Faith Healing Bill Doesn't Go Far Enough, Critics Say
BOISE, Idaho – The Idaho Senate held a hearing on a bill Monday concerning the exemption faith healing receives as a medical practice for treating children.
The Senate State Affairs Committee heard from Sen. Dan Johnson of Lewiston, Senate Bill 1182, which would make changes to the civil provisions in Idaho's faith healing exemption laws, but would leave in place exemptions to criminal prosecutions for parents whose children are injured or die.
Another bill, Senate Bill 1181, has been shelved for now. It would expand faith healing as a practice by directing courts to consider prayer and other forms of medical treatment beyond medicine.
Bruce Wingate, founder of the Protect Idaho Kids Foundation, opposes both bills.
"There needs to be a deterrent, and these two bills are totally unacceptable from the standpoint of protecting the kids," he states.
Idaho is one of only two states with faith healing exemptions for manslaughter, 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.
A bill addressing faith healing exemptions has been months in the making. In October, the Legislature had an interim hearing on religious exemption laws.
In December and January, there were two known cases of children dying because they did not receive medical treatment for preventable diseases.
Wingate says before these bills, several resolutions were written but never heard, and that lawmakers might be looking to sweep this issue under the rug.
"If that's the temperament of the Legislature, I would say that probably they will try to pass these as quickly as they can and hope that the problem goes away,” he states. “It won't. We will keep on it until we get some relief for the kids, but I think that's their intention."
Wingate says the focus in Idaho has been on protecting the religious freedoms of adults, yet the rights of children are rarely considered.
"The Legislature wants to center this around religious freedom and we have no quarrel with that, but when it harms children, there's also another issue and that's the right to life for these children," he stresses.