Controversial faith healing legislation narrowly advances

Posted at 2:38 PM, Mar 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-20 19:14:14-04

Lawmakers expect to adjourn the 2017 Legislative Session on Friday, but the impending deadline has not stopped them from addressing one of the most controversial issues of the year: faith healing. 

The Senate State Affairs Committee heard emotional testimony from those for and against the practice of faith healing on Monday.  A bill introduced by Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, would tweak civil laws to make it easier for judges to intervene in faith healing cases. 

"It's a concern to me to see people prosecuted for their belief in God," Paul Shippy, a member of the Followers of Christ church, said. 

Under the proposal, families can still cite religious reasons for medical decisions without fear of being charged with abuse or neglect. A religious exemption in Idaho code gives parents the legal right to rely on the power of prayer instead of traditional forms of medicine when caring for their children. 

"I have watched children die for 60 years," said Linda Martin. "I have personally called child services when some of my relatives were dying. I was told there was no help for them."

Martin testified against the bill. She said it doesn't go far enough in protecting Idaho's children. The bill doesn't address criminality of the practice.

"We all live under the rule of law, we are a nation of laws," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. "Yet, we have a small minority of people who are exempt from law enforcement investigating what we consider to be crimes against children." 

Donahue said three people practicing faith healing in Canyon County have died in the last four months because of the lack of medical attention.

"We found a way to introduce a bill to offend everybody," Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said. "We weren't looking for applause. We were looking, instead, for something that could be a partial solution that could also have a chance of passing."

Davis said there isn't enough support in the legislature to pass a bigger change to Idaho law. 

The bill advanced out of committee of a 5-4 vote. It is now headed to the Senate floor.