A bill that would protect children from faith healing parents has been killed by Republican lawmakers in Idaho.
According to reports, Republican lawmakers will not allow legislation that would protect children by changing Idaho’s faith-healing exemption to be introduced during this year’s legislative session.
Earlier this year, Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat from Boise, submitted a bill that would remove the exemption in the child injury law for faith-healing parents in cases where there is an imminent risk to their child of permanent physical harm or death.
Previously Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, a Republican from Twin Falls, said he would allow a hearing on modifying the law. However, he now claims it is too late in the legislative session to introduce the much needed legislation.
Perhaps more telling, Rep. Heider says he’s not likely to support the change in state law that would protect children from faith healing parents because he believes such a change would prosecute parents for exercising their religious beliefs.
Currently a religious shield law protects parents who claim to be acting out of religious faith, so when a child dies in Idaho due to lack of medical care, faith healing parents are not held accountable.
Idaho statute 18-1501 protects practitioners of faith healing. It reads:
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.
In effect, the law allows parents to martyr their children for their faith, choosing prayer over modern medicine without fear of legal consequence.
Defending the status quo, Heider, who describes himself as “pro-life,” said:
I’m a First Amendment guy, and I believe in the First Amendment, which gives people freedom of religion.
Earlier this year Heider said:
I believe the law is pretty straightforward. We would encourage them to seek medical care. But we don’t force people to seek medical care and whether it’s because they can’t afford it or in this case because of their heartfelt religious belief we simply don’t do that.
In other words, the “pro-life” Republican believes parents have the right to kill their children with prayer.
Idaho Republicans like Heider are protecting Christian extremists like the Followers of Christ Church, a notorious collection of small and secretive Christian fundamentalist congregations that make a habit of watching their children die rather than seek medical attention. The church teaches that modern medicine should be shunned in favor of prayer, and the consequences of church doctrine have been tragic: the preventable deaths of many innocent children.
The church preaches faith-healing and rejects modern medicine in favor of prayer and other spiritual practices such as anointing the sick with oil. The church is notorious for allowing sick children to suffer and even die rather than seeking medical attention.
Previously Idaho Rep. Christy Perry (R) claimed faith-healing parents have a First Amendment right to deny medical care to their children on religious grounds, arguing that they are perhaps more comfortable confronting the death of their children.
Children do die. I’m not trying to sound callous, but (reformers) want to act as if death is an anomaly. But it’s not — it’s a way of life.
Apparently trying to justify the hideous act of allowing a child to die due to lack of medical attention, Perry added:
They are comforted by the fact that they know their child is in heaven. If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?
Perry’s words are perverse and despicable. To allow a child to die so as to be with an imaginary god is beyond abuse, it is madness.
Child advocate Marci A. Hamilton sums up the dismal situation for children in Idaho:
Idaho has become a destination for believers who use faith only to treat illness and whose children, therefore, die in stunningly large numbers from easily treatable illnesses. The state’s religious exemption for medical neglect and its extreme religious liberty statute make Idaho a haven for parents who would martyr their children for their faith. This is not what the Framers intended or what the First Amendment requires. The blood of these children is on the hands of the state legislators who continue to fail to make Idaho a safe haven for its children because of irrational deference to parents and faith.
Bottom line: Idaho Republicans fail to protect children from faith healing parents, and fail to punish negligent parents who choose to substitute prayer for medical treatment. By failing to act, Idaho Republicans put children at risk.
(Portions of this article were previously published here.)