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As a young mother, Muriel Ellen Hornack was alarmed when her first child developed a croupy-sounding cough.

So the Salt Lake woman took her 2 1/2-year-old son to see a friend who was a pediatrian. The doctor told her that her child would probably suffer from asthma all through his life. But if the child ever had enough trouble breathing to turn blue, she should call him to get a pill.Hornack decided to ignore the advice of medical science in favor of her religion, Christian Science.

"I had always used Christian healing for myself and had many healings in my home," she said. "Now I was a young mother and I had to try my own wings.

"Every healing I had for myself seemed easy. My mom was doing the work. Now I was in the position where I had to be the one to have this kind of understanding in God and in God's healing power.

"I knew that I couldn't accept that my child would have this problem all of his life - and that certainly wasn't what I had been taught in Christian Science all of my life."

So Hornack called a Christian Science practitioner. "The practitioner prayed for my child and I became a better Christian Scientist because I did my own prayers as well.

"He was completely free of asthma in, I would say, a couple of weeks and has never, never had shortened breath or a cough since."

Belief strong since childhood

Hornack practiced her beliefs in healing on all of her three children's sicknesses, "on everything from a broken toe to bronchial asthma and all the scrapes in between, all the falls off the bikes and things." She says her beliefs worked effectively.

She and other members of her faith - there are five Utah congregations - gather every Wednesday evening to testify of their healing experiences.

The church's religious beliefs have been on trial in seven different courts during the past decade. In the first case of the 1990s, a Christian Science couple, David and Ginger Twitchell, were convicted earlier this month of manslaughter in a Boston court in the 1986 death of their 21/2-year-old son, Robyn. A jury deliberated for more than 14 hours before deciding the Twitchells were negligent in their parental responsibilities to provide medical care. Their son died of a bowel obstruction after a five-day illness.

`Prosecution against faith'

"This has been a prosecution against our faith," Twitchell said after the verdict was returned. An appeal will be filed, the couple's attorney says.

Prosecutor John Kiernan said the case was about crime, not religion. "What the case proved is the right to believe is absolute - the right to practice is not.

"This boy was sacrificed for his own parents' pursuit of spiritual purity."

But the conviction didn't injure Hornack's faith. She says she has witnessed too many healings not to believe that spiritual power can mend the physical body. "I think we should look at the wonderful success rate that we have," she said. Within Utah congregations, "I have never known of any less than 100 percent (healings). That's not to say we don't have problems. But when it works for you all the time, you don't think of failing.

"I think David Twitchell said it very well. In an interview that was on television he said, `It's never God's fault. It would be that his (the healer's) understanding was not good enough.' "

Medical consultations OK

She said Christian Scientists are free to consult medical doctors, as she did as a young mother 25 years ago, if they feel so inclined.

Christian Scientists respect the rule of law, Hornack said, and feel the Twitchell court case invokes the issue of religious freedom as promised by the U.S. Constitution. The jury's decision disregarded the fact that the Twitchells acted under the provision of state law, she said.

She said when a child dies under medical treatment, most people are more likely to grieve with the parents. Yet, after suffering similar losses, some Christian Scientists have faced criminal trials as well as personal grief.

"The Bible tells us that God is all power. I choose to believe that," she said. Hornack comprises the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Utah. She makes up the one-woman committee, she says, because she is committed.

Daily scripture study

Members study the scriptures daily as well as lessons found in church founder Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." Christian Scientists meet together on Sundays and during weekly testimony meetings. All meetings, as well as their reading rooms, are open to the public. "Nothing's required, you do whatever you want to do. You get as close to God as you want."

In addition to family healings, some members of the church with special healing gifts function as practitioners, who keep regular office hours and make house calls to provide additional power to members. Their chief spiritual healing tools are prayer and faith. And the church trains its own nurses, who bandage physical wounds, Hornack said.

Many people turn to the healing religion as a last resort, after they have exhausted remedies offered by medical technology, Hornack said.

Hornack was in a local grocery store about a year ago when a glass bottle shattered, cutting her. Blood was gushing from the cut, but Hornack declined the care of emergency personnel. She had to sign releases promising not to sue the store. "Everyone just looked like `Oh, this lady, she is really different.'

"The important part is that I walked out, drove my own car home and went away on the next flight early the next morning to Boston, and never had any pain or stitches or any of that.

"I had absolutely no pain, no sensation and no scar."