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Opponents of Religious Exemption Law Launch Media Campaign

Mariah Walton, whose parents denied her medical care, stars in several TV commercials, part of the 'Let Them Live' campaign. (Protect Idaho Kids)
Mariah Walton, whose parents denied her medical care, stars in several TV commercials, part of the 'Let Them Live' campaign. (Protect Idaho Kids)
May 16, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - A series of commercials begin airing this week as part of the 'Let Them Live' campaign to repeal exemptions to child abuse laws that allow faith-healing groups to deny their children medical care.

The exemptions, put in place in 1974, shield from prosecution parents whose religious beliefs lead them to withhold medical treatment.

Last year, the Governor's Task force on the subject found the child mortality rate for a Pentecostal group called the Followers of Christ is 10 times the rate of the population as a whole.

Bruce Wingate is founder of the Protect Idaho Kids Foundation.

"It's your right to have religious beliefs and not believe in medical treatment," says Wingate. "It's not your right to have children suffer and die."

The 'Let them Live' campaign will be running five new television commercials, including two that focus on the case of 20-year-old Mariah Walton, who has severe pulmonary hypertension that may require a heart and lung transplant, something that could have been prevented if doctors had closed a small hole in her heart in infancy.

Wingate says Idaho's politicians ignored the issue for years, not wanting to infringe on religious freedom. They promised to write a bill during the 2016 session, but never brought one up for a vote.

"The last three years, we have really been banging at the door of the legislative body and trying to them to change their mind, and they've just kind of stonewalled it," says Wingate.

In December and January the campaign will ramp up with a rally on the Capitol steps and a petition to be delivered to the legislature at the beginning of the 2017 session.

The exemption was first put in place because it was required by the federal Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act.

States had to pass those exemptions before they could get money to fight child abuse.

Forty-two states have now either changed or repealed the law.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID