Monday, December 2, 2013

Remixing Daniel Berrigan and . . . the Beastie Boys?

To get in the spirit of my "Remix and Appropriation in the Western Tradition" course at UW-Madison, I decided to remix some audio of Daniel Berrigan and the Beastie Boys.  That might sound like an odd combination, but I think it works decently.  (And course this is not intended to disrespect either Father Dan or the Beastie Boys.  I like them both immensely!)  Anyway, the audio is here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Catonsville Nine reviewed in The Catholic Worker and the Journal of American History

My book The Catonsville Nine has garnered two positive reviews recently.  Arnold Sparr, writing in The Catholic Worker, noted, "Peters has provided readers with the fullest study to date of the ultra-resistance as it played out, beginning with a single draft board action in eastern Maryland in the spring of 1968. Whatever one may think of the Nine's tactics, Peters's compellingly written book will keep their memory alive."  And in the Journal of American History, David Settje wrote, "Peters has contributed a thorough account of each individual and the events before and after their their ritual napalming of draft records. It is required reading in the growing literature about American religious responses to the Vietnam War."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wisconsin Supreme Court avoids "mature minor" ruling

In a decision handed down earlier this month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court avoided ruling on whether so-called “mature minors” should be able to make decisions controlling their own medical care.

Dane County v. Sheila W. started in February of 2012, when a 15-year-old Jehovah’s Witness (identified only as Sheila W. in court documents) was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal condition that prevented her bone marrow from producing blood cells.  Doctors initially treated the teenager with antibodies, but these eventually proved ineffective, leaving her at risk of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.  The physician treating her determined that she would die if she did not receive a blood transfusion.

Although their stance on the issue appears to have softened somewhat in recent years, many Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that transfusions are tantamount to “eating blood,” a practice proscribed by the Bible.   Sheila, in keeping with those tenets of Witness doctrine, refused to consent to the transfusions. She informed one physician that she "would rather die” than live with the stigma of having received a transfusion.   In a later proceeding, the teen told Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust that a blood transfusion would be “devastating to me mentally and physically” because it is “my body, my belief, my wishes.  Sheila even went so far as to say that she thought of considered receiving a blood transfusion equivalent to being raped.

Dane County authorities, believing that Sheila’s health to be in serious jeopardy, took emergency custody of the teen on February 29, 2012. The county subsequently filed a petition for protective services, the goal being to obtain temporary physical custody of Sheila and administer the blood transfusions. Early in March, Foust held a hearing in the hospital and determined that Sheila’s parents were seriously endangering her health by refusing to consent to the transfusions. He did not grant custody to the county but rather appointed a temporary guardian, who then authorized the transfusions.

In her appeal, Sheila W. asked the high court to accept the “mature minor" doctrine as part of Wisconsin law. The doctrine permits older minors who can demonstrate sufficient understanding and appreciation of the consequences of their decision to independently make medical treatment decisions involving their own care, without parental consent.

In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to address the substance of Sheila W.’s claim, asserting that the case was moot since the order appointing the guardian had long since expired.  The per curiam opinion for the court acknowledged that “this case undoubtedly presents issues of great public importance.”  Yet the majority decided that it would be premature to rule on the matter before the state legislature had weighed and passed a statute dealing with “such substantial social policy issues with far-ranging implications.”  (Unlike Wisconsin, several other states have laws that seem to address the applicability of the “mature minor” doctrine is cases relating to health care.)

The majority opinion drew a vehement dissent from Justice Michael Gableman, who criticized his colleagues for ducking their responsibility.  “Life is about hard choices, particularly for members of a state high court,” he wrote.  “Unfortunately, today the only thing the parties receive for their time and trouble before this court is abdication dressed as modesty.”

The Sheila W. case marked the second time in a month that state high court had ruled in a case involving religious objections to medical treatment.  Earlier in July, the justices upheld the second-degree reckless homicide convictions of Dale and Leilani Neumann, whose daughter Kara had died in 2008 after being treated with prayer in lieu of conventional medicine.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sixth Circuit Denies Rehearing in Deportation Case Involving Homeschoolers

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to rehear Romeike v. Holder, a case involving a family of German homeschoolers who have spent the past several years seeking political asylum in the United States.  The family of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, backed by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), now can only turn to the United States Supreme Court for legal relief.

The Romeikes’ legal saga began when they became dissatisfied with the schooling that their children were receiving in their native Germany.   It troubled Uwe Romeike that teachers were failing to control the unruly behavior of many students, as this disrupted the learning experiences of his own children.  Also disturbing to the family were stories used in German readers that depicted devils and witches.  These same books also seemed to valorize disobedient children.  

