An ongoing series of preventable deaths among children of parents who belong to a religious sect, have prompted an Idaho lawmaker to draft a bill that addresses how the state deals with the issue of faith healing when minors are involved.
Democratic Rep. John Gannon of Boise wants to follow Oregon’s lead and require parents to seek medical help for kids suffering from potentially fatal conditions — even if their religion teaches they should rely on faith healing instead of medical treatment.
He proposes amending Idaho’s law and to lift the faith-healing exemption from the state’s ‘injury to a child’ criminal statute in cases where a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.
In Idaho, someone found guilty of felony injury to a child — causing conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death or permitting a child to be injured — can get a decade behind bars.
But the law has this exemption: “Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.”
Gannon’s proposal would lift that exemption “whenever a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.”
“Medical treatment for physical harm to a child should supersede every other consideration,” Gannon said.
The bill was prompted as a result of numerous deaths among children whose parents belong to the Followers of Christ church in Marsing, Idaho.
The church is part of a group of churches by the same name in Oregon, Oklahoma and Canada — though observers consider some of these churches to be splinter groups.
In response to numerous preventable deaths at that church, in 2011 the State of Oregon passed a law that removed legal protection for parents who choose faith healing over medical intervention when treating their children.
As noted at the end of the report, there appears to be a historical connection between the Followers of Christ and the General Assemblies and Church of the First Born — another faith healing church whose doctrines and practices have resulted in many preventable deaths.
Resistance to the bill
According to the Associated Press,
Gannon wants to introduce his bill in the Legislature, but there’s already resistance.
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said she fears the bill tramples on religious freedoms and parental rights.
“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” said Perry, whose district is not far from the Followers’ Idaho church. “This is about where they go for eternity.”
Support for the bill
However, the bill is also finding support. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he is willing to consider updating faith-healing exemptions.
“I’m concerned any parent would put their religious beliefs ahead of child welfare,” Will said. “It just stuns me.”
Significantly, the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho stands behind Gannon, saying that while they support religious freedom, faith healing crosses a line in some cases.
“Religious freedom is a huge thing for us and we’re very committed to religious freedom of all faiths,” spokeswoman Judy Cross said.
She points out that the Interfaith Alliance supports prayer, meditation, and faith healing. But she says there’s a line, and that current faith healing laws in Idaho cross it.
Gannon also has the support of former Followers of Christ member Linda Martin, an Oregon woman who left the church in Idaho decades ago. She says members of her family are still in charge of some of the churches.
Followers of Christ
The doctrines and practices of the Followers of Christ Church mark it as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.
Sociologically the church is cult-like as well as members who — usually in secret — do see a physician or use medicines are shunned and considered not saved.
A former member’s advice for those still in the church:
Senate Bill 6295 — Addresses the protection from abuse and neglect of children and dependent persons, including frail elder and vulnerable adults, with regard to cultural and religious practices and beliefs.