Idaho’s top Republican gubernatorial candidates recently participated in a debate on the Idaho Public Television where they picked on each other’s campaign tactics and gave conflicting opinions on several hot-button issues.
One of the three candidates was Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, who said he would keep the controversial state law that shields parents who practice faith healing from criminal charges.
“I would not change it at all," he said. "I think that’s one of the good things about Idaho; we believe in freedom.”
Faith healing is a spiritual practice in which people attempt to heal illness through religious beliefs and prayers — instead of proven, often life-saving medical treatments.
Although it is not illegal to believe that divine intervention will help one heal, if a child dies because their parents chose prayers over going to a doctor, then it comes under negligent homicide in many states.
However, Idaho is one of the two states where the parents are protected from criminal or civil liability if they don’t seek medical care for their child based on their religious beliefs. The other state is Virginia.
The matter has been a topic of heated debate in the state. On one side are lawmakers who are dubious about rolling back protections for faith healers, as they believe it could pave way toward infringement of other religious freedoms. On the other hand are the children’s health advocates who can’t see the wisdom in leaving children entirely at the mercy of divine help when medical solutions are available. Some children whose parents refused to treat them died from illnesses as simple and as treatable as an ear infection that eventually led to sepsis because they weren't given antibiotics.
During the televised debate, another candidate, Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, took a neutral stance on the matter by favoring the prospect of educating faith-healing families about medical opportunities.
“We need to convince those people to do the right thing — it pains me when I see what’s happened,” Little said.
Republican Tommy Ahlquist, a retired physician, recounted his encounters with faith-healing families as a doctor.
“I think we need to look at that law. I’ve been there. Religious liberties are so important, and parental rights are so important,” he said.
It is important to mention the Democrat candidates in the past have gone on record to condemn the law.
During an interview with the Idaho Statesman, the top Democrat candidates spoke against the practice.
“Idahoans are free to practice whatever religion they choose, but we cannot put our children at risk by denying them proper healthcare that leads to serious illness or worse,” said businessman A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic nominee in 2014.
“If autonomous adults choose to forgo lifesaving medical treatment for religious reasons, they should be allowed to make that very personal decision. They should not, however, be able to make such a decision for their children. I support the repeal of Idaho’s ‘faith healing’ exemption because, above all else, our laws should protect the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable people in our state,” said former state Rep. Paulette Jordan.
But during the same interview Labrador propagated the idea that no government entities should tell parents how to raise their children — even if a sick kid is denied medical care because of his parents’ religious beliefs.
“Families, not government, should make health care decisions for their children,” said Labrador.
According to groups who are working against the law in Idaho, at least 12 children have died under these circumstances in the state.
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