Idaho is one of only six states where belief in “faith-healing” can help you escape charges of negligent homicide, manslaughter, or capital murder. So if a child dies because her Christian Science parents refused to take her to a doctor, those parents won’t be punished.
Consider the state’s laws regarding children and vulnerable adults, which includes this section:
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.
This isn’t merely hypothetical. Idaho is home to the Followers of Christ sect, and its members have been in the news many times over after their kids died from preventable diseases like pneumonia and sepsis. Because the state won’t prosecute those members, they’ve never changed their behavior. The 2018 Emmy-nominated documentary “No Greater Law” even covered the denomination to understand why members seemed so willing to sacrifice their kids for no rational reason.
This problem has a fairly straight-forward solution: Idaho politicians just need to pass a law removing any and all faith-healing exemptions. When children die from preventable diseases due solely to their parents’ religious extremism, those parents need to be sent to jail. Full stop. Religion should never be used as a Get Out of Jail Free card.
With a conservative trifecta running the state’s legislature, however, every attempt at passing such a law has failed. An organized effort to remove the exemption began in 2014, but it hasn’t gotten anywhere. And because of that Republican refusal to act, more children have paid the price:
… Coroner’s reports obtained through records requests by the Idaho Statesman showed eight child deaths, including stillbirths, associated with faith healing since the start of 2020 in Canyon County, where the Followers of Christ’s largest church group is located. A Statesman investigation published in February 2020 found 11 faith healing deaths in the same county during the previous five years.
Coroner’s reports showed one child died after he was sick for six weeks with strep throat that developed into pneumonia. Another child died after becoming bloated with their own waste, which was attributed to short-segment Hirschsprung disease, a genetic condition in which nerve cells are absent in parts of the digestive system. Hirschsprung disease can often be managed with surgery…
The same Christians who call themselves “pro-life” are sticking their heads in the sand while babies die for no reason other than their parents’ religious gullibility.
The Idaho Statesman also reports, however, that there’s reason for hope. Some of the Republicans who stood in the way of the legal changes needed have since left the legislature and their replacements may be more open to the possibility of doing the right thing. This session alone, about a third of the legislature is brand new.
[Follower of Christ watchdog Linda] Martin said shifts in the Legislature could bode well for renewed efforts. Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, did not seek reelection this year after 11 terms in the Legislature. Lodge, who represented many members of the Followers of Christ Church, has been a staunch opponent of removing Idaho’s faith healing exemptions.
Martin, who has lobbied Idaho legislators to change faith healing exemptions, told the Statesman she believes Lodge was key in blocking previous legislation.
“If it hadn’t been for Patti Anne Lodge, we would’ve had this changed years ago,” Martin said in a phone interview.
But the hope is extremely slim. As with so many other states, some of the Republicans in office are even further to the right than the people they replaced, and opposition to the change will likely come in the form of “parental rights” and “religious freedom.” Even Republicans will get away with letting babies die if they frame it in terms of freedom.
Maybe there’s at least one exception to that rule. One of those new Republicans is Geoff Schroeder, who’s openly atheist. In an email, he told me that he “would support repeal or amendment” of that law I mentioned above, which said parents who choose faith-healing “shall not for that reason alone” be said to have violated care for their child. Whether he would sponsor such a bill himself, though, probably depends on its likelihood of passage, so a lot more legwork would have to be done.
Regardless, as the article notes, it’s not hard to find hypocrisy in the Christian cult; members of Followers of Christ wear glasses to correct their vision and take medicine to control their blood pressure. They never just pray to God when it involves their health. Yet their babies can suffer and lawmakers are letting them get away with it.
Plenty of Christians will tell you medicine and doctors are part of God’s Plan. They can reconcile sickness and health with their faith without problem. In other words, it’s not anti-Christian to pass a law punishing parents whose negligence kills their children. It’s only a matter of certain Idaho politicians having the courage to protect the most vulnerable members of society from faith-healing parents who don’t care if their kids die on account of their religious beliefs.