Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, explaining SB 1182, his faith-healing bill, to the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning, said, “I’m not sure that it really changes a whole lot, other than it moves a bunch of words and sentences around. It does remove the defense statement, but it qualifies it on the next page.”
Johnson said his bill restates Idaho’s current religious exemption from civil liability for child abuse or neglect as an “affirmative statement,” and clarifies some wording. It also references Idaho’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, citing rights to free exercise of religion. “That is a fundamental right that applies to all parenting decisions,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his bill makes no changes to Idaho’s criminal laws, which include a religious exemption from charges including manslaughter and murder if a child dies from being denied medical care.
Johnson said his bill removes a clause from the current law about a “bona fide religious denomination that relies exclusively on this kind of medical care.” He said, “We’re taking this out because we felt it was ambiguous, may be a trap for the courts,” in line with guidance from the Idaho Attorney General’s office that it could violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment and equal protection guarantees.
Johnson said his bill also adds “new language” saying that a court, when determining if a child is being neglected by being denied medical care in favor of prayer in a case that is “likely to result in serious permanent injury or death” the court “shall consider the wishes of the child.”
Johnson said, “It’s my understanding that this flows along with the Child Protection Act in Title 16 in Idaho Code.”
Senators on the panel had lots of questions for Johnson. Among them: Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, asked Johnson at what age a court would consider the wishes of the child. Johnson said, “That can happen, I presume, with any child at any age to gather information. ... My guess is that the courts are going to have to consider the age of the child,” when they weigh how to consider those wishes. “It’s going to be up to the courts to make that determination,” he said.
There’s a big crowd here; 30 people have signed up to testify on the bill. "We're not going to get to everyone today," said committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton.
Johnson recounted the work of a legislative interim task force that examined the issue. “Our goal was to reach a balance between protecting children and honoring parents’ free exercise of religion under the First Amendment,” he said.