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Attleboro, Massachusetts, a city of 42,000 on the border with Rhode Island, is witnessing a troubling clash between the rights of parents and the responsibility of the state to protect children.

The parents of newborn Jeremiah Corneau and 11-month-old Samuel Robidoux are accused of allowing them to die. The two sets of parents say the boys died in accordance with God's will. State prosecutors charge that the parents, not God, are responsible. Samuel's parents, Jacques and Karen Robidoux, face a murder trial that starts this month.

Jeremiah's parents, Rebecca and David Corneau, have not been charged with a crime. The state has, however, taken their other four children into protective custody. In addition, a juvenile court judge in February ordered the Corneaus jailed for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of a baby officials believe was born in late 2001. The Corneaus say Rebecca had a miscarriage but refuse to disclose the location of the child's body. State officials suspect that the child is alive and being hidden by family members.

Both families belong to The Body, a small, insular sect whose members embrace faith healing and reject modern medicine. Members believe they receive direct revelations from God. Sect founders Roland Robidoux and Roger Daneau were members of an Attleboro Bible study that evolved into a group of about 20 adult members at its peak in the 1980s. Most members come from their two families. Daneau, 62, was found dead March 7 of an apparent heart attack at the sect's communal home.

The case has raised important legal questions about state intervention in the lives of fervently religious families. Constitutional scholar Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School believes that while parents should have wide ...

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In the Magazine

May 21, 2002

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