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Opponents of Religious Exemption Carry Children's Coffins to Capitol

The coffins at Monday's march signify the children who have died from faith-based medical neglect in Idaho. (Bruce Wingate)
The coffins at Monday's march signify the children who have died from faith-based medical neglect in Idaho. (Bruce Wingate)
February 19, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Marchers will carry 183 child-sized coffins to the State Capitol Monday to honor and symbolize each of the children they say have died because of Idaho's faith healing exemption law.

Idaho is one of only six states where parents who withhold medical care for religious reasons are exempt from manslaughter charges.

Bruce Wingate is the founder of Protect Idaho Kids, the group staging the march. He says it's in response to lawmakers being unlikely to address the exemption during this legislative session, and also failing to address it last year.

"On average, three to four kids die a year from faith-based medical neglect,” he states. “That would mean six to eight more children die.

“That's, to me, just not acceptable – to just let it go and say, 'Okay, we're too busy getting elected,’” he states. “’We don't want to deal with this issue right now,' and have eight more kids die."

The march starts at 3 p.m. in Julia Davis Park. Wingate says its tone isn't meant to be dark, but to honor the children.

Groups that rely on faith healing cite their First Amendment right to practice their faith.

Canyon County has been the epicenter of the faith based neglect deaths, where County Sheriff Kieran Donahue is a vocal opponent of the faith exemption.

Before becoming sheriff, Donahue says he worked on many of these cases as a detective, and wants legislators to act.

"It's very frustrating, has been frustrating for years,” he states. “I absolutely don't think it's right that someone who comes up with an idea that, 'This is my religion, so I can treat or mistreat my children, the most vulnerable in our society, there's nothing you can do about it.'"

Wingate supports people's freedom to practice their religion, but believes it can't infringe on the rights of children.

"It's not really a religious freedom issue, although that's what the legislators have used for years,” he states. “It's really a child protection issue, it's a child neglect issue. You can believe what you want. You just can't neglect your child."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID