You may have heard once, to “pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” This is most commonly attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo. A similar Persian proverb reads, “Trust in God, but tie up your camel.”
When it comes to faith or prayer healing, many believe there is no friction between our faith in the power of God to heal and expectations God may have of us to do our part through personal action.
As a believer, I am a witness to the power of prayer and spiritual blessings. There are many believers in faith healing in Idaho.
An Idaho interim legislative committee recently looked at faith healing exemptions in our state code. The question was, essentially, “Should the same duties and standards of care apply to religious believers in faith healing as to nonbelievers if, God forbid, someone dies when medical care is available and perhaps recommended by a doctor, but not used?”
My very personal answer is an unqualified “Yes.”
Exemptions to the uniform application of laws should be used sparingly. This is especially so when it concerns the life and health of another human being. Public policy weighs strongly in favor of applying a uniform standard for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Subjecting me, as a believer, to the same standards of care as a nonbeliever does not prevent me from exercising my faith through prayer and blessings, nor does it cheapen my faith in God and His power to heal. Holding me to the consequences of my actions under the law does not violate my religious liberties.
Even more importantly, I believe that each child deserves equal protection under our state’s laws. This is essentially what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Prince v. Massachusetts: “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves, but it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”
In short, there is no reason to hold me—or the child that may receive a faith blessing—to a lower standard of care than everyone else.
Idaho law currently contains exemptions for faith healing not only under the Child Protective Act or child criminal neglect statutes (Idaho Code §§ 16-1602, 16-1627, 18-401, 18-1501), but also related to the commitment of the mentally ill for involuntary admission to a facility (Idaho Code § 66-329), the criminal abuse, exploitation or neglect of a vulnerable adult (Idaho Code § 18-1505), an action under the Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Act (Idaho Code § 39-5302), enforcement by Idaho Health and Welfare of hospital health and safety (Idaho Code § 39-1307) and nursing home health and safety (Idaho Code § 39-2405), issuance of a license as a nursing home administrator (Idaho Code § 54-1607), reexamination of a firefighter to return to service after a disability (Idaho Code § 72-1451) and the requirement of an employer to provide for medical services and treatment of an employee under Idaho worker’s compensation laws (Idaho Code §72-432). Obviously, not all of these sections deserve equal scrutiny.
It is also important to note that many of these faith healing exemptions only apply in situations where parents or patients “rely upon spiritual means alone.” They are fundamentally flawed by a selective application only to religious believers who decide to solely trust in God but refuse to also “tie up their camels.” Our state government should not be arbitrarily deciding which religious believers are exempt and which are not.
The issue is undoubtedly a sensitive one. But as a believer, I want Idaho law to consistently apply to believers and nonbelievers alike in the protection of Idaho’s children and vulnerable adults.
Coletti is an attorney at Hopkins Roden Crockett Hansen & Hoopes PLLC and also serves on the Ammon City Council.