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Panel wants legislation introduced to address faith-healing issue

Records indicate that more 200 children in Idaho have died due to faith- healing practices
(AP Photo/Keith Ridler)
(AP Photo/Keith Ridler)(Keith Ridler | AP)
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 11:10 AM MST
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BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —On Wednesday at the Lincoln Auditorium, a panel of experts and advocates discussed upcoming legislation to either limit or repeal a faith-healing religious exemption in Idaho. The Gem State is one of a few states that shields practitioners from civil or criminal prosecution when their child dies or is seriously injured and goes without medical care when the parent{s} choose to treat a child with prayer rather than modern medicine

The event, which was sponsored by the Campaign to Protect Idaho Kids, had panelists that included:

● Patricia Kempthorne - the former first lady of Idaho and member of the national board of Parents as Teachers

● Jim Jones - former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and state attorney general

● District 17 Rep. John Gannon

● Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue

● John Foote - the former Clackamas County prosecutor responsible for the removal of Oregon’s religious exemption law

There also was appearances from:

● Linda Martin - former member of one of Idaho’s prominent faith-healing communities, the Followers of Christ Church

● Guido Giuntini - a lecturer in Boise State University’s Department of Economics

Former Idaho State Attorney General Jim Jones said since statehood Idaho has had laws on the books requiring parents to provide proper medical attention to children under the age of 18 years old, and anyone who didn’t could be prosecuted for medical neglect.

However, in 1972 a statute was introduced and passed (18-401) that allowed an exemption for parents that practice faith-healing medicine and choose to treat a child’s injury or illness through prayer rather than modern medicine.

According to the panel, records indicate that more than 200 children in Idaho have died due to faith-healing practices, and medical experts said 90 percent of them would have lived if treated with modern medicine.

A recent study from two Boise State professors revealed a child whose parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church is four times more likely to die before reaching 1 year old than a child in the general population.

“It’s interesting we have about a half dozen or so laws on the books that says you cannot kill a fetus in the womb, but once the child is born that child is on its own here in Idaho,” said Jones. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Rep. Gannon said one of the issues with the faith-healing exemption is that it only applies to children and not adults. Under the statute, a person can be prosecuted for medical neglect for not providing a spouse with proper medical treatment. The faith-healing exemption does not apply to spouses.

Some people who are against the repealing of the exemption are worried parents could be prosecuted for not getting their children vaccinated due to religious reasons. Others think it violates a person’s parental rights.

Jones said any legislation introduced to roll- back the exemption would likely focus on diagnostic care, such as, broken bones and illnesses, not preventive care such as vaccines.

The Campaign to Protect Idaho Kids intends to propose legislation in the 2022 session.

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