Already, several children have died because their parents were members of the Followers of Christ church in Oregon and believed that illnesses could be cured through prayer instead of by trained professionals. The state, in response, passed a law that removed religious exemptions in the case of such a death.
In Idaho, the list of children who have died through religious neglect may be even longer, but the state hasn’t acted on it.
Considering the state’s House and Senate are run by Republicans, I was doubtful that the law would change, but it looks like common sense is finally making a breakthrough:
Democratic Rep. John Gannon of Boise says Idaho’s existing faith-healing exemptions for injury-to-a-child crimes should be updated. He has support from Linda Martin, an Oregon woman who left the church in Idaho decades ago and has returned this week to champion the changes.
“These children need a chance to grow up,” Martin told The Associated Press Thursday.
In Idaho, someone found guilty of felony injury to a child — causing conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death or permitting a child to be injured — can get a decade behind bars.
But the law has this exemption: “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.”
Gannon’s proposal would lift that exemption “whenever a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.”
“Medical treatment for physical harm to a child should supersede every other consideration,” Gannon said.
This is one of those bills that ought to be immune from debate. You can respect religious freedom while still drawing a line at preventable deaths of children due to the parents’ religious beliefs.
But Republican Rep. Christy Perry seems to think the death of a child is okay as long as the parents were true believers:
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said she fears the bill tramples on religious freedoms and parental rights.
“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” said Perry, whose district is not far from the Followers’ Idaho church. “This is about where they go for eternity.”
Here’s the kicker: Perry is pro-life. I guess she allows exceptions for rape, incest, and parents who pray really, really hard. (And maybe not even the first two.)
If we were talking about any issue besides religion, this would be a no-brainer. You kill someone else, you deserve to be punished, case closed. But for some reason, throwing God into the mix changes Perry’s reasoning, as if a faith-based homicide is somehow acceptable.
Gannon’s bill hasn’t been introduced yet, but when it does, legislators from both parties should be doing everything they can to make it law. This isn’t a political issue; it’s just common sense. And it sure as hell doesn’t trample on anyone’s religious freedom. If you believe God wants you to pray your way through an illness, have at it, but no one — including a parent — has the right to force that option on someone else.