Jury Orders Church to Pay $9 Million
A MINNEAPOLIS jury Wednesday ordered the Christian Science Church to pay $9 million in punitive damages for the 1989 death of an 11-year-old boy whose parents treated him with Christian Science treatment through prayer instead of conventional medicine.Skip to next paragraph
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Ian Lundman died of what was later diagnosed as diabetes. His biological father, Douglass Lundman, filed a civil lawsuit after Minnesota courts refused to allow criminal charges to be brought against Kathy McKown, the boy's mother, and his stepfather, William McKown.
The same jury last week held the McKowns, several other Christian Scientists who provided care for the boy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and a Christian Science care facility responsible for the boy's death and awarded Mr. Lundman $5.2 million in compensatory damages.
The church was apportioned 10 percent of the compensatory damages. Hennepin County District Court Judge Sean Rice, however, declared that the Christian Science practitioner, a Christian Science nurse, and the government-affairs representative of Christian Scientists in Minnesota were "agents" of the church, thus making the church liable for 45 percent of those damages. In all, the jury ordered the church to pay $11.3 million. This was the first such ruling in the church's 114-year history.
The jury appeared to question parents' right to give religious instruction to their children. Forewoman Judy Hanks said the jury wanted to send a message to the church to change its stand on spiritual healing for children. "Children are indoctrinated into the church, and they are kept from knowledge of medical care. So if you don't have two things to choose from, you don't have a choice," Ms. Hanks told Monitor Radio.
One legal expert told the Associated Press that the jury also sent a troubling message about religious freedom. "This is literally an example of courts trying to punish a church for what it believes in and teaches to its members," said Michael Paulsen, a University of Minnesota law professor who specializes in church-state matters.
Church officials point out that the trial is not over. "There will be important post-trial motions filed with the judge," said church spokesman Victor Westberg.
He said the motions will ask for a new trial and for a reduction in the verdicts, and must be filed within 15 days. "Results of those motions will guide us in the next steps as to whether an appeal is necessary or appropriate."