BOISE — A resolution was introduced in the Idaho House on Friday decrying the persecution of Christians worldwide.
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, says freedom of religion for all “undergrids the very origin and existence of the United States and the State of Idaho,” and that 90,000 Christians around the world have been killed for their faith every year over the past decade.
This number comes from an estimate by the Center for Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. It has been disputed in some news accounts, as a majority of them were killed in tribal conflicts in Africa and it is debatable how much of a role religious persecution played in many of those cases.
The resolution says “there is a growing crisis of persecution and genocide against Christians underway,” and declares the Legislature’s support to freedom of religion for all, including Christians. It “calls for an end to Christian persecution, and calls on every government to recognize the fundamental rights of Christians to practice their faith without persecution or fear of death, rape, imprisonment, forced marriage, or physical violence.”
Giddings mentioned a presentation on the persecution of Christians put on at the Capitol two weeks ago by Shahram Hadian, a Washington-state based pastor and Iranian native best-known for his anti-Islamic views, and two other former Muslims-turned-Christians who talked about being persecuted.
“They shared a lot of information about the number of Christians and people who are persecuted for their faith across the world,” she told the House State Affairs Committee.
Giddings said that while death is the worst form of persecution, there are other, lesser examples in America. She gave several, including cases in other states where florists and bakers have been compelled to serve gay couples and an incident in Utah last week where a teacher forced a Catholic elementary school student to wash the ashes off his forehead on Ash Wednesday.
“While we may share similar values on religious freedom, I think if we ignore a crisis, it only allows it to get worse,” she said.
The committee voted to introduce it without any no votes, although a couple of Democratic lawmakers asked questions about the resolution’s relation to some Idaho issues. Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, alluded to the fact that Idaho doesn’t have legal anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people and said she hopes the Legislature revisits the issue next year.
“Yes, we do need to ensure all rights and all religions are respected, but we’re missing something in Idaho, we continue to every year, and that’s all human rights,” she said.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, who has unsuccessfully tried to introduce legislation in the past to change the Idaho law that exempts parents who believe in faith healing from prosecution if their children die from treatable illnesses, wondered if by voting for the resolution he would endorse allowing that.
State officials have documented numerous deaths in Idaho in recent years of children who had treatable illnesses but whose parents believed in prayer rather than medicine. Many are connected to the Followers of Christ, a church whose members mostly live in Canyon County and elsewhere in southwestern Idaho. Attempts to change the law have so far stalled, with some Republicans concerned about infringing on parental and religious rights.
“We do have a very serious issue in this state with regard to people who don’t believe in medical treatment for their kids,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a religion or nor. I really struggle with that. … Even if that’s a religion, I don’t think it’s a very good one and it’s one that needs to be reformed.”
Giddings said the point was to show support for Christians being persecuted worldwide and not to take a stand on the faith healing debate.
“I don’t want to link this to that issue,” she said. “I think this is more of a global level.”