23 May 2011

Death of two children from medical neglect highlights Idaho law that grants religious freedom to parents but not to children

KBOI TV  -  Idaho     May 19, 2011

Dying for religion: 'They use fear - that's their main weapon'

By Mike Murad

CALDWELL, Idaho - Back in March, two very sick children from two different families in Canyon County died, likely from untreated pneumonia. We'll never know for sure, because they were never taken to the doctor.

For more than 99-percent of Idahoans, not getting medical care for a gravely sick child could be considered a crime. But for one group, it's perfectly legal. And some say it's time for it to stop.

"Too many little kids are dying over needless things that can be cured," says a man we're calling Jacob. He's a former member of the Followers of Christ Church, which has at least three branches here in the Treasure Valley, including one in Caldwell, another near Lake Lowell and one on Ten Mile in Meridian.

We've agreed to protect Jacob's identity because he still has active ties to the church, and is worried about the fallout of our investigation to current members.

"They use fear a lot, that's their main weapon," says Jacob. "It starts young. You start hearing about Hell and Lake of Fire real early."

The church believes in faith healing over medical intervention when it comes to treating their children. Jacob says even members of his own family have died from a lack of medical care.

"They really believe that praying and laying hands on is going to cure stuff," says Jacob.

Toddler Preston Bowers died March 24th at his Caldwell home. Vicki DeGeus-Morris, the Canyon County Coroner, says his parents described a rattle in the boy's chest, which eventually got worse, and a lack of energy. Preston would have turned two years old next week.

"I can't believe it's happening in this day and age, I really can't," says Jacob.

Rockwell Sevy also died at a home in Caldwell. His death occurred March 30th. The coroner believes he, like Preston, also died from untreated pneumonia. Rockwell was 14-years old.

Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Canyon County is one of the main cemeteries used by the Followers of Christ, and there's a high number of children buried in the cemetery.

DeGeus-Morris did not want to speculate on how many sick children might have been saved had their parents sought medical attention. She did say a high number of children buried in Peaceful Valley were the result of stillbirths.

"I'm sure there's a higher mortality rate because they do not seek medical attention for instances that could be reversed," said DeGues-Morris.

DeGues-Morris says she hasn't done an autopsy on a Followers of Christ child in years, because in Idaho it's not illegal for a parent or guardian to choose prayer over medicine as treatment for a sick child.

Idaho statute 18-1501 outlines the law that a parent who "chooses...treatment by prayer...shall not...have violated the duty of care to such child."

Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor says his hands are tied when it comes to punishing parents who choose faith healing over medicine, even to the very end.

"If they don't want to have their children go to a doctor, as long as they haven't caused the injuries, then we don't really have a leg to stand on in exploring criminal charges," says Taylor.

"I guess religious freedom means you can do almost anything you want. Especially if the people you're doing it to have no voice," says Jacob.

The Followers of Christ Church also has branches in Oregon, which is another state that grants lots of freedom when it comes to faith healing. But that could be changing.

Earlier this year, the Oregon House voted unanimously, 59-0, to remove legal protection for parents who decline medical intervention in the case of a sick child based on religious reasons. Discussion in the Oregon Senate started Thursday.

This article was found at:


Oregon expected to approve law ending faith healing as a defense for parents who let children die without medical care

Faith healing parents convicted of homicide for daughter's death from untreated diabetes lose appeal for new trials

Faith healing parents guilty but unrepentant, will appeal jail sentence of 6 months for letting child die

U.S. father who prayed while 11 year old daughter suffered and died convicted of murder

Jury Convicts Mother Who Prayed for Daughter Instead of Treating Her Fatal Diabetes

Ex-friend says Wisconsin mother charged with reckless homicide thought illness was sin

Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine

Judge allows charges in prayer death case

Judge in prayer death case: I'm between 'rock and a hard place'

