Faith-based healing march

Opponents of Idaho’s faith-healing exemption will carry makeshift coffins during the March to Protect Idaho Kids on Feb. 19 in Boise.

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BOISE — A bill that would make faith-based healing a criminal offense in Idaho has been drafted and is awaiting consideration for a committee hearing.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, drafted legislation that would remove the exemption from prosecution for parents who don’t seek medical attention for their children due to conflicting religious or spiritual practices. Statutes currently only allow such an exemption for children, which Gannon calls “discriminatory.”

“To say it’s alright to allow children to die from a lack of medical attention by relying on faith healing, but adults must have medical attention is unconscionable,” he said in a press release.

His bill would strike out the exemption involving “the practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone.” A 2016 report from a state task force assembled by the governor found that eight children died as a result of religious objections to treatment between 2011 and 2013.

Gannon said in an interview he will try to get the bill heard by the health and welfare committees, but he has not yet filed it for committee hearing. The likelihood it will get a hearing depends on occurrences outside his control — like when Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue testified in committee on a faith-healing bill last session. The Spokesman-Review reported Donahue said in the March 2017 hearing, “In my county alone, I’ve had three deaths in the last four months. ... My hands are tied as a law enforcement officer.”

The bill considered last session would have made parents who practiced faith-healing on children who died or suffered permanent injury due to lack of treatment subject to civil liability. It was rejected by the Senate in an 11-24 vote.

A large supporter of the bill in floor debate was Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow. Foreman was the only North Idaho senator to vote for Johnson’s bill, according to the Spokesman Review.

While Foreman said he was unaware of Gannon’s proposal in a phone interview last week, he said he predicts there is a low likelihood the Legislature will consider a faith-based healing bill this session.

“Considering the recent history surrounding that topic, I don’t think you’re going to see a bill on that topic (considered),” Foreman said.

Gannon has tried to pass similar legislation every year since 2014 but lacked success.

“The bill is there, the solution is there and the legislature is going to have to address this issue — it’s not going away,” Gannon said in an interview.

Protect Idaho Kids, a nonprofit calling upon the Legislature to act on faith-based healing, will march through Boise Feb. 19 with 183 child-size coffins to represent the children who have died from the exemption as part of the March to Protect Idaho Kids.

The group’s executive director Bruce Wingate said, “Before the march, I’m not so sure there will be much incentive to do something. I hope the march will push it over the top and get these laws repealed.”

In August 2016, members of the Followers of Christ church who believe in faith healing testified before the Idaho Legislature’s Children At Risk of Faith Healing Working Group. According to an Idaho Press-Tribune report, church member Dan Sevy said a parent is entitled to provide a child with whatever type of treatment they believe is necessary, including treatments based in faith and prayer. He told legislators that as a citizen of Idaho and of the United States, he’s entitled to religious freedom.

Kyle Pfannenstiel is a legislative reporting intern for the University of Idaho’s Journalism and Mass Media news service and the McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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