Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told reporters today that he’s written a letter to legislative leadership asking for attention - including convening a legislative work group - on protection of children in the face of religious exemptions from medical care. “How we can protect the children, which we can assume the state responsibility for any citizen and especially children, but at the same time respect the religious tendencies that folks may have against medical attention?” he asked. “At what point does that become child neglect and abuse? It is a question that I can’t answer, the legal eagles can’t answer.”
“I think everybody cares about the health of children,” Otter said. “But we also have to remember the very first amendment to our Constitution, in that very first amendment and the very first of the five freedoms that were enumerated, No. 1 was religion, No. 2 was speech, No. 3 were you guys, the press. And then assembly and petition for redress of grievances. But No. 1 was religion, so in that spirit I think we keep that in mind. ... I think it’s important to remember that they didn’t do ‘em alphabetically.”
In his letter to legislative leaders, released this morning, Otter noted that he issued an executive order in 2012 forming the Idaho Child Fatality Review Team under his Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk. The team reported its findings last April, he wrote, "including an analysis of two deaths related to refusal of medical care because of religious or personal beliefs. However, interest in the issue has grown in the past few months and further review may be needed."
"I believe we must give this issue a thorough examination," Otter wrote. "I am therefore asking that you consider convening a legislative workgroup to assess the Child Fatality Review Team's report along with other sources of research and testimony regarding this policy issue."
As it happens, several child advocate organizations are holding a public hearing today at 5:30 p.m. in the Capitol's Lincoln Auditorium on the issue. They’re calling for legislation eliminating the religious exemption as a reason not to seek medical care for children.