Idaho legislators seem content to allow children in their state to die from medical neglect — as long as God is involved.

Along with Virginia, the state has the largest faith-healing loophole in the country. In other words, parents who deprive their children of the medical care that would alleviate their maladies — and even prevent death — through the practice of faith healing are spared from prosecution.

Year after year, these lawmakers are presented with the startling statistics of young children who perish for lack of treatment. During a three-year period, the state’s Child Fatality Review Team linked 10 child deaths to faith healing. Law enforcement familiar with one sect — the Followers of Christ church in Canyon County — think the number is higher. More than a year ago, activists placed 183 small pine box coffins on the Statehouse steps — each identified by the age and gender of a child buried in the Peaceful Valley Cemetery, where almost a third of the graves are occupied by children.

And year after year, lawmakers ignore those appeals, deferring to the religious freedom rights those parents argue should prevail.

If religion can justify such behavior, why not a simple philosophy that holds the rights of parents are always supreme?

Earlier this month, about 40 people rallied outside Coeur d’Alene’s Kootenai Health against a state law that obligates professionals to report suspected abuse, abandonment or neglect within 24 hours to law enforcement or the Department of Health and Welfare. It applies to people who interact with children, including teachers, day care operators, social workers — and health care providers.

Essentially, if a medical staffer finds a parent withholding treatment to such an extent that it constitutes abuse or neglect, that individual is obligated to contact child protective services, which will look into it.

The protesters are part of a national movement that engages in such hyperbole as calling out health care providers for engaging in “coercion,” social workers for “weaponizing” child protective services and child abuse reporting laws for tolerating “medical kidnapping.”

“Our plan is to basically gut a lot of mandatory reporting laws,” promised Scott Herndon, director of Idaho Citizens for Parental Rights.

Any of this sound familiar?

Earlier this year, Herndon — a failed candidate for the state Senate seat now held by Republican Jim Woodward of Sagle — teamed up with Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, to undermine child protective services investigations.

Their measure would have required child protective services investigators to Mirandize parents — informing them of their right to remain silent — at the launch of an inquiry.

Scott justified that by noting CPS opened 10,159 cases last year. However, investigators determined 8,432 were unfounded. In what universe does that constitute evidence of zealotry on the part of state child welfare investors? How does that justify transforming a system that errs on the side of the child into one that defers to a parent?

But you can bet any parent who has something to hide is going to take the hint and clam up.

“This will tend to confuse people about the true nature of the contact with the Department of Health and Welfare,” Boise Police Department special victims unit head Darren Mitchell told a legislative hearing.

But that didn’t stop members of the House from going along. The Scott-Herndon measure cleared 44-23. Among those voting for it were Reps. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins and Thyra Stevenson, R-Nezperce.

Kay Maurin of Moscow, who was standing in for Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, voted no.

The measure ultimately stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Herndon and his followers will be back in January to persuade legislators to “gut” the mandatory child abuse reporting law.

Talk about an incongruity. After all, many of these people would, given the opportunity, impose the power of the state to overrule a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy. Why, in the name of parental rights, are they so willing to turn a deaf ear to suffering once that child is born? — M.T.

Recommended for you