Activists in Idaho are continuing their push to repeal or amend laws that protect parents from prosecution when they allow their children to die from preventable illnesses by denying them medical care and relying exclusively on prayer and spiritual healing.
Last Wednesday, a panel discussion organized by The Campaign To Protect Idaho Kids, a nonprofit organization, said more than 200 children in Idaho have died of preventable illnesses and diseases since a 1972 state law began allowing parents with religious objections to medical treatment to have the legal right to let their children die from medically preventable illnesses.
Idaho is one of six states in the U.S. where religious exemptions are allowed for negligent homicide, manslaughter or capital murder. Since 2014, activists against faith healing have lobbied the Idaho Legislature to change the law, but haven’t gotten much support due to concerns about parental rights and religious and medical freedom, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Activists like retired Idaho Supreme Court justice and former Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones said the exemption needs to be amended or repealed. The Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, where he serves as a member, is prepared to mount a legal challenge against it to prevent more children from dying.
“I have looked at doing the same for the faith healing exemption. We may well do it and take it to court, but it would be so much easier if public policy was directed by the Legislature and they just repealed the exemption,” Jones said, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. “It has resulted in the deaths of many children.”
The Followers of Christ church, an infamous religious group that shuns western medical practices and embraces only healing by the power of prayer, have been accused of allowing children to die from preventable deaths. The causes of death range from food poisoning and diabetes to pneumonia and heart defects.
Linda Martin, a former member of the church, told the Idaho Statesman that she witnessed family members die as a result of the church’s beliefs.
Martin, who is now 68 and lives in Oregon, left the church when she was 16, but still monitors deaths connected to the church.
Coroner’s reports reviewed by the Idaho Statesman “showed eight child deaths, including stillbirths, associated with faith healing since the start of 2020 in Canyon County, where the Followers of Christ’s largest church group is located,” the publication said.
Another report by the publication in February 2020 found 11 faith-healing deaths in the same county during the previous five years.
“How many people are willing to sit back and say, ‘This doesn’t affect me’?” Martin told the Statesman. “When you see that kids are hurting, how do you step away when you can help?”