Faith Healing

A ceramic angel rests atop the head of a child’s grave at Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Caldwell.

Another group of international filmmakers is documenting Idaho’s faith-healing debate — and the children who die in communities that practice it.

Reporters and producers from France Télévisions, France’s national public television broadcaster, are in the Treasure Valley this week to interview prominent figures and outspoken opponents of Idaho’s religious exemption for faith-healing adherents like Canyon County’s Followers of Christ.

The Followers of Christ — a small Christian sect with members scattered across Idaho and Oregon — practice faith-healing, meaning church members won’t seek medical attention when they’re injured or sick. Local law enforcement believe Idaho’s community — including several hundred mostly in Canyon County — left Oregon after the state rescinded its religious exemption for murder and manslaughter cases in 2011.

Idaho is one of few states in the country with a law shielding faith-healing parents from civil or criminal prosecution when their children die without medical care. Controversy over children who were allegedly endangered or neglected because their families practice faith-healing continues to surface in Canyon County in particular.

Bruce Wingate — who has returned to leadership of Protect Idaho Kids — former Followers members Linda Martin and Willie Hughes, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue and Idaho state Rep. John Gannon are all participating in the documentary.

Canyon County’s faith-healing community and the 2017 fight to overturn Idaho’s religious exemptions for faith-healing adherents was previously featured in the A&E documentary “No Greater Law,” which premiered Sept. 24. Helmed by British director Tom Dumican, the film showcased unprecedented access to many influential members of Canyon County’s faith-healing sect.

Another attempt to overturn or weaken Idaho’s faith-healing exemption is expected to surface during the coming legislative session, although a similar bill drafted by Gannon and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones failed to even make it out of committee during the 2018 legislative session. Regardless, opponents of the exemption are ever hopeful continued publicity, coverage and advocacy will finally succeed.

Lawmakers and legislative candidates have voiced concern about removing the exemption, citing possible infringement on religious freedom and parental rights.

Nicole Foy covers Canyon County and Hispanic affairs. You can reach her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @nicoleMfoy

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