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Eye On Boise

Two new faith-healing bills introduced; neither would lift exemption from criminal charges for parents

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, answers questions from reporters Wednesday after introducing legislation regarding faith-healing in Idaho. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, answers questions from reporters Wednesday after introducing legislation regarding faith-healing in Idaho. (Betsy Z. Russell)

Two new bills regarding faith-healing were introduced this morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee; Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said he’ll likely be scheduling a full public hearing on one or both of the measures, which are competing.

The first one, from Dan Sevy, who’s a member of a faith-healing sect, would provide further consideration for faith-healing parents in Idaho, by directing courts, when they order emergency medical treatment for a child in cases of neglect, to consider other forms of treatment beyond medical care. “What this … simply does is recognize there are other forms of treatment besides medicine,” Sevy told the committee. He said, “I represent only myself.”

The second one, from Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, would make a series of changes to Idaho’s faith healing exemption laws, but would leave in place the exemptions from criminal prosecution for parents whose children suffer serious injury or death, making changes only in civil provisions.

Idaho is one of just two states with faith-healing exemptions in four areas of its state law: Manslaughter laws, civil liability for abuse or neglect, misdemeanor criminal charges for neglect or injury of a child, and felony criminal charges for neglect or injury of a child. The other state is Virginia. At an October legislative interim hearing, 45 people testified; 20 called for lifting Idaho’s religious exemptions from child abuse, neglect and manslaughter laws; while 25 opposed the move.

Johnson co-chaired the legislative interim panel. He said the bill reflects not just his work, but that of other lawmakers as well. “The Senate leadership has reviewed this, and it’s my understanding they have shared this language with the House,” he said.

Johnson’s bill would replace blanket religious exemptions in Idaho’s civil laws regarding child neglect with references to the state’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the state to defer to religious rights unless a compelling state interest requires intervention. It makes no changes to Idaho’s criminal laws. He said the bill seeks to avoid “criminalization of parents,” instead focusing on civil law to “allow the court to protect children.”

In civil neglect cases, it says children who are treated with prayer alone aren’t considered to be neglected “unless the failure to receive medical treatment is likely to result in serious permanent injury or death.” It also adds a clause saying a court “shall consider the wishes of the child” in deciding whether the child is being neglected.

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I’d like to thank Chairman Johnson for the extensive work he’s done on this over the summer, and others who have been involved … and worked hard … on trying to find a solution to a very important and very sensitive issue. It’s not easy to find just the right works to cover every single circumstance, in fact, maybe it’s not even possible.” But he moved to introduce Johnson’s bill. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Siddoway said, “I, too, would like to offer my thanks and my appreciation to you for not only the work of the interim committee but also the work to try to bring all sides and all of the ideas and to do that on this issue where the feelings are so close to the heart. I really appreciate your efforts there. Thank you.”

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, moved to introduce Sevy’s bill, Hill seconded the motion, and it carried with no discussion or questions.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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