BOISE – Idaho lawmakers looking into issues surrounding the state’s faith-healing laws took more than two hours of emotional testimony Monday, but won’t make any recommendation to the full Legislature.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, the panel’s co-chairman, said the group was charged with reviewing the subject, and that some legislators on the panel are talking about potential new laws. Currently, 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.
Forty-five people testified on Monday; 20 called for an end to Idaho’s religious exemptions from child abuse, neglect and manslaughter laws and 25 want the laws to remain unchanged.
Gov. Butch Otter asked legislative leaders to form the special committee, after legislation was proposed unsuccessfully for the past few years to lift or amend Idaho’s religious exemptions.
Among those testifying Monday were members of the Followers of Christ, a faith-healing sect whose members described medicine as “sorcery” and “witchcraft.”
There also were several members of Health Freedom Idaho, a group whose members said they feared a “slippery slope” if the religious exemptions are repealed, with government perhaps moving next to block parents from choosing alternative medicine or declining to immunize their children.
Elexa Beikmann said she knows better than lawmakers what’s in the best interest of her own children, and said that’s true of faith-healing parents as well. “They’re at their bedsides praying,” she said. “These people are dutiful parents making a conscious choice on what kind of medical treatment they’re going to provide for their children. That is not neglect.”
Brian Hoyt, who grew up in a faith-healing sect, read the names of numerous babies and young children who have died in Idaho since 2011 for lack of medical care, including a 15-year-old girl who died of a ruptured esophagus after several days of vomiting from food poisoning.
“Dead kids. It can’t be any clearer,” Hoyt said. “It’s not about religion or freedom. Our criminal laws reflect our social values. What does it say about Idaho, giving a free pass to a small religious minority in cases of manslaughter or criminal neglect of children?”
Washington has religious exemptions from both civil liability and felony charges of child neglect, but not misdemeanor neglect charges or manslaughter.
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