The family came to believe that German schools were doing nothing to build the character of their children.  And worse, they became to fear that the public school curriculum would influence their children to question Christian values.

To shield their five children (whose ages ranged from two to twelve when the dispute began) from such influences, the Romeikes decided to teach the youngsters at home.  But they faced a significant legal hurdle in doing so: German law has prohibited homeschooling since at least1938.  Education officials there have explained that requiring children to attend schools fosters social integration and ensures that “parallel societies” do not develop.

The Romeikes were prosecuted – successfully – for truancy.  Fines eventually totaling over $11,000 were levied, and authorities warned that they might lose custody of the children.  At one point, police visited the home, placed the children in a van, and drove the children to school.  (A second effort to force the children to school failed when . The next time, four adults and seven children from the Romeikes’ homeschooling support group intervened.)  

To avoid such conflicts, the family fled to the United States in 2008 and sought asylum.  Their claim essentially was that they were fleeing religious persecution at the hands of the German government.
Initially, the Romeikes were granted political asylum by an immigration judge who found that, as homeschoolers, they had reason to fear such persecution.  Judge Lawrence O. Burman claimed that the family had a “principled opposition to government policy” and decried the German policy as “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”  The rights being denied the Romeikes, he asserted, were “basic human rights that no country has a right to violate.”

The federal government appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).   U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the chief investigative arm of the Division of Homeland Security, filed an appeal claiming that homeschoolers were too “amorphous” to be a “particular social group” eligible for asylum.  The appeal argued that “United States law has recognized the broad power of the state to compel school attendance and regulate curriculum and teacher certification,” as well as the “authority to prohibit or regulate homeschooling.”

The BIA sided with ICE and overturned the judge’s finding in favor of the family.   “There is no indication that officials are motivated by anything other than law enforcement,” the court held, finding that there was “appropriate administration of the law, not persecution.”  The board found that the Romeikes “did not establish a well-founded fear of persecution or the higher threshold of a clear probability of persecution.” 
From there, the case then went to a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Here, the Romeikes lost again, with the panel finding that “they have not shown that Germany’s enforcement of its general school attendance law amounts to persecution against them, whether on grounds of religion or membership in a recognized social group.”  Key to this ruling was the court’s finding that Germany applied its truancy laws to all parents who failed to send their children to schools outside their homes.  There was no singling out of the Romeikes because of their religious or political beliefs.

The family petitioned for a rehearing of their case by the full court, but that move was denied.  This sets the stage for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Michael Farris, the founder and chairman of HSLDA, says that the group is backing the Romeikes because the family “deserves the freedom that this country was founded on.”  Farris claims that the Sixth Circuit erred in ignoring the anti-religious origins of Germany’s ban on homeschooling. He also argues that the court failed to acknowledge the Romeikes’ rights as parents.

As they move forward with their case, the Romeikes have drawn attention from a number of groups backing conservative Christian and homeschooling causes.  The Eagle Forum, for instance, has argued that if the family ultimately is deported, “The shadows of the Nazi swastika, an iconic reminder of foreign-bred despotism around the world, will lengthen over America.”

Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) has led a group of 27 members of Congress in urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to grant the Romeike family asylum. “A decision to deny the Romeikes the opportunity to educate their children freely is a decision to abandon our commitment to freedom,”  they write.

It’s understandable that the Romeikes’ plight resonates with such groups.  Homeschooling is widespread in the United States, and it’s only loosely regulated in some areas.  For many, it’s inconceivable that a family could be denied the opportunity to educate their children in this manner, particular when their motivations are religious.  However, the case is not really about the protections for religious liberty and parental rights codified in American law.   Rather, it turns on the standards for granting asylum, which are both different and far more narrow.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds convictions of faith healers

The Wisconsin Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions of Dale and Leilani Neumann, the Wausau-area faith healers who had been convicted in 2009 for their roles in the death of their daughter, Kara.

I'll reading over the opinion this morning and providing analysis here.  I'll update as appropriate.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the court's majority, and Justice David Prosser wrote in dissent (by himself, so it was a 6-1 ruling against the Neumanns).  There were a bunch of minor issues raised (jury instructions, ineffective assistance of counsel, etc.), but both opinions bore down on the apparent exemption for spiritual healing practices codified in Chapter 948 of the Wisconsin Code.