Prosecutors Defend Charges In Prayer Death Case

Parents seek religious exemption for medical neglect murder of daughter

Parents who prayed as daughter died ask judge to drop charges

Healing or homicide? The use of prayer to treat sick children

A Child's Death And a Crisis for Faith

Judge orders parents to stand trial in prayer death case

Faith-based prosecution is first for state, national group says

Faith, medicine collide, and a young girl dies

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith

Two Wisconsin bills would repeal religious exemption in 'faith healing' cases, but only one protects children

Wisconsin lawmakers reconsider conflicting laws that fail to protect children from faith-based medical neglect

U.S. courts in medical neglect cases give more lenient sentences to faith-healing parents than to non-believers

Oregon bill targets faith healing parents who rely on spiritual treatment as a defense to homicide charges

A century of vaccine paranoia scares many parents away from protecting their children and communities from deadly diseases

Probation for fundamentalist parents who let baby die without medical care, ordered to protect other children from religious beliefs

Pastor and lawyer claim religious persecution of parents charged for allowing 2 year old to die from pneumonia without medical care

Philadelphia 'faith healing' parents face criminal charges for letting 2 year old die without medical care

Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children 

Faith healing parents charged with criminal mistreatment of baby with life-threatening tumor on eye

Is it ever OK to seriously harm your child in the name of religion? If so, which religion? 

Should Parents Who Call God Instead of the Doctor Be Punished?

Faith-healing deaths reported in The Oregonian from Nov. 1998 to Jan. 2009

Parents and church members knew infant was suffering, but had no thought of calling a doctor

Prosecutor asks church members: What would it take to call a doctor for ailing child?

Jury acquits parents of all but 1 misdemeanor charge in daughter's "faith healing" murder

Verdict in 'faith healing' baby manslaughter case a miscarriage of justice

Trial in death of infant raises questions of parental rights, religious freedom

Oregon judge tells church members to stop killing children with faith 'healing', parents jailed 16 months for son's death

Teen died agonizing death from ruptured appendix while parents, relatives and church elders did nothing but pray for 3 days

Fundamentalist parents on trial in 'faith healing' murder case claim it was son's free choice to shun medical care

Faith healing parents guilty of criminally negligent homicide in son's death, but exempt from mandatory sentencing due to religious beliefs

U.S. courts in medical neglect cases give more lenient sentences to faith-healing parents than to non-believers

16-year-old with ties to controversial faith healing church, Followers of Christ, found dead

Exploring legal issues courts must consider in cases involving parents' use of faith healing

Courts face new challenges in faith healing cases 

$3 worth of medicine could have accomplished what prayer alone did not

Provision in U.S. healthcare bill endangers children by including pray and faith healing as legitimate clinical medicine

A Child's Death And a Crisis for Faith

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith

When Parents Call God Instead of the Doctor

Trust in God - A look at 'faith healing' in America.

Little-known religions complicate faith-healing cases

Child deaths test faith-healing exemption

Christian Science theology opposes both medical treatment and diagnosis and demands denial of symptoms

Expert: Change in prayer law would protect Christian Scientists, not kids


  1. Fallen followers: Investigation finds 10 more dead children of faith healers

    By Dan Tilkin, KATU News Oregon November 7, 2013

    BOISE, Idaho – Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise.

    Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there.

    The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some - like Beagley - are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

    In 2010, jurors in Clackamas County convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of letting their son Neal die of an untreated urinary tract infection.

    KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

    A former member of the Followers of Christ advised him to go to Peaceful Valley and look for two specific names.

    He found them. He found many more.

    Garrett Dean Eells.

    The coroner’s report says Garrett was a 6-day-old baby who died of interstitial pneumonitis. That’s pneumonia, untreated.

    Jackson Scott Porter.

    Jackson was a baby girl. She lived only 20 minutes. The coroner’s report said she received no pre-natal care.

    Her grandfather, Mark Jerome, says she died in his house three months ago after his daughter went into labor.

