[Vision2020] Religious shield laws and tragic child deaths

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Thu Nov 10 02:47:26 PST 2016

Courtesy of today's (November 10, 2016) Moscow-Pullman Daily News with special thanks to Nick Gier.


His View: Religious shield laws and tragic child deaths

By Nick Gier

"Dead children don't care about the First Amendment."
- John Gannon, Idaho Democratic legislator

Forty to 100 Idahoans die each year because they have no health insurance. The primary cause of this senseless tragedy is the Republican Legislature's refusal to extend Medicaid to 78,000 Idahoans.

Hundreds of Idaho's children have died because of Idaho's religious shield law, which prevents the prosecution of parents who fail to provide medical care for their sons and daughters. Even though the Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk recommended changes to this law, a legislative committee assigned to study it this summer adjourned without doing anything.

Appearing before this committee, a member of the Followers of Christ testified that his church believes children are property, and that they do not seek medical care because doctors are from Satan.

Child activist Linda Martin, a former member of this fanatical sect, claims that two of this man's children died of untreated pneumonia.

"Pro-life" legislators are fiercely committed to the unborn, but they appear to give less value to their lives after birth. There are honest differences of opinions about whether the fetus is a person, but there is no question about the issue with regard to children and adults.

Martin is touring the state and speaking about the effects of Idaho's failure to protect its children. She left the Followers of Christ at 16, and, at a meeting in Moscow, she testified to the needless child deaths in her family and among members of her former church.

One of Martin's cousins died of untreated pneumonia. Suffering for 10 years, another cousin died because he received no insulin for his diabetes. An unrelated 15-year-old girl in the church fell ill from food poisoning. She vomited so hard that she ruptured her esophagus. Without medical care she bled to death.

Martin experienced outright hypocrisy and discrimination by some church members. They would take one child to the doctor but let others expire of treatable medical conditions. Some would neglect their sick children completely, but then seek medical help for their own illnesses.

Every American has a First Amendment right to follow her/his own conscience and to lead a life of their chosen faith. We have always held that the integrity and validity of beliefs are unimpeachable, but here we have clear examples of religious belief being used inconsistently and cynically with fatal results. It seems to me that these people have disqualified themselves from claiming a religious exemption.

Joining Martin on the Moscow panel was University of Idaho law professor Shaakirrah Sanders. Her most salient point was that religious exemptions for medical care may violate the Free Exercise Clause.

The government cannot prefer one religion over another, nor can it discriminate against people who have no religious faith. This means that atheists who neglect their children could be prosecuted, but believers are protected by the shield law. This is discrimination plain and simple.

Sanders maintained that children have a right to their own legal counsel and the right to petition a court. With the aid of a guardian ad litem a child could ask a judge to overrule the parents' refusal to provide medical care.

Most of the Followers of Christ reside in Canyon County where the coroner has done few if any autopsies on their members' deceased children. This county requires no permit to bury human remains and many church children have no birth certificates. Idaho has no proof of their existence or the nature of their deaths.

One cannot murder in the name of religion, and one cannot consume illegal drugs (except ceremonial peyote) in the name of religion. But nine states, including Washington, still allow believers to neglect their children to the point of death.


On October 25, 2016 the Moscow Human Rights Commission presented two important speakers who discussed the religious exemptions for faith healing in Idaho, a pressing and controversial topic.

"Religious Shield Laws and Children's Rights: An Education Forum"

Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares"
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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