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Discussion held on limiting Idaho's faith-healing exemption

Child-welfare advocates, state legislators and police have fought the faith-healing exemption for years in hopes of reducing child deaths in the state.

BOISE, Idaho — A panel of experts and advocates discussed a potential overturn or roll back protections Idaho has on the books for faith healers whose children die as a result of the refusal of medical attention Wednesday night. 

Idaho is one of few states that shields practicing adherents from civil or criminal prosecution when their child dies or suffers disabling injuries without medical care.

The discussion will took place in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Idaho State Capitol at 3:30 p.m. and can be seen on KTVB's YouTube channel.

Child-welfare advocates, state legislators and police have fought the faith-healing exemption for years in hopes of reducing child deaths in the state, and yet, bills to change or repeal the exemption have been voted down or have died in committee.

Supporters of the exemption say it protects freedom of religion.

Former KTVB news anchor Mark Johnson moderated the event and the list of panelists for the discussion is included below:

  • Kieran Donahue, Canyon County Sheriff
  • John Foote, Former Clackamas County Prosecutor
  • Patricia Kempthorne, Director of the Twiga Foundation and Former Idaho First Lady
  • Jim Jones, Former Idaho Chief Justice and Attorney General

According to the Idaho House & Senate Democrats, Rep. John Gannon is "unable to participate" on the panel. 

In 2019 and 2020, organizations such as the Campaign to Protect Idaho Kids  — which is sponsoring Wednesday’s event — attempted to modify the exemption instead of repeal it, but were again unsuccessful.

Organizers of this event expected attendees from both the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Followers of Christ Church, which has 5,000 members in 7 counties in Idaho.

Members of the small, private Christian sect, which has a strong presence in Canyon County, refuse to seek medical treatment for themselves or their children, instead relying on prayer.

Following the 2020 discussion - similar to what occurred Wednesday night - the Idaho Press spoke with the founder of Protect Idaho Kids, Bruce Wingate. He said Idaho lawmakers have resisted removing or changing the exemption because they do not want to step on religious freedoms or parental rights.

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