    “Well, when she came over, she was just sick - like a kidney infection or something like that,” Jerome said. “So she just wanted to come to the house for a couple days. And when she had the baby no one expected it, it just happened that quick."

    The coroner used the words “extreme prematurity” to describe the labor.

    Jerome said he doesn’t regret the lack of pre-natal care. That gets to the heart of faith-healing.

    “That's the way we believe,” he said. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things."

    Preston Bowers and Rockwell Sevy.

    The Canyon County coroner believes Preston had Down’s Syndrome, and that the 2-year-old died of pneumonia.

    KATU reported on his death in 2011, along with that of 14-year-old Rocky.

    Rocky isn’t buried in the cemetery, but he lived nearby with his parents, Sally and Dan.

    They didn’t want to talk about not getting him treatment.

    "What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general. I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It's not like you take "a" freedom away. It's that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you're chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine."

    That was that. Sevy didn’t want to talk any more about it.

    “I told you I'm not going to do that,” he said. “You don't understand the full story, and I'm not going to stand in front of a camera and give you the whole story. It's just not going to happen. I see the way these things get edited out.

    “All I see is an aggressive campaign against Christianity in general, it’s amazing to me in this day and age where Muslims get soft pedaled and Christians are under attack. It just blows my mind.”

    Unfortunately, those weren’t the only names in the cemetery. There are 10 new graves that look as though they belong to children that have appeared since KATU’s last report in 2011.

    Arrian Jade Granden.

    Arrian was 15 years old. She ran track at Parma Middle School.

    In June 2012, she got food poisoning.

    She vomited so badly she ruptured her esophagus.

    She slipped into unconsciousness and went into cardiac arrest.

    She died.

    Micah Taylor Eells.

    The autopsy says Micah died of “likely an intestinal blockage.”

    Micah was four days old.

    None of the parents of the children who are buried at Peaceful Valley Cemetery will be prosecuted. Oregon wiped out its laws protecting faith-healers. Idaho did not.

    continued below

  2. Pamela Jade Eells.

    Doctor Charles Garrison performed the autopsy on 16-year-old Pamela. She died of pneumonia.

    "If you’ve ever been in a situation where you can’t breathe, it’s pretty desperate.

    "You’re drowning in your own fluids.”

    Watch: Raw interview with Dr. Charles Garrison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7BF3efL-JFQ

    The coroner’s report says Pamela died after a long chronic battle with an infection in her pelvic bone.

    Garrison hasn’t forgotten.

    “It's inexplicable to me to comprehend how anyone can watch a child die and do nothing,” he said.

    Linda Martin has seen it before. She’s a former Followers of Christ who grew up near Boise. She left when she was a teenager, and lives in Oregon now.

    She contacted KATU when she realized more children were dying. She said she is related to many of them.

    She keeps their obituaries in an album.

    “Everybody hears about the Oregon City trials and the Oregon City churches,” she said. “What they don't understand is the Idaho churches are more rigid, they are unbending, and they are more ruthless then the Oregon churches are.

    “It happens one at a time, and the church is so good at covering up that most people don't even know what's going on next door to them."

    Jerry Gardener.

    Jerry was Linda’s cousin. In 1980, he died from diabetes at the age of 11.

    Both Martin and Dr. Garrison are frustrated Idaho hasn’t followed Oregon’s lead.

    In Idaho, you can use faith-healing as a defense when it comes to children.

    In Oregon, you can’t.

    Syble Rossiter.

    Syble was 12 when she died in Albany, Ore., last February.

    Her parents, Travis and Wenona Rossiter, face manslaughter charges.

    They belong to a congregation called “Church of the First Born” in Brownsville, Ore. According to Linda Martin’s family tree and other historical sources, that church is related to the Followers of Christ.

    There’s at least one significant difference between the churches: When a child dies in Idaho due to lack of medical care, the parents aren’t breaking any laws.

    “The state of Idaho has the religious shield laws to where you can just about murder your child in cold blood and claim religious exemptions and get away with it,” Martin said.

