After 12 Deaths in Idaho: Should Religious Exemptions on Faith Healing Be Repealed?

Peaceful Valley Cemetery

Idaho is one of 32 states who have religious exemptions and where 12 children are victims of faith healing.
Religious Exemption: Yay or Nay?

32 states have religious exemptions to certain crimes against children. 6 out of those 32 states allow religious exemption in cases concerning manslaughter, capital murder and negligent homicide charges. However, only 6 states in the past 2 decades have had children die due to parental adherence to faith healing alone. Idaho has earned its own disturbing distinction: in the past 3 years, at least 12 children have died from easily treatable medical conditions.

The law, enacted in the 1970s after a series of high profile child deaths, says that parents can substitute prayer as a form of treatment, however if they are to use prayer, they lose their religious exemption if they do anything else to care for the child. According to Rita Swan, co-founder of the Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) group, the moment a parent uses another form of treatment, such as antibiotics or even orange juice, they lose their exemption.

The known children to have died from faith healing practices by their families, all of whom were members of the Followers of Christ Pentecostal group, in Idaho have been buried at the Peaceful Valley Cemetery, a Follower’s cemetery, just outside of Boise. 35% of the 604 graves are children’s graves. Roughly 70% of the 208 children were buried after Idaho’s adoption of the religious defense to manslaughter.

People Speak Out

A former member of the group is fighting for a change, along with a few select advocates. She was the one to urge KATU News to dig deeper into Idaho, despite the punishment of shunning from her church and family. KATU discovered that most of the child deaths go unreported, one coroner, Vicki DeGeus-Morris, told reporters she completely stopped autopsying the children of the Followers altogether.

However, one father apart of the Followers, Dan Sevy, had one comment to share after his son, a 14-year-old, died from pneumonia in 2011. “I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you can take ‘a’ freedom away. It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Yours and mine.”

Mark Jerome, the grandfather of a newborn girl who lived for 20 minutes before her death of untreated pneumonia, shared the same views. “That’s the way we believe. We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things.” Most of the children died from causes like pneumonia, sepsis and an “easily treatable case of food poisoning.”

Does a Law from the 1970s really need to be around still?

There is a lot of controversy here in the hearts and minds of everyone. Law officials refuse to amend the laws, in spite of the 1944 Supreme Court ruling that stated while adults could become martyrs all they wanted, they were not allowed to let their children become martyrs. A bill calling for change earlier this year was kept from reaching the board by Scott Bedke, the state House speaker.

Would removing the law be a negative thing or a positive thing? Does it infringe on all of your freedoms, as Dan Sevy said? Or does it simply protect the children from being harmed on the basis of what their parents believe?


Follow the Conversation on Twitter


Leave a comment