Oct 12, 2016

Residents remain divided on faith healing rights

RUTH BROWN rbrown@idahopress.com

Idaho Press-Tribune

Oct 10, 2016

BOISE — Nearly 50 people offered passionate testimony Monday to state legislators in favor and against “faith healing,” or what some residents said was a fight over religious freedom and parental rights.

According to Idaho law, if a child is ill, his or her guardian is legally required to seek medical treatment. However, if the guardian claims they only believe in the power of prayer, rather than the use of modern medicine, it is not illegal for the parent to refuse to take the child to doctor.

The working group for Children at Risk of Faith Healing met at the Statehouse to hear testimony on whether a parent’s faith can be a justifiable reason to not seek medical treatment for sick children.

Lawmakers did not make any decisions on the faith healing exemption Monday. Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said the committee does not plan to meet again before the 2017 legislative session begins and does not plan to make a formal recommendation.

Johnson said staff will write a letter from the minutes of the meetings for the use of other lawmakers who are not on the committee.

In the last year, legislators have heard heated debate over whether mandating that faith healers seek medical treatment is a violation of their right to religious freedom.

Testimony was split between those in opposition of removing the exemption for faith healing and those in favor.

Tiffany Hix testified in favor of removing the faith healing exemption from the statute. Hix said she was not present Monday “to throw stones,” but she noted that any other person would be criminally charged for not providing medical treatment to a sick child.

“Should a small group of people be given a special exemption to break laws that apply to the rest of us?” Hix asked the legislators.

The Followers of Christ church in Canyon County believes in faith healing. Members of the Followers of Christ believe that pharmaceuticals are the product of Satan and if they give their child those pharmaceuticals, the child will not be able to find eternity in the afterlife.

Nathan Kangas is a member of the Followers of Christ and testified before legislators, arguing that while some children die after faith healing attempts, many children die in hospitals after malpractice.

“We do not neglect our children. We love our children,” Kangas said. “(Non-believers in faith healing) persecute us while their children died in a hospital.”

Kangas said he felt he needed to serve God and should not “endanger” his children with the possibility of eternal damnation.

Dan Sevy, also a member of the Followers of Christ, told lawmakers that he felt his doctrine was being attacked by law.

“It’s a roundabout way to intimidate a way of practicing religion,” Sevy said. “... A way to try and make my beliefs illegal.”

Multiple people from Health Freedom Idaho testified before lawmakers about the use of natural medication and allowing parents to make their own decisions about how to treat illnesses. Health Freedom Idaho is not related to faith healing, but revolves around a right to choose personal health choices.

Ashley Cates was one person who testified for Health Freedom Idaho in opposition of removing the exemption for faith healing.

While Cates does not practice faith healing, she explained that when her daughter was sick and medication was not improving the child’s health, Cates and her husband decided to stop the treatment.

After stopping the medication, against a doctor’s recommendation, Cates’ daughter began to get better.

“There must be protection for parents to not take the drugs associated with Western medicine,” Cates said about medical care for children.

Other testimony came from concerned parents who were worried about government interference.

Brad McIntyre said he does not practice faith healing but was concerned about parental rights.

“It is a slippery slope that we start telling parents how to parent and telling religions what they can and cannot do,” McIntyre said. “I think we need to protect our rights as citizens of the United States and as citizens of Idaho.”

Andrew Kukla, a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Boise, testified that half of his family members are Christian Scientists who do not choose to use doctors on a faith belief, but he personally does not believe that.

“I am grateful for a country that fights for our religious freedom and for their religious freedom,” Kukla said.

While Kukla said he respects religious freedoms, he asked legislators to consider the healthy limits of religious freedom.

“This (legislation) is saying when our backs are up against the wall and our child’s life is in danger, we use every resource possible to protect them and heal them,” Kukla said.

Ruth Brown is the public safety and digital first reporter. Contact her at 465-8105 or rbrown@idahopress.com. Follow @RuthBrownNews.



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