GOP Lawmaker Defends Faith Healing Sect’s Right To Let Children Die (VIDEO)
Oregon Followers of Christ couple’s trial prompts a new law
Back in 2009, the newborn son of Dale and Shannon Hickman died. He was born prematurely with no medical presence: he died within nine hours of his birth. The parents belonged to the Followers of Christ, a sect that relies on faith healing and prayer in lieu of medicine. Another couple who belonged to the Followers of Christ had just pleaded guilty to the death of their 7-month-old daughter when the Hickmans were arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. The other couple, the Wylands, had been charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment. They were found guilty in 2011 and sentenced to 90 days in jail plus three years probation.
Both couples were tried under the 1999 law passed by the Oregon legislature after a series of over 20 child deaths among Followers of Christ members. The children all died of easily treatable illnesses, partly because of the parental laws that had granted immunity in these cases. The 1999 law stripped that immunity for the severest cases: second-degree manslaughter and first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment. Several other Followers of Christ parents were prosecuted under the new law.
Followers of Christ have a large presence in Idaho.
Many members of the Followers of Christ live in and around the Boise area. They, too, have seen a spate of child deaths due to ignoring medicine in favor of faith. The children have ranged in age from 22 months to 16 years. One girl, 15-year-old Arrian Jade Granden, died after her food poisoning went untreated. Her esophagus ruptured from her prolonged vomiting. Another girl, 16-year-old Pamela Jade Eells, died of pneumonia. Twenty-two-month-old Rockwell Alexander Sevy died after suffering from pneumonia for two weeks.
Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise), has seen enough. He wants to pass a law similar to Oregon’s, requiring parents to seek medical care for their gravely ill children. Even if their religion disagrees. Gannon told reporters that these children “… need a chance to grow up.” As it stands right now, Idaho law says that causing felony injury to a child will get the perpetrator 10 years in prison. Oh, but there’s the usual religious exemption:
“The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such a child.”
In other words, “treating” a gravely ill child with faith-based means doesn’t constitute violation of said law. All a negligent parent has to do is claim that they don’t believe in modern medicine and they’re off the hook. Personally, I find this despicable and an egregious abdication of the most basic job of a parent. Rep. Gannon apparently agrees and will introduce his bill in the next legislative session. It would add the following sentence to current law: “However, this exemption shall not apply whenever a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.”
Of course, there’s a Republican who disagrees.
Representative Christy Perry (R-Nampa) has already begun pushing back. She represents many of the Followers of Christ families and says this is about religious freedom and parental rights. Both of these have been curbed before, with only the welfare of the children in mind. Somehow the world didn’t end. But Rep. Perry is all freaked out:
“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die. This is about where they go for eternity.”
That’s right. Rep. Perry thinks that religious beliefs and parental rights trump a child’s right to live. Listen, if you want to leave things in God’s hands for yourself, that’s one thing and go ahead, knock yourself out. But when it comes to children, especially to babies who cannot speak for themselves, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. Speculation is fine for an adult, but to gamble a child’s life on your conjecture is insane and should be illegal.
Luckily, another Republican (this one with some sense), Rep. Rich Wills, is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It is there that Gannon’s bill will first be introduced. Wills is open to considering the changes that this new bill would put into place. “I’m concerned any parent would put their religious beliefs ahead of child welfare,” Will said. “It just stuns me.”
What has more weight — a parent’s faith or a child’s life?
It stuns me, too. I have nothing against faith — I have my own — but I do have a problem with forcing it on children. It’s bad enough that certain religions begin indoctrination of kids while they are in the crib. But forcing a child to adopt all the dogma when they are not old enough to understand it is, to me, cowardly. Seriously, are the Followers of Christ scared that their faith cannot stand up to examination and questioning? If so, why? Maybe they need to be asking themselves that question.
The Coroner of Ada County (where many of the children died), Erwin Sonnenberg, told reporters that the children’s illness could have been easily treated. Antibiotics or minor surgery would have saved many young lives. Dr. Sonnenberg knows many Followers of Christ and says that they are “great people” and that they “love their children.” But even he cannot understand why the Followers of Christ reject medicine in favor of faith:
“I understand the faith side of it. But it seems like at least let your kids grow up, when it comes down to it, and decide for themselves.”
That’s the most basic right every human being should be allowed: to make their own decisions. But when they are too young to do that, it is up to their parents to make them. Every decision a parent makes should be biased towards the child’s welfare. Not towards the parent’s religious dogma. Rep. Gannon understands this. Hopefully, so does most of the Idaho legislature. For the sake of the children, let’s hope so.
Here’s the video with the report from NWCN.com.