The really core of the majority opinion:  "In sum, when a parent fails to provide medical care to
his or her child, creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm, is aware of that risk, and causes the death of the child, the parent is guilty of second-degree reckless homicide."

 Court argues that Chapter 948 (faith healing exemption) really only protects parents under that statute and not other laws:  "... the text of the treatment-through prayer provision, Wis. Stat. § 948.03(6), does not and cannot lead parents to expect that they are immune from criminal prosecution for second-degree reckless homicide."

And reiterating the above: "A reader of the treatment-through-prayer provision cannot reasonably conclude that he or she can, with impunity, use prayer treatment as protection against all criminal charges."

"The juries could reasonably find that by failing to call for medical assistance when Kara was seriously ill and in a coma-like condition for 12 to 14 hours, the parents were creating an unreasonable and substantial risk of Kara's death, were subjectively aware of that risk, and caused her death."

So the main holding seems to be: the spiritual healing exemption to child abuse is alive and well, but it doesn't protect parents against other criminal charges (such as second-degree reckless homicide).

The court acknowledged that the Neumanns' due process claims were  like those that worked in other states: "Hermanson v. State, 604 So. 2d 775, 782 (Fla. 1992) (When considered together, the spiritual treatment accommodation provision and child abuse statutes failed to give parents noticeof the point  at which their reliance on spiritual treatment lost statutory approval and became culpably negligent. The statutory scheme in place failed to establish a line of demarcation at which a person could know his conduct was criminal.); State v. McKown, 475 N.W.2d 63, 68-69 (Minn. 1991) (The manslaughter statute failed to give the prayer-treating parents fair notice of the prohibited conduct. "[W]here the state had clearly expressed its intention to permit good faith reliance on spiritual treatment and prayer as an alternative to conventional medical treatment, it cannot prosecute respondents for doing so without violating their rights to due process.").

Both majority opinion and dissent are notable for their lack of reference to broad religious liberty issues.  There are no sweeping references to the First Amendment, or Wisconsin's protections for freedom of conscience.  They are very much focused on how much protection Chapter 948's spiritual healing provisions give parents.

Implicit in the court's opinion (I think?) is that the spiritual healing exemption is still in place to protect parents unless they cause "great bodily harm."  So, you can abuse, but that abuse can't lead to serious injury and/or death.

Prosser actually writes somewhat movingly in dissent: "It would be easy to look away from such unconventional defendants and say nothing. But the issues involved in these cases are too important for me to remain silent. First, the facts are not as black and white as they initially appear. Second, the law governing the facts is imprecise and quite confusing."

Prosser cuts to the heart of confusion regarding statutes: "There is a due process problem here. On the facts before us, the statutes are very difficult to understand and almost impossible to explain. Indeed, the statutory scheme is so difficult to explain that if a prayertreating parent were to consult an attorney on how he or she could prayer treat and stay within the bounds of the law, virtually any attorney would be at a loss to reasonably advise the client."

And he calls for legislative reform to remove ambiguity: 'This case is a tragedy in virtually every respect. I cannot say that the result of the Neumann trials is unjust.  Nonetheless, there were and are serious deficiencies in the law and they ought to be addressed by the legislature and the courts. Failing to acknowledge these deficiencies will not advance the long-term administration of justice."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling expected in Neumann faith healing case

It appears that Wednesday, July 3, will bring some resolution to the legal saga of Dale and Leilani Neumann.  The Wausau, Wisconsin, couple were convicted in separate trials in 2009 for second-degree reckless homicide for their roles in the March 2008 death of their 11-year old daughter, Kara, who died from complications from diabetes.  The Neumanns were charged and convicted because, in lieu of conventional medical treatment, they relied solely on spiritual means to heal Kara's illness.

I've been following the case with great interest since 2008 because Kara died not long after my book When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2007) was published.  For the book, I researched hundreds of similar cases dating back to the early 19th century.  I thus wasn't completely surprised by how the legal issues in the Neumann case have played out over the last five years.

My sense is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling with turn on a controversial provision in the state's child abuse and neglect statutes that seems to protect parents who engage spiritual healing practices from criminal prosecution.  The Neumanns were charged under another statute, but their best legal argument is that Wisconsin's laws are confusing: conduct that  is protected under one part of the law is prohibited by another statute.  According to this claim, their right to due process of law thus has been violated.

