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Shawn Vestal: If kids in Idaho want attention from the Legislature, they should point a gun at a federal official

If children in Idaho are looking for love from the Legislature – or simple protection from zealot parents – they’re not going about it the right way.

What they should do is take up arms against the government.

The Legislature would treat them like heroes.

There is seemingly nothing that certain elected officials in Idaho will not do on behalf of those who point rifles at federal agents.

They will applaud an armed yahoo in the Capitol chambers as though he were a visiting dignitary.

They will write letters urging leniency for armed yahoos who took sniper positions and aimed their rifles at Bureau of Land Management agents.

They will pose with armed yahoos for photos and post those photos on social media, while “sending love” to imprisoned armed yahoos …

But they won’t stop parents from neglecting their kids to death. That’s just religious freedom. And they won’t intervene to prevent marriage by children as young as 17 or 16 or 15 or 14.

Last week, a bill that would have banned the marriage of children younger than age 16 failed to pass the Idaho House of Representatives by a margin of 39-28. It remains legal in Idaho – which leads the nation in child marriages per capita – for 14-year-olds to marry, so long as they have permission from a judge and the parents. Children ages 17 and 16 can marry with just their parents’ permission.

Frequently, such unions are between adult men and teen girls who have become pregnant, and often under pressure from parents who oppose out-of-wedlock births or abortion.

The failed legislation would have set the minimum at 16, and required parental and court permission for marriages by kids age 16 and 17.

“I appreciate the goal the bill is trying to accomplish here, but I think this bill goes too far,” said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls.

Hammett Rep. Christy Zito cited statistics supposedly showing that people who marry at 15 have a pretty good record of staying together, according to news accounts of the legislative debate. She also expressed concern about abortion – because when it comes to inexplicable, backward politics, abortion is always baked in.

“If we pass this law, it will then become easier in the state of Idaho to obtain an abortion at 15 1/2 years old than it will be to decide to form a family and create a family for a child that’s been conceived,” she said.

If this takes you by surprise, you probably haven’t followed the Idaho Legislature’s refusal to eliminate its faith-healing exemption to manslaughter laws. Because a majority of Idaho lawmakers have continually supported a parent’s right to neglect a child to death, as long as they do it religiously.

Year after year, the Legislature has protected the rights of cultists who believe medicine is “sorcery” to allow their children to die. This is not a theoretical situation – an estimated 183 children have died in Idaho because of withheld medical treatment since the faith-healing exemption was adopted in the 1970s. Many of them are associated with the Followers of Christ, a faith-healing sect near Boise.

Like child marriage, Idaho leads the nation in faith-based child death, according to the nonprofit Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty.

Another effort is being ramped up this year to pass legislation eliminating or modifying the faith-healing exemption. I wish the smart money was on its passage.

Meanwhile, over in the executive branch last week, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin was celebrating an armed yahoo who went to the first Bundy standoff in Nevada in 2014.

That man, Todd Engel, is serving a prison sentence on charges stemming from the fact that he drove to the standoff and took a sniper position on a roadway above the standoff behind a barricade, with a loaded AR-15 and wearing a vest with extra ammunition, in order to prevent federal agents from moving Bundy’s cows off federal land.

Engel and other Idahoans who took guns to that standoff have become heroes of a sort on the unhinged right.

Last year, Stanley Rep. Dorothy Moon invited Eric Parker, a man who was photographed aiming, sniperlike, at the feds, to the House. He was greeted with such applause that it had to be gaveled down.

In 2017, 33 legislators and five retired lawmakers wrote to then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to “have those in charge of this case” put an end to a prosecution in the state of Nevada of Parker and another armed Idaho yahoo. The men have since pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and remain much-admired martyrs in the American Redoubt.

McGeachin posted a photo last week on her Facebook page, standing between two men in orange prison jumpsuits with “ENGEL” written across the front. The men are making a hand gesture – similar to an OK sign – that has become a feature of the alt-right as well as a symbol of the extremist militia group the 3 Percenters, an organization of fever-dreaming patriots who like to play-act armed rebellion against tyranny.

The criticism was swift, and McGeachin took down the post.

There’s a lot of debate about what that hand gesture signifies. People flash it like a gang sign. Some have used it as a white power sign; some trolls seem to use it just to rile libs. If it’s not a white-power sign, though, it’s definitely a white power-adjacent one.

But set aside the hand gesture. Why do rifle-wielding criminals continue to receive such adoration from elected officials in Idaho?

Under her now-deleted photo, McGeachin wrote, “Sending love to Todd Engel from the Idaho Capitol and ‘getting to know’ the new Senate Pages.”

If only the state’s children could get some of that love.

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