    So many more names.

    Of the 553 marked graves at Peaceful Valley Cemetery, 144 appear to be children under 18. That’s more than 25 percent.

    Those deaths happened primarily in three different counties, which are manned by three different coroners who aren’t bringing the information to the public.

    Very few people had a good idea how many children were dying until now. Linda Martin started a Facebook page to keep track of them. That’s still probably not a complete reckoning.

    There are four such churches in Idaho, and they don’t get along.

    “Difference of opinions, difference of religion, different ideas - we follow the word for what it is, what the bible says,” said Mark Jerome, who attends the Followers of Christ Church in Marsing, Idaho.

    Followers members use at least two more cemeteries.

    The caretaker at Star Cemetery in Star, Idaho said a Followers member recently showed up saying he needed to bury a baby. The baby was in the back seat of his car. The caretaker said he made the church member get a death certificate before he buried the child.

    A spokesman for Idaho Governor Butch Otter asked to see the results of this investigation.

    The state recently put together a child death review team, which will likely be looking at faith-healing deaths soon.

    No significant move to change the laws is underway.


  3. Join me in the fight to end this abuse. I am the source for the story Fallen Followers.

    Please sign and share:

  4. Idaho laws protect faith healing even when children die

    By Brian Morrin, KBOI2 November 25, 2013

    MARSING, Idaho (KBOI) - Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits outside Caldwell. Members of the Followers of Christ Church bury their dead here.

    It looks like any other final resting place until you take a closer look. Out of the 553 headstones here, 144 mark the graves of children, that’s 25 percent

    Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg has done autopsies on children in this church dozens of times.

    “How could somebody allow that to happen you know to their child when they could be taken care of so easily?” Sonnenberg said.

    The children were born into the Followers of Christ, they didn’t choose it. There are four churches around the valley and members refuse medical care. They rely exclusively on faith healing.

    Some of the recent child deaths are Arrian Jade Granden, she was 15 years old. The autopsy report shows she got food poisoning and vomited for three days. Eventually her esophagus ruptured and she died of cardiac arrest.

    Then there's Garrett Dean Eels. He died of pneumonia at just six days old. Cooper Shippy almost made it to 2 years of age. He died of complications from Type 1 diabetes. There are six more children we know of who’ve died here in the valley since July of 2011.

    “It's very hard thing to deal with knowing one trip to the doctor and the child would be living today and be breathing and be fine,” Sonnenberg said.

    The problem, according to Sonnenberg, is that Idaho has religious shield laws on the books that protect parents who withhold medical treatment from their child. Prosecutors have no recourse even whenthe child dies.

    Under Chapter 15 (Children and Vulnerable Adults) of Idaho’s Crimes & Punishments statutes, 18-1501 states “Any person who willfully causes or permits a child to be placed in a situation that its person or health is endangered could spend 10 years in prison.” But it also says: “Prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to the child.”

    “Children don't have that right and so it seems to me there should be some legislation or protection in those areas,” Sonnenberg said.

    continued below

  5. There's another law where faith healing is codified.

    Chapter 16 (Child Protective Act) under Juvenile Proceedings, 16-1627 says: “The court may step in and authorize medical care if the parents won't and a doctor petitions for it.” But it also states: “The court must take into consideration any treatment given the child by prayer through spiritual means alone.”

    “We're dealing with a parental right. It concerns me anytime that a parent wouldn't get the best care for a child and that's why we have 16-1627,” said State Senator Fred Martin, Health and Welfare Committee member of Boise.

    The laws on the books tie prosecutors’ hands. They can't even go for neglect in these cases. The only way to stop more children from dying appears to be to change the laws.

    "I would be concerned about the state getting involved in religious practices, at the same time i want the state to protect its children and provide the best care for them,” Martin said.

    “It's religion and we're not dealing with a worldly concept, we're dealing with really is a faith concept and you're dealing with their eternity,” said State Representative Christy Perry of Nampa.