These cases are interesting because of the complex legal, ethical, and religious issues involved, and it's difficult to predict how they will turn out.  They seem to defy conventional "conservative" and "liberal" interpretations of the law.  So it's possible that we could see some odd bedfellows in the court's majority.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Recent praise for The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era

A "remarkable study" showing "rare sensitivity and insight." -- Noam Chomsky, MIT

"Combin[es] a novel's readability with in-depth historical research." -- Publishers Weekly

"A must read for people of any faith" whose author is a "master storyteller." -- Dissident Voice

"Peters has provided readers with the fullest study to date of the ultra-resistance as it played out, beginning with a single draft board action in eastern Maryland in the spring of 1968. Whatever one may think of the Nine's tactics, Peters's compellingly written book will keep their memory alive."  -- Arnold Sparr, St. Francis College, in The Catholic Worker

"Peters has contributed a thorough account of each individual and the events before and after their their ritual napalming of draft records. It is required reading in the growing literature about American religious responses to the Vietnam War."  -- David Settje, Concordia University, in Journal of American History
"A masterful work of history and group biography." -- Joe Tropea, director of "Hit and Stay," in The Baltimore City Paper

A "carefully delivered rendering." -- Robert Cottrell, California State University, Chico, in Choice

"An original, balanced study" that is "objective, well-written and highly interesting from a variety of angles." -- Patrick Henry, Whitman College, on History News Network

"A well-researched, well-told and gripping account of the incident and its aftermath -- exploring the personalities in a way that other accounts have not."  -- The Catholic Review (Baltimore)

"Despair, anger, ecstasy, and determination are the ingredients of Peters' narrative and he combines these ingredients with the skill of a master storyteller.... This is a must read for people of any faith, whether that faith is in a god or in humanity." -- Ron Jacobs, author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, on

"An excellent book... Careful academic history... For anyone interested in this era of American history, Christian activism, or the Catholic Left, The Catonsville Nine is a very good book."  -- Richard Beck, Abeline Christian University, in Experimental Theology

"The Catonsville Nine is a well-researched, well-written narrative that demonstrates the important role that faith played in the social protest movements of the 1960s. Not only does Peters shed light on the Catonsville Nine, but he also raises the question of how close historians should be to their work and how it impacts the writing." -- Herstory Professor blog

"This is a work of history, not hagiography.  The Berrigans and other activists emerge as flawed enough to be human, and courageous enough to be worthy of the admiration they have often received."  -- Bill Lueders

"Peters shows himself to be a thorough, detail-oriented and entertaining author and historian." -- Catholic News Service

"Meticulously researched, it reads like a thriller.... Shawn Peters' superb account will touch and inspire everyone who cares about peace." -- Activist and author John Dear, S.J.

"An important book." -- Colleen McLean, in Spokane Faith & Values

"Shawn has written a reasonable and balanced account.  As a member of the Baltimore Four, and having lived through these events, I feel that he has done an admirable job....This book is the best that has been penned regarding the Catonsville Nine action -- no question."  -- David Eberhardt (of the Baltimore Four)

"A fascinating new book." -- Matt Rothschild, Editor, The Progressive

"[An] assiduously researched history . . . Peters records with a historian's rigor and the compassionate curiosity of an investigative journalist." -- America Magazine

"A scholarly and readable account of this episode." -- Robert Nowell, in Church Times (U.K.)

Peters "has given us an intriguing story, replete with lessons for resisters of today." -- Rosalie Riegle, in WIN: Through Revolutionary Nonviolence

"I really, really enjoyed this book." -- Tom Hall, WYPR Radio (Baltimore)

A "compelling retelling of this dramatic event from the Vietnam era." -- The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

"A rich and engrossing study" and "a valuable contribution to social and legal history." -- Lawrence Friedman, Stanford University

"Peters has written a complex, gripping account of what led up to the event, the raid itself and its aftermath.  One by one the participants are brought to life....Even for someone like myself, very much an insider, the book has its surprises." -- Jim Forest (of the Milwaukee 14), in Sojourners

"Peters' book adds much to the Vietnam era anti-war history." -- The Notre Dame Review

"An excellent work of history" that "is written in a clear and well-thought-out manner." -- VVA Veteran

"Shawn Francis Peters' telling is as good as it gets.  The book offers a worthy retrospective on a tumultuous and intensely lived time.  I recommend it highly." -- Moni McIntyre, Duquesne University, in Catholic Books Review

"[A] a comprehensive account" and "a readable history." -- Boston Globe

"A story that pulses with energy." -- Zocala Public Square

"The authoritative book on the Catonsville Nine." -- Tripp York, West Virginia Wesleyan College