Despite the deaths of least 12 children from “faith healing” Christian families in their state, lawmakers and public officials in Idaho have refused to challenge a state law providing a religious exemption from manslaughter and murder charges, Vocativ reported.
The childrens’ families belonged to a Pentecostal group known as the Followers of Christ, which punishes members who seek medical care by shunning them from their church. According to state law, parents can substitute prayer as a form of treatment. The religious exemption covers manslaughter, capital murder and negligent homicide charges, but cannot be cited if a parent uses any other form of treatment on top of praying for the child.
“If the parent combines prayer with orange juice or a cool bath to bring down a fever, the parent loses the exemption,” Rita Swan, co-founder of the advocacy group Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, said.
According to Swan’s organization, Idaho is one of 32 states that have religious exemptions to felony or misdemeanor charges involving children.
A bill calling for a change to the law did not advance in the state legislature earlier this year. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Gannon (D), told Vocativ that pursuing a new bill is “honestly not something that I’ve thought a lot about lately.”
Similarly, Republicans appear unwilling to push for a change to the religious exemption.
“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” state Rep. Christy Perry (R) said. “This is about where they go for eternity.”
KATU-TV reported last year that, out of 553 marked graves at a cemetery outside of Boise, 144 of them appeared to be burial spots for children, constituting about 26 percent of the deceased.
Among those buried was Jackson Scott Porter, a newborn girl who lived for just 20 minutes before dying in her grandfather’s home. The girl’s mother did not receive any pre-natal care. Her cause of death was listed as untreated pneumonia.
“That’s the way we believe,” the grandfather, Mark Jerome, told KATU at the time. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things.”
KATU also reported that local officials believe that another minor, 14-year-old Rockwell Sevy, had undiagnosed Down’s syndrome before he also died from pneumonia, in 2011.
Sevy’s father, Dan Sevy, refused to discuss his son’s death with KATU last year, citing his right to freedom of religion.
“I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take ‘a’ freedom away,” Dan Sevy said. “It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”
Vocativ reported that, according to autopsy records, each of the children from “faith healing” families who have died over the past three years succumbed to conditions that could have been treated medically. No charges have been filed in any of their deaths.
Watch KATU’s report, as aired last year, below.