In Idaho, Lawmakers Attempt To Criminalize ‘Faith Healing’

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Idaho protects parents from charges of child abuse, neglect, injury and manslaughter if they choose faith-based healing.

Legislators in Idaho are seeking to change the state's laws regarding 'faith healing', which currently do not protect children from death or injury due to the religious beliefs of parents.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, drafted legislation that would remove the exemption from prosecution for parents who don’t seek medical attention for their children due to conflicting religious or spiritual practices. Statutes currently only allow such an exemption for children, which Gannon calls “discriminatory.”

“To say it’s alright to allow children to die from a lack of medical attention by relying on faith healing, but adults must have medical attention is unconscionable,” he said in a press release.

In 2016, a task force put together by the governor released a report on its findings: between 2011 and 2013, eight children died as a result of their parents refusing medical treatment on religious grounds.

Gannon's bill would remove the exemption involving “the practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone.”

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, said he does not believe the bill will get a vote this session. Foreman was the lone Republican to vote in favor of a similar bill last year.

There is hope that the bill might be looked upon more favorably following a protest march planned next month:

Protect Idaho Kids, a nonprofit calling upon the Legislature to act on faith-based healing, will march through Boise Feb. 19 with 183 child-size coffins to represent the children who have died from the exemption as part of the March to Protect Idaho Kids.

But those in favor of allowing parents to pursue faith-based healing have been vocal as well, espousing their religious freedom to parent as they see fit:

In August 2016, members of the Followers of Christ church who believe in faith healing testified before the Idaho Legislature’s Children At Risk of Faith Healing Working Group. According to an Idaho Press-Tribune report, church member Dan Sevy said a parent is entitled to provide a child with whatever type of treatment they believe is necessary, including treatments based in faith and prayer. He told legislators that as a citizen of Idaho and of the United States, he’s entitled to religious freedom.

According to Pew Research Center, Idaho is far from the only state with controversial laws surrounding a child's rights versus those of the parents:

[In] 34 states (as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico), there are exemptions in the civil child abuse statutes when medical treatment for a child conflicts with the religious beliefs of parents, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, some states have religious exemptions to criminal child abuse and neglect statutes, including at least six that have exemptions to manslaughter laws.

Comments (1)
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Janet Heimlich
Janet Heimlich

My nonprofit the Child-Friendly Faith Project is involved in this issue. Thanks for raising awareness of religious child medical neglect in Idaho. However, your headline does a disservice to advocates working on this issue in a very religious state. Nowhere are we trying to criminalize so-called "faith healing." We are wanting to criminalize all child medical neglect in Idaho. It would be more accurate to say lawmakers attempt to criminalize "faith healing" child medical neglect.