the Consequences. Or, one could say that the Consequences would also be “God’s will”.

November 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm
(3) P Smith says:

At one point the item says six years is the maximum, but then it says they got 75 months which is six years and three months. Is there a mistake in there somewhere, such as six years being the minimum?

Myself, I’d give them a different sentence. Find out the length of time that the child was prevented from breathing before he died, and then prevent the man and woman from breathing for that length of time. Make it “an eye for an eye” if they so strenuously believe it.


November 14, 2011 at 1:29 am
(4) Eric O says:

This is why it’s important to promote skepticism. Beliefs inform actions (or in this case, inaction), and false beliefs can lead to harm.

I’m not really sure what would be considered a just sentence for the Hickmans, though. I disagree that this amounts to cold-blooded murder – they didn’t intend to kill their baby. It seems unfair to say that they are on the same moral level as a conservative Muslim father who kills his daughter for having premarital sex (which also comes from a “sincerely held religious belief”) and it also seems unfair to say that the courts should treat both crimes equally (you weren’t suggesting that, were you Austin?). On the other hand, it’s outrageous that, even in hindsight, the Hickmans don’t believe that they did anything wrong.

I don’t know exactly what I’d do if I were the judge, but I’d consider several factors. I’d take their lack of intent into account, but I’d also take their lack of remorse into account. I would want to prevent them from ever being in the sort of position where their religious beliefs could lead to another death. I would also like to demonstrate to the public that this sort of negligence cannot be tolerated, and that religious beliefs are not an excuse.

November 18, 2011 at 6:45 pm
(5) OZAtheist says:

I agree with you Eric O that this does not amount to cold blooded murder, but I can understand also the dilemma the Judge and Jury found themselves confronted with.

The message that the Judge would have sent would have been ineffective I believe to the deluded followers of this fanatical sect. How does doing time for 6 years weigh up against an eternity of wailing and gnashing your teeth, which these misguided people would see as their fate, if they had not followed the churches teachings.

It is the church itself that should be held to account for this tragic death – and very many before it I have read. I doubt that the laws are in place that allow this to be done effectively so it is up to the politicians to facilitate this. This church no doubt enjoys tax free income while preaching its deadly doctrine.

November 19, 2011 at 12:33 am
(6) Tim Lister says:

Eric, the Muslim father who kills his daughter does so because he believes it is merciful for her as well as the rest of the family. So personally I do in fact equate these crimes as equally abhorrent to society. The motive is the same and the effect is the same. The only differences are:

a) the Hickman’s son died slowly & miserably, and
b) the age of the victims

The first difference simply confirms that both murders are premeditated. As for the second, imagine for a moment that the Hickmans’ son was of a sexually mature age (let’s say 16) with a condition that is normally easily treated with antibiotics but deadly without them. Under the tenets of their religion he still would have been denied treatment by his parents with full support of their church just as he was as a baby. So both “differences” between the Hickman murder and your hypothetical Muslim murder are actually irrelevant. Both crimes should be treated equally as premeditated murder and the punishment should be equal under the law.

November 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm
(7) Darwin says:

This is a very interesting case. This would be a good case for humanist groups to discuss–i.e., try the guilty parties and assign a penalty, recommend changes, etc.

November 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm
(8) Borsia says:

Eric; they are not the same one, the infant, would be either negligent homicide or second degree murder while the other, killing a daughter, would be first degree murder. The sentence for the first being up to, and apparently 3 months beyond, 6 years while the latter can carry anything from 25 years to death.
I don’t think there are many who would sentence this couple to death, but I would support mandatory sterilization.

I believe that this sort of thing happens a lot more than we know of. These people don’t see doctors and often don’t report deaths.

November 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm
(9) OZAtheist says:

Sterilization does have some merits. Removing people as stupid as this from the gene pool would be no great loss to society I think.

The people in this church have shown that they are not competent to have custody of children so their children should be removed from their care. Any women of the church who fall pregnant should be detained when they approach full term and forced to deliver under the care of qualified professionals.

November 19, 2011 at 7:39 am
(10) Loren says:

It wasn’t truth and it didn’t set them free.

November 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm
(11) mia says:

Oh dear, I don’t even know where to begin….
I just voted and commented on an abortion poll, and now this!! It reminds me of what ol’ man George Carlin said, something along the lines of, “they’re obsessed with your rights while you’re still in the womb, but when you’re out, you’re on your own!”
What I like most is how the wife tries to put more blame onto her husband. The rest is just wrong on so many levels it isn’t even funny.

November 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm
(12) abey says:

i demolish their church too.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.