    Representative Perry is a Nampa representative and the Vice Chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee. She's aware of the issues surrounding faith healing.

    “You can't tell me they don't love their children, you can't tell me they don't protect their children in as many ways as they possibly can. It's just that when it comes down to this one particular part, for them eternity hinges on it. They're going to go on the side of eternity and not on the side of our laws. It's really hard to ask somebody to give up your eternity to fill a statute,” Perry said.

    For the children already buried at Peaceful Valley Cemetery it’s already too late. The question is, are our lawmakers willing to introduce and advance legislation aimed at protecting children in faith healing churches?

    “I'm not ready to go there at this time, I understand what you're saying, I'm very, very concerned about a child. We're weighing the rights of the parents and the parents religious beliefs. I would hope they would not be in conflict," Martin said.

    “I'm just not willing to force people to give up their eternity to satisfy what I personally think they should satisfy. That's a tough call for me. I'm sure I'm not going to be very supportive of it, there are just bigger issues at hand actually,” Perry said.


  6. Letting them die - parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ

    by Jason Wilson The Guardian April 13, 2016

    Mariah Walton’s voice is quiet – her lungs have been wrecked by her illness, and her respirator doesn’t help. But her tone is resolute.

    “Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted.”


    “They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.”

    Mariah is 20 but she’s frail and permanently disabled. She has pulmonary hypertension and when she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. At times, she has had screws in her bones to anchor her breathing device. She may soon have no option for a cure except a heart and lung transplant – an extremely risky procedure.

    All this could have been prevented in her infancy by closing a small congenital hole in her heart. It could even have been successfully treated in later years, before irreversible damage was done. But Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.

    As she grew sicker and sicker, Mariah’s parents would pray over her and use alternative medicine. Until she finally left home two years ago, she did not have a social security number or a birth certificate.

    Had they been in neighboring Oregon, her parents could have been booked for medical neglect. In Mariah’s case, as in scores of others of instances of preventible death among children in Idaho since the 1970s, laws exempt dogmatic faith healers from prosecution, and she and her sister recently took part in a panel discussion with lawmakers at the state capitol about the issue. Idaho is one of only six states that offer a faith-based shield for felony crimes such as manslaughter.

    Some of those enjoying legal protection are fringe Mormon families like Mariah’s, many of whom live in the state’s north. But a large number of children have died in southern Idaho, near Boise, in families belonging to a reclusive, Pentecostal faith-healing sect called the Followers of Christ.

    The Followers of Christ’s cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month.

    In Canyon County, just west of the capital, the sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a taskforce set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.

    The shield laws that prevent prosecutions in Idaho are an artifact of the Nixon administration. High-profile child abuse cases in the 1960s led pediatricians and activists to push for laws that combatted it. In order to help states fund such programs, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Capta), which Richard Nixon signed in 1974.

    But there was a fateful catch due to the influence of Nixon advisers John Erlichman and J R Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists.

    Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explains how the men – later jailed for their role in the Watergate scandal – were themselves members of a faith-healing sect, and acted to prevent their co-religionists being charged with crimes of neglect.

    “Because Erlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law,” he said.

    They also ensure that states had to pass similar exemptions in order to access Capta funds. The federal requirement was later relaxed, but the resultant state laws have had to be painstakingly repealed one by one.

    Some states, such as Oregon, held on longer until high-profile deaths in the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City attracted the attention of local media; over time the state reversed course.

    continue below

  7. As a result several Followers of Christ members in Oregon have been successfully prosecuted. In 2010, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after the death of their toddler, Neal, who died from a congenital bladder blockage. In 2011, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment and the court ordered that their daughter Aylana be medically treated for the growth that had been threatening to blind her. Later that year, Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of second-degree manslaughter two years after their newborn son died of a simple infection.

