Thirty-two states have religious exemptions to some crimes against children; six of those allow a religious exemption in cases including manslaughter, negligent homicide, or capital murder. But Idaho has earned a disturbing distinction: In the past two decades, it's the only one of those six states where kids have died due to parents' adherence to healing by faith alone. The past three years have seen at least 12 children's deaths in faith-healing cases, Vocativ reports. All the deaths were of members of a religious group called Followers of Christ. In a Followers cemetery near Boise, almost 35% of the graves belong to children, says a former member of the group who's now fighting for change. Among the deaths since 2011 are infants who died of sepsis and teens who died of pneumonia; one 15-year-old died after an "easily treatable case of food poisoning."
According to Idaho's 1972 religious-exemption laws, prayer is a form of treatment. No criminal charges have been filed in such cases since the laws came into existence. Activists say such laws contradict a 1944 Supreme Court decision that notes that while "parents may be free to become martyrs themselves … it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children." The Vocativ report comes after parents in Oregon were convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in their daughter's death last year. A Followers of Christ member who lost a son defends the group's practices: "I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom," he told KATU last year, as Raw Story notes. "It's not like you take 'a' freedom away. It's that you chip at the entire thing." (Read more Idaho stories.)