Some say more children die in Idaho due to faith-based religious neglect than in any other state, but Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue is working to change that, calling the situation “an embarrassment” to the state.
Idaho drew national attention in 2016 when it was revealed that five children died unnecessarily due to religious-based medical neglect three years earlier. Since then, some legislators have tried to repeal the state’s deadly faith-healing statute, which allows parents to choose prayer over medical care without consequence, but they have been unsuccessful.
Donahue, who is himself a Catholic, formed an investigative unit at his Sheriff’s department to probe the death of every child connected to the Followers of Christ, a small Christian sect that, much like Christian Scientists, champions faith-healing and opposes modern medicine.
He’s also testified in the State Senate, saying that parents should be held criminally liable if they allow their children suffer without getting help from a doctor. He’s not alone. Back in February, a group called Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) published a full-page ad in the Idaho Statesman asking legislators whether children had a right to live in the state:
It’s unclear what effect that had. Donahue hasn’t been successful either, in part because legislators see this as a religious freedom issue. Anything that curtails parents’ religious right to raise their children, even if it affects their kids’ physical well-being, will likely be blocked. Even if multiple children have died from faith-based negligence.
The Followers of Christ cult has members in a number of states, but its largest concentration is in Canyon County. Some people who grew up in the church say it was “violently abusive both physically and mentally.”
In the seventh grade I wanted so badly to have friends and be accepted in a world that was not the “Followers”. I decided to try out for wrestling against the wishes of my mother and step father as it was with people of the world.
During wrestling, my left foot had two metatarsals broken. When my mother was notified she came and picked me up from school. I was taken home where the normal Followers’ treatment was received.
There was always a bottle of Manischewitz wine in the refrigerator. This bottle was communal and shared, any disorder that ailed you was healed thru the body of Christ in the wine. Be it measles, the flu, common cold, migraine, broken bones, whatever ailed you, it was the cure. You step right up and have a swig directly from the bottle, letting your faith in the body of Christ cure you.
As for the topical treatments, look no further than the bottle of rancid olive oil sitting in the cupboard. The olive oil was used for all manner of treatments. A pus oozing wound, no problem, a couple rubs of the sacred and blessed olive oil will do the trick. Broken bones, rub some rancid olive oil on it. Your chicken pox itch, yep rub that olive oil. Let us not worry about cross contaminations, you see when it turns cloudy and white it is not the perfect breeding ground of rancid shared contamination, no, that is the body of Christ blessing it with his spirit.
Donahue says he hopes his investigations into the child deaths will cause the coroner to conduct additional examinations. There is a problem with that, though. Canyon County Coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morris has opposed changes to the law despite the fact that she sees child deaths from the church “maybe once, twice a month or maybe less.” (She later clarified that she meant “one to two, three maybe a year.”)
Donahue responded to the confusion over statistics, saying “One child is too many.”
“I don’t have to wait to see if there is five or 10 or 20, I don’t have to. I already know. One is too many.”
I have to agree with Donahue on this one. If there is even a single preventable death as a result of this “religious freedom” statute, and there have been many, then the law should be changed. These are children who can’t protect themselves, or choose for themselves, and we are allowing them to die because their parents don’t believe in medicine. This is something that needs to change.
Representatives at the Canyon County Sheriff’s Department and the Canyon County Coroner’s Office didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday.
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