    Next door, Idaho presents a polar opposition to Oregon. Republicans, who enjoy an effective permanent majority in the state house, are surprisingly reluctant to even consider reform. Last year, the governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk recommended change: “Religious freedoms must be protected; but vulnerable children must also be appropriately protected from unnecessary harm and death.” Democratic legislator John Gannon proposed a repeal bill which he “never thought would really be that controversial”.

    The chairman of the senate health and welfare committee, Lee Heider, refused to even grant it a hearing, effectively killing it.

    Hoyt is a fit 43, and lives in a well-scrubbed suburban neighborhood. He runs a successful window cleaning business that started with a squeegee mop and a bucket after his teenage escape from home left him with no cash and few educational opportunities. When I visited him, his house was being renovated – what was once a “barebones bachelor pad” now accommodates his partner and step-children. Slowly, Hoyt has developed the capacity for family life, after a life in the sect left him “unable to relate to families” for a long time. “I didn’t understand the concept,” he said.

    He lost his faith around the age of five, when a baby died in his arms in the course of a failed healing. While elders prayed, Hoyt was in charge of removing its mucus with a suction device. He was told that the child died because of his own lack of faith. Something snapped, and he remembers thinking: “How can this possibly be God’s work?” His apostasy set up lifelong conflicts with his parents and church elders.

    In just one incident, when he was 12, Hoyt broke his ankle during a wrestling tryout. “I ended up shattering two bones in my foot,” he said. His parents approached the situation with the usual Followers remedies – rubbing the injury with “rancid olive oil” and having him swig on Kosher wine.

    Intermittently, they would have him attempt to walk. Each time, “my body would just go into shock and I would pass out”.

    “I would wake up to my step-dad, my uncles and the other elders of the church kicking me and beating me, calling me a fag, because I didn’t have enough faith to let God come in and heal me, while my mom and my aunts were sitting there watching. And that’s called faith healing.”

    He had so much time off with the untreated fracture that his school demanded a medical certificate to cover the absence. Forced to take him to a doctor, his mother spent most of the consultation accusing the doctor of being a pedophile.

    He was given a cast and medication but immediately upon returning home, the medication was flushed down the toilet, leaving him with no pain relief. His second walking cast was cut off by male relatives at home with a circular saw.

    Other people who have left the group, such as Linda Martin, told similar tales of coercion, failed healing using only rancid olive oil, and a high level of infant mortality, isolation and secrecy. Violence, she said, was “the reason I left home. My childhood and Brian’s were very similar.” Deaths from untreated illness are attributed to “God’s will. Their lives are dominated by God’s will.”

    Martin and Hoyt have both lobbied to change the laws, with Martin in particular devoting years of patient research to documenting deaths and other church activities. continued below

  8. Hoyt has faced harassment online and at his home, and church members have even tried to undermine his business.

    So far, their testimonies of abuse have not convinced Idaho’s Republican legislators. Senator Heider, for one, describes the Followers of Christ as “very nice people”.

    Child advocate and author Janet Heimlich, who has campaigned against exemptions around the country, says that Heider told her before the legislative session began that “he would carry the bill” and helped with the production of a draft, but by the time the session began in October he indicated that no bill would be passed or even heard.

    Heider’s repeated response to these claims was a welter of contradictions and bluster.

    After telling the Guardian that no bill was lodged (John Gannon confirmed that he did, as was reported in local media in February) and that he had been told by the attorney general and the Canyon County prosecuting attorney that the laws did not need to change (both men deny saying this), Heider took refuge in the US constitution.

    “Republicans didn’t feel the need to change the laws. We believe in the first amendment to the constitution. I don’t think that states have a right to interfere in religions.”

    When pressed on the fact that children are dying unnecessarily as a result of exemptions, Heider makes an odd comparison.

    “Are we going to stop Methodists from reading the New Testament? Are we going to stop Catholics receiving the sacraments? That’s what these people believe in. They spoke to me and pointed to a tremendous number of examples where Christ healed people in the New Testament.”

