Having followed this issue for over a year, and researched it considerably, my conclusion is that the emphasis for creating change has been focused in the wrong area. Almost everyone who has approached this issue has relied on asking our Idaho lawmakers to change the laws. This approach has not worked, and does not look like it is going to work in this year’s legislative session. The legislators just do not want to put themselves in the middle of a religious rights vs. child protection dispute. They view it as government intrusion and an assault on religious freedom.
Therefore, I suggest a different approach. Use media to educate the public about the horrible suffering and deaths because of parents and guardians providing faith healing instead of modern medicine for sick and injured children.
In recent years several Idaho children have died painful deaths that could have easily been prevented with modern medicine.
Idaho’s religious exemptions to manslaughter, criminal injury, and nonsupport were enacted in 1972 with no debate or discussion four days after they were introduced. Idaho’s religious exemption to neglect was passed a few years later when the federal government, because of Christian Science lobbying, required states to enact religious exemptions to child neglect in order to get federal funding for their child protection programs. The federal government rescinded the regulation in 1983, but Idaho has left its laws in place.
In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our First Amendment right to religious freedom does not include a right to neglect a child. The Court concluded, “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose…(a) child…to ill health or death.” Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944). Parents do not have a constitutional right to deprive their children of medical care on religious grounds, and Idaho should not give them a statutory right to do so.
Rita Swan, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, CHILD’s co-founder, describes Idaho as “the worst in the country”. Idaho is one of only nine states with a religious exemption to manslaughter, negligent homicide or capital murder. Idaho has had by far the most deaths from faith-based neglect of those states.
Some of these children must have died in excruciating pain and terror. In 2012 Arrian Jade Granden, 15, died after vomiting so much that her esophagus ruptured. Micah Taylor Eells died at four days old in 2013 with a bowel obstruction. He was probably screaming and vomiting repeatedly. Pamela Eells, 16, gradually drowned as her lungs filled with fluid from pneumonia 2011. All are buried in Peaceful Valley Cemetery, which is used and owned by a church opposed to medical care.
Protect Idaho Kids believes a media campaign is necessary to raise public concern so that legislators will act. It would be good if media would run with this story and publicize it. However, Boise media has not given much attention to the deaths and suffering of these children. Only two television stations have covered the revelations that have been coming to light since 2013. Idaho’s largest newspaper didn’t touch the story, nor did the state’s public radio or alternative weeklies. THEREFORE THIS WILL NEED TO BE A PAID CAMPAIGN.
The campaign would entail several actions. Here is where we are with the campaign at this point:
- Since the issue is dead this legislative session we will conduct a PSA and paid media campaign between now and December 15, 2016. At that time we will introduce a more aggressive paid campaign so we can get better airtime placement. That is good timing because the 2016 Idaho Legislature is just starting their new session, the political chaos is over, the holiday advertising is over, TV stations have abundant inventory so their prices are the lowest of the entire year, and people are making New Year’s resolutions and we may be able to have them make a resolution to get these laws changed in 2016.
- We have five commercials in the process of being edited. When the editing group finalizes these spots, they will be produced on April 28th.
- We have spokesperson talent for all five commercials. Dr. McPherson is relocating to Ohio and will be replaced with Dr. Offit. We also have Emily and Mariah Walton, Kirtlan Naylor who was the Chairman of the Governor’s Task Force On Children at Risk, and Erwin Sonnenberg retired Ada County Coroner and a member of the Idaho Child Fatality Review Team. Additional spots will be produced in May with Linda Martin, and possibly Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue.
- We have a poster person (Maraih Walton) and a poster design that is also being edited, and when everyone is satisfied with the poster, we can get it printed and distributed as one of the campaign elements. For the commercial production, I can get the poster elements doctored in photo shop (that will give it proper spacing, color and eliminate any pixilation), blown up to 4’ x 5’, printed, backed with foam board and laminated for protection for $375. We will use the enlarged poster throughout the campaign.
- We have a station that has agreed to do the production of the spots for $50 shooting, and $50 for editing, a very nominal fee for production. They need to charge a minimal amount so they do not have to report that they gave away free production.
- KTVB (NBC, affiliate and KBOI, CBS affiliate) have been approached to have Dr. Paul Offit on their News program when he is here in Boise. None of the local stations have interviews during their regular 5 or 10pm Newscasts. However, KBOI has agreed to have Dr. Offit on in the Morning News and we are trying to get him on KTVB’s Noon News. I have also been working with the KIVI representatives to get him on the ABC affiliate’s News. Details later.
- We have held one exploratory Task Force Meeting that was small in terms of attendees, but huge in offering suggestions on what to include in the campaign. Judy Cross from Idaho Interfaith Alliance indicated she will approach her contacts through the alliance to try and get the churches involved with the next meeting sometime in mid April.
- We have started to collect information for the website and with Rita Swan’s help with editing, we have information posted about the campaign. After the Fashion Show we will convert the entire website to the campaign.
- We have a start to our funding with CHILD graciously donating $5,000 to get the campaign started. We have also started “Go Fund Me” online fundraising, and have raised $500. In the next few weeks, I will work towards getting the above elements completed, and turn my attention to fundraising. To do a paid campaign we will need funds to pay the stations, and newspapers. We will make every attempt to maximize the PSA awareness while doing the paid campaign.
With the Governor’s recent call for a review of Idaho’s faith-healing exemptions, an appeal to the public to change the laws now should help get the repeal process through the legislature. These are a few of the steps that can be taken that should produce an effective campaign. Certainly, other actions will come to light during the campaign and they can be implemented as well. If anyone reading this has suggestions, please forward them to me so they can be considered for additions to the campaign.