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The US Supreme Court Monday refused to hear a lawsuit against the Church of Christ, Scientist, and two Christian Science practitioners in Michigan. The civil suit arose from the 1977 death of Matthew Swan, an infant who died as a result of complications from what was medically diagnosed as meningitis.

The justices let stand a Michigan Supreme Court ruling upholding the state Court of Appeals and a county circuit court. Both had refused to order a trial on grounds that the suit would violate the religious freedom of the church and its members.

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The case has been in litigation for more than 10 years. Lawyers for the child's estate had demanded a trial, insisting that the practitioners, who had prayed for Matthew at his parents' request, were negligent and had misdiagnosed the case.

But a lawyer representing the church pointed out that the practitioners never offered any medical diagnosis and that to place the issue before a court would amount to placing the Christian Science religion on trial.

The Michigan appeals court ruled that ``religious conduct is permissible and protected unless the state can show a compelling interest in interfering with the conduct. Even then, the state must act in the least restrictive manner. We find no merit in [the] argument that ... [a negligence suit] is the least restrictive means of regulating spiritual healing practice.''

``The Supreme Court decision to let this ruling stand ... confirms the fundamental integrity of our system of justice,'' said David Nartonis, a church spokesman. ``For a religion whose record of love and good care for children has been too often ignored, this is deeply significant.''

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