Editor’s note: Interesting debate on who gets to decide if a child gets conventional medical treatment which goes back to the old assertion by HSLDA that parents ‘own’ their children. But when children start dying from preventable causes due to a parent’s religious beliefs at what point does the government step in to save the life of the child?
Many of the nearly 600 people buried here were Followers of Christ — a Christian sect that believes in faith healing and does not allow members — including sick children — to see doctors or use modern medicine. The Pentecostal religion, founded in the 1930s, has long had a presence in Western states. Former members say the church has become increasingly secretive about its beliefs and population after years of negative attention for deaths related to spiritual healing.
Several of the children buried here at Peaceful Valley Cemetery died from preventable ailments like pneumonia and food poisoning. And 70 percent of these children died after 1972, when religious exemptions protecting faith healers from charges of neglect, abuse and murder were enacted in Idaho and around the country. If a child dies or is abused in Idaho, law states that a parent can’t be found guilty if they believe in spiritual healing.
“The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child 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,” the law reads.
But today, some people wonder how many of the dead children here could have been saved. Idaho is one of only six U.S. states that allow religious exemption for negligent homicide, manslaughter or capital murder. While some have called for the Gem State’s law to be revised, efforts have gained little traction. A bill introduced last year was swiftly nixed by Idaho’s House speaker, and lawmakers say they haven’t heard of any bills coming forward in this year’s session. And this week, the House State Affairs Committee passed a bill — despite emotional testimony — that recognizes that Idaho parents and guardians “have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.” Many expressed concern that this was just another covert protection for faith healers