Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
A group of Idahoans has called on the Idaho Legislature to repeal or amend the so-called faith-healing exemption that protects parents from prosecution if they deny life-saving care to children on religious grounds.
The Campaign To Protect Idaho Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that conducts campaigns to raise awareness about child abuse and other causes related to children’s well beinng, organized a panel discussion on the topic Wednesday afternoon at the Idaho State Capitol.
At issue is a section of Idaho law that was amended in 1972 to say, in part: “… that the practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to be a violation of the duty of care to such child …”
Panelists said more than 200 children in Idaho have died of preventable illness and disease since the exemption was added.
During the discussion, retired Idaho Supreme Court justice and former Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones called for the law to be amended or repealed. He said a group he is a member of, The Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, is considering challenging the exemption in court.
“I have looked at doing the same for the faith healing exemption. We may well do it and take it to court, but it would be so much easier if public policy was directed by the Legislature and they just repealed the exemption,” Jones said. “It has resulted in the deaths of many children.”
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, was scheduled to participate in the panel discussion but he announced Wednesday afternoon that he was one of two legislators who tested positive for COVID-19 and left the Statehouse. Instead, he participated remotely via Zoom from home. Gannon said he is working on legislation to amend the law and hopes the Legislature will make the change this year or in the near future.
Wednesday’s discussion was not an official legislative committee hearing, and no bills were presented or considered.
Former Idaho first lady Patricia Kempthorne, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue and former Clackamas County, Oregon, prosecutor John Foote also participated in the discussion.
Speakers on the panel emphasized they were not seeking to criminalize faith healing or exercising religious faith, they instead want to remove the exemption when it applies to denying life-saving care or medicine.
Donahue, who said his office has dealt with instances of faith healing, said it would be more fair to remove the faith healing exemption from law.
“For me, at least, it goes back to the uniformity and equality under the law,” Donahue said during the discussion. “Recognizing we live in a society of laws and, outside of this exemption, we impose those laws and we hold people accountable.”
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