    Heider blamed outsiders for stirring the pot on this issue, even challenging the Guardian’s right to take an interest in the story, asking “what difference does it make to you?” and adding “is the United States coming in and trying to change Idaho’s laws?” He confirmed that he attended a Followers of Christ service last year – a rare privilege for an outsider from a group that refuses to speak to reporters.

    But if we take Heider at his word concerning the reasons for his opposition, his view of the constitution is simply mistaken.

    Alan Rogers, the Boston College history professor, points to a string of US supreme court decisions that distinguish between freedom of belief and freedom of practice, which affirm the former and limit the latter where it causes harm. These stretch back as far as Reynolds v United States in 1878, which forbade Mormon polygamy, and include Prince v Massachusetts, which affirmed the federal government’s ability to secure the welfare of children even when it conflicts with religious belief.

    Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, has long researched the connection between religion and conservatism. He points out that “almost all American politicians are cowards when it comes to religion”.

    Religious liberty is a powerful idea, and a great achievement in the history of western civilization, but “it’s also used as a tool by the rich and the powerful, and by politicians who want to look the other way”.

    There’s also the fact that conservatives have been mobilizing religious liberty in recent years, first as a reason to kill same-sex marriage at the state level, and now to limit the scope of the supreme court’s decision that it cannot be outlawed by states.

    A taskforce set up by the Idaho governor estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.

    continued below


  9. While Idaho legislators stonewall, children in faith-healing communities continue to suffer.

    According to coroners’ reports, in Canyon County alone just in the past decade at least 10 children in the church have died. These include 15-year-old Arrian Granden, who died in 2012 after contracting food poisoning. She vomited so much that her esophagus ruptured. Untreated, she bled to death.

    The other deaths are mostly infants who died during at-home births or soon after from treatable complications, simple infections or pneumonia.

    In one Canyon County report on the death of an infant called Asher Sevy, we see the difficulty that the shield laws create for local authorities.

    When Sevy died in 2006, a Canyon County coroner’s deputy attended by two sherriff’s deputies asked to take the body away for an autopsy. According to the coroner’s account, the family “were very much against this for any reason”, and informed the deputy that she “was not going with me or anyone else” and removal would have to be done “forcefully”.

    After a liaison with the county’s chief deputy and the prosecutor’s office, the assembled county officials decided to leave “rather than escalate a problem that could be worse than it was now”. The conclusion? “The cause [of death] will go down as undetermined.”

    Autopsies are at the coroner’s discretion, and the deputy, Bill Kirby, did write that at the time there was “no evidence of a crime”. The incident is unsettling, though.

    Canyon County coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morriss, who has been in office since 1991, refused to speak directly with the Guardian. However Joe Decker, a county spokesman, insisted that the coroner and other officials had been successful in building a better relationship with the Followers.

    “Back when Vicki first took office, the Followers rarely, if ever, reported a death. And when they did, they would often be uncooperative with both the Coroner and law enforcement when they arrived on scene,” Decker said. Now, they “have a relationship in which every single death is reported and autopsies are almost always performed”.

    For the outsider, there may still be something unsatisfying about this – a lingering impression that exemptions from child abuse prosecutions have led Followers to form the impression that the law can be negotiated with.

    Nevertheless, local officials can’t make laws, only enforce them. The frustration at the local effects of shield laws was perhaps evident in the support that Canyon County prosecutor Brian Taylor gave to efforts to change the laws.

    Campaigners such as Mariah Walton, Janet Heimlich, Linda Martin and Brian Hoyt are determined not to let this matter rest in the next legislative session.

    A new “Let Them Live” campaign, involving a television ad campaign featuring Mariah, is being coordinated by Bruce Wingate at Protect Idaho Kids. Resources are limited, but all are confident that improved public awareness will build pressure on legislators.

    Gannon, the Democratic legislator, says for his part that his bill will be back next year. “It’s not going to go away,” he says. “Dead children don’t care about the first amendment.”