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Emotions Run 'Raw' in Faith-Healing Testimony at Idaho Statehouse


  • Ryan Johnson
Two minutes before noon on Monday, Oct. 10, Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) turned to his fellow lawmakers serving on the Children at Risk-Faith Healing Working Group, took a deep breath and said, "It's a raw and emotional issue and hard to talk about. I'm sure you are going to get a lot of questions from a lot of people between now and January when the Legislature reconvenes. Be prepared."

Palmer's comments followed testimony from 45 citizens who stood before the legislative working group at the Idaho Statehouse to weigh in on Idaho's so-called "faith-healing" exemptions, which shelter parents who refuse traditional medical care from criminal prosecution for abuse, neglect and even manslaughter.

The bipartisan panel, comprised of members of the Idaho House and Senate, in August heard from the Governor's Task Force on Children, which published its Idaho Child Fatality Review this past summer. The report concluded at least five Idaho children died in 2013 because their parents' religious beliefs kept them from accessing traditional medical care. The team said as many as 10 Idaho children died in similar circumstances over a period of three years. 

"Imagine a row of kids sitting behind me today—kids who would still be alive today," resident Brian Hoyt testified to lawmakers. "Please have the courage to repeal these religious exemptions."

"[Medicine] is witchcraft," said Nathan Kangas, a member of the Followers of Christ. "Freedom of religion is what this country is based on."

"Consequences should be suffered by the adult, not the child," argued Boise attorney Kirtland Naylor. "Let children live long enough to make their own choice."

"None of you will hold a higher regard of my child's interests any higher than me," said Elexa Beikmann, pointing to the lawmakers. "These people are dutiful parents making a conscious decision on what form of treatment they choose for their children."

Testimony was taken through much of the morning, with citizens alternating between dramatically opposed views on the exemptions. That is until the final half hour of the session, when proponents of the exemptions dominated the testimony, concluding with 25 citizens in favor of the exemptions and 20 others saying they should be removed.

When the Idaho Legislature reconvenes in January 2017, the committee is required to report to the full House and Senate. Some members are expected to work over the next few months on new legislation addressing the controversy.