Emerson Joe Anderson
In 2017 Emerson Joe Anderson died at three years old after suffering seizures for two years. His mother said the seizures generally followed times of stress or extreme fatigue, or initially a high fever. Toward the end of his life the seizures came about every three weeks and two or three times a day. The family of five children lived in a camp trailer off a dirt road in rural Parma. The children were home schooled. The parents belong to the Followers of Christ and never sought medical attention for Emerson. The coroner found the cause of death to be gastric aspiration likely due to seizure disorder.
Steven Paul Hughes
Steven was born with spina bifida and Arnold Chiari malformation; he died from untreated bronchial pneumonia at the age of 2 in 1982.
According to his aunt, he never received any form of therapy for his birth defects and was not allowed the use of a wheelchair or any other adaptive equipment.
The aunt was not notified that Steven had been ill, because the Followers are afraid that ex- members like the aunt may turn the family into Child Protective Services
The aunt also said that Steven’s grandmother, who was present at his birth, claimed he had been born with a tail. She probably had that impression because of the spina bifida. She thought he was possessed by the devil.
Micah Taylor Eells
In 2013 Micah died at four days old with a bowel obstruction and sepsis. Such a blockage usually causes extreme pain and repeated vomiting. The birth had been unattended. No autopsy was performed, but the coroner’s external examination found the belly distended and hardened and the scrotum sac swollen to four times normal size.
One other picture is not of an Idaho child and is difficult to see, but offers a example of the suffering caused by faith-based child neglect. Alayna’s photo helped persuade Oregon legislators to completely repeal all of Oregon’s religious exemptions both criminal and civil in 2011.
Idaho’s religious exemptions in the civil code at 16-1602(28) and 16-1627(3) were enacted in 1975 when the federal government under the Nixon administration had a tragically misguided policy of coercing states to pass religious exemptions to neglect in order to get federal funding for child abuse prevention and treatment programs.
In 1983, after many deaths of children from faith-based medical neglect, the federal government rescinded the policy. Most states have made revisions to their religious exemption laws, but Idaho remains one of only nine states that has kept these laws in place.
Our First Amendment right to religious freedom is precious but not without limits. The United States Supreme Court has rendered decisions indicating that harming others based on religious beliefs is unconstitutional. The basic legal premise for compelling treatment in this country rests on a court-made distinction between religious beliefs and practices. The 1879 U.S. Supreme Court case of Reynolds v. U.S. (98 US 145) which involved polygamous marriage practices, set a precedent that, while guaranteeing the free exercise of religious beliefs, permits the state in certain circumstances to limit religious practices. Generally, when the state can demonstrate a compelling interest in the preservation or promotion of health, life, safety, or welfare religious practices may be curtailed
In 1944 Prince v. Massachusetts the court claimed “the family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither the rights of religion nor the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation…. The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death….
Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”
Our Idaho Constitution Article l section 4, prohibits “any preference being given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.” Faith-healing looks very much like a prohibited preference for a particular mode of worship.
Another weird twist on Idaho’s religious exemptions is that Idaho code 18-401 grants religious exemptions for child neglect, but if a spouse is neglected there is penalty of a $500 fine or a prison sentence of up to 14 years, or both.
The Idaho legislature has in recent years moved to protect children from religious practices. In 2019 House bill 114 was passed into law making it a felony with a penalty up to life in prison for female genital mutilation.
A letter written by the head of the task force to Governor Butch Otter indicated that “the death rate of children in the Followers of Christ—an Idaho religious sect that rejects medical care—is possibly more than ten times higher than the child death rate in the rest of the state.”
The faith-healing community represents less than ½ of 1% of Idaho’s population. The other 99.5% of Idaho parents are held responsible to provide food, shelter, clothing, and yes medical care for their children. Failure to do so can result in felony or misdemeanor prosecution. The laws should be equal for all parents and children.
The Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk as far back as 2012 recommended these laws be changed:
“Because members are supportive of religious freedom, they recommend that the standard for state intervention (when contrary to parental religious beliefs) be limited in scope. It should include, and only include pediatric cases in which the child’s death or severe disability is imminent and would, within a reasonable degree of medical certainly, be prevented by the administration of appropriate medical care. The law would not be used to mandate routine medical care (i.e. well child visits, immunizations, etc.) or coerce parents to give consent for the same.”
Eight years later religious exemptions remain unchanged.
The legislature did make one attempt in 2017 to address the issue. The Governor appointed a committee to study religious exemptions. They did draft their own bill, however one of the committee members stated: “we have managed to bring a bill that neither side can like”. The bill did not pass, and no other bills have been heard since.
There are many other reasons we would like to have the Idaho legislature remove the religious exemption clause from the civil statutes and more information can be found by visiting our website at www.ProtectIdahoKids.org. Please help us remove these exemptions and let these children live.
Bruce Wingate Founder, Protect Idaho Kids Foundation www.protectidahokids.org