Bill to repeal faith healing exemption introduced
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee introduced a bill to remove one of the state’s faith healing exemptions, a step that’s previously been denied.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, introduced the bill to repeal a section of Idaho’s “desertion and nonsupport of children or spouse” law.
Currently, the law states one spouse is legally obligated to care for their spouse in a destitute condition or medical danger. But there is an exemption under the care of a child section, stating the parent may choose “treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone” instead of medical attendance.
“This would require there be at least some kind of medical attention,” Gannon said.
Desertion and nonsupport of a child, if convicted, is a felony crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
There is another criminal statute that Gannon’s bill doesn’t address, which also includes an exemption for religious beliefs rather than medical care. Legislators haven’t been able to get a hearing on in past years.
The injury to child criminal statute allows parents and guardians to decline to seek medical treatment for ill children if they say it is against their religious beliefs.
That law states that a guardian who “chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.” That means the guardian may allow an ill child to live without medical treatment, and potentially die, without being criminally charged.
Gannon said if they can remove the religious exemption under the desertion and nonsupport statute, he believes providing medical attention would become enforceable.
The last time legislators debated a change to faith healing exemptions was in 2017, with a much-criticized bill that was voted down on the Senate floor, according to an Idaho Statesman report.
Groups such as the Followers of Christ, in the Canyon County area, practice faith healing. The small Christian faith publicly states that they believe pharmaceuticals are the product of Satan and if they give their child the product of Satan, the child would be damned to hell. Law enforcement from Canyon County in prior legislative sessions has been vocal about child deaths and their inability to intervene.
Gannon’s bill needs a full public hearing to move forward.