BOISE — A march organized by Protect Idaho Kids rallied against Idaho’s faith-healing exemptions in Boise on Monday.
Despite windy conditions and cold temperatures, local leaders and clergy joined about 150 participants who marched through downtown Boise to the Idaho Statehouse, protesting Idaho’s faith-healing exemptions. They urged Idaho legislators to repeal immunity in state code for religious groups who deny children medical care based on religious beliefs.
Nearly every marcher carried signs and one or two small coffin frames — 183 in total — to symbolize the infants and children who advocates claim died due to medical neglect since Idaho enacted religious exemptions in the 1970s.
“These coffins may be symbolic, but the children whose lives were cut short were certainly not,” Bruce Wingate, founder of Protect Idaho Kids, told the crowd at the Statehouse. “This is not about religion. This is about child protection.”
Pastor Brenda Sene from Hillview United Methodist Church in Boise joined other clergy at the front of the long line of marchers on Monday. Sene said she participated in the march because she felt it was important people see a different kind of Christianity and faith.
“I’m always amazed some Christians don’t realize that God can work through doctors and medicine,” Sene said.
Sene also echoed the sentiments of several of the speakers, including Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue and Interfaith Alliance director Judy Cross, who called on the legislators to stop placing religion above the safety of Idaho children.
“Adults should be held criminally liable when they fail to seek medical help for seriously ailing children,” Donahue said.
The Followers of Christ Church, a religious group opposed to medical treatment, has a following in Canyon County and the surrounding area. In recent years, group members have argued that mandating that faith healers seek medical treatment is a violation of their right to religious freedom.
During the march, Willie Hughes told the gathered audience about his childhood in a Followers of Christ Church in Meridian. Hughes said he lost his younger brother to bronchial pneumonia after his parents and the elders of his church refused to allow him medical care. Hughes was similarly denied medical care during childhood accidents and left the church when he was 16, he said.
Hughes said his parents shunned him after he was hospitalized for a surgery. Years later, both his father and mother sought medical care for heart surgery and stroke recovery, respectively, he said.
“This is how I will always remember the people of this cult,” Hughes said. “Both my parents received the medical care they denied their children.”
The march concluded with an interfaith vigil in the rotunda of the Idaho Statehouse and a screening of documentary “Dark Clouds over Canyon County.”