Idaho State Capitol

Idaho State Capitol

BOISE, Idaho - A documentary screening at the Idaho State Capitol on Wednesday aims to shed light on the sometimes deadly consequences of the state's faith-healing exemptions to providing medical care for children.

"Dark Clouds Over Canyon County" examines the history of faith healing in Idaho, which can involve treating illnesses and injuries with prayer.

Bruce Wingate, founder of the Protect Idaho Kids Foundation, says three to four Idaho children suffer preventable deaths each year because of the religious exemption.

He says a panel discussion after the film will include legislators, former members of the Followers of Christ, a church that practices faith healing, and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.

"So it's a very distinguished panel and experts in various fields of law and what this faith healing is really meaning to the children and this society as children suffer and die from this," Wingate states.

The film will be screened in the Lincoln Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Idaho is one of only six states where parents who withhold medical care for religious reasons are exempt from manslaughter charges.

Groups that rely on faith healing cite their First Amendment right to practice their faith.

Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, will be on the panel. As a scholar of constitutional law, Hamilton maintains the faith-healing exemption is a misunderstanding of the First Amendment's concept of religious liberty.

She says it violates children's rights, adding that a global movement against child abuse is coming.

"The world is kind of rising up to protect children, and I think the timing is intended to underscore that it's really time for lawmakers to take the side of the children who are suffering, and no longer take the side of adults who are letting them suffer," she states.

Wingate is inviting state lawmakers to the screening. He notes legislation to fully repeal the religious exemption has failed in the past.

Some bills have gone without a vote or even a hearing, so opponents are taking a different approach this year.

"We have a proposed bill that keeps religious exemptions in place," he explains. "However, it does limit them, if and only if a child is in danger of permanent disability or death."

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