Idaho legislators support letting children die of medical neglect

Idaho legislators support letting children die of medical neglect

Gravestone of Pamela Jade Eells who died after she was denied medical care for pneumonia. Pamela had been raised in the extremist faith group, the Followers of Christ, which opposes medical care.

Telling constituents it’s acceptable to deny children needed medical care doesn’t seem like something that would get a politician re-elected. But that’s what’s happening in Idaho.

Child advocates have been imploring lawmakers there to change laws that prevent adults who deny children needed medical care from being prosecuted. The laws apply to people who claim to have only prayed over a sick child rather than take him or her to a doctor or hospital. As a result, there is an unusually high child death rate in one extremist group, the Followers of Christ. Read More »

What is Religious Child Maltreatment?

What is Religious Child Maltreatment?



When I began writing my book, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, the term religious child maltreatment or RCM did not exist (and numerous searches proved that Google had never heard of it.)

This dearth of information indicated that there hadn’t been much study on the negative impacts of religious practices and beliefs. And when I began asking people about it, I learned that talking about the subject often made people uncomfortable and sometimes defensive. Read More »

A Pioneer in Children’s Advocacy Retires

A Pioneer in Children’s Advocacy Retires
Dr. Rita Swan

Dr. Rita Swan Speaking at a CFFP Conference


Anyone who follows the issue of religious child maltreatment—particularly cases in which children die from “faith healing”-related medical neglect—has heard of Dr. Rita Swan. I have had the honor of working with Rita and consider her a friend. Now this pioneer in child advocacy has announced she will retire at the end of this month.


Rita began fighting to protect the health, safety, and lives of children before few people had even heard of religiously “inspired” abuse and neglect. Tragically, Rita had experienced such problems firsthand. She and her husband Doug had been members of the Christian Science Church, an organization that has discouraged members from seeking medical care for themselves and their children. As she writes in her memoir, Rita and Doug, both having been indoctrinated in the Church’s teachings, allowed their young son Matthew to die from spinal meningitis in 1977. Read More »

With the close of the Idaho legislature, more children will die

With the close of the Idaho legislature, more children will die

ID legislature

We’re sorry to report that yet another year has gone by in which the Idaho legislature has refused to help children who are getting extremely ill, suffering disability, and dying—all due to lawmakers fiercely clinging to a twisted belief in “religious freedom.” Read More »

Idaho lawmakers publicly shamed for allowing children to die

Idaho lawmakers publicly shamed for allowing children to die

Mariah Walton who accuses her parents of denying her medical care as a child  (Photo courtesy of Jason Wilson of The Guardian)

The Child-Friendly Faith Project and child advocates in Idaho and around the country have worked hard to raise awareness of an unfolding tragedy: For decades, Idaho has been allowing parents to deny their children needed medical care, as long as they justify such neglect with religion.

Now people around the world are paying attention.

A week ago, The Guardian published a feature that became the no. 1 read story on its site. This week, the issue was covered by both “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” Other national and international sites have also covered this issue. Read More »

Idaho wrap-up: ‘Faith healing’ bill is dead, Senator gets an ‘F’ in child advocacy, hopes for an interim committee, and another young member of a faith group dies

boywindowIt would seem that child advocates have closed an agonizing chapter in our fight to help save the lives of children in Idaho who are denied needed medical care due to “faith healing” beliefs. The bill that aimed to protect these children died last week.

But the fight is not over. Child advocates in Boise are looking to form an interim committee, whose goal would be to propose legislation for next year. We will keep you posted on this. Read More »

Idaho committee chairman receives ‘F’ grade in child advocacy

Idaho committee chairman receives ‘F’ grade in child advocacy

One year ago, the Child-Friendly Faith Project and local advocates began meeting with Sen. Lee Heider about a critical issue—Idaho’s failure to protect children from egregious ‘faith healing’ medical neglect. In evaluating his ability to be an advocate for children, the board of the CFFP agrees that the Senator deserves an ‘F.’

Lee Heider

Lee Heider is Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee which was asked to consider a bill that aimed to protect children in Idaho from “faith-healing” medical neglect. Here’s why we believe Sen. Heider deserves a failing grade for his work on this urgent, life-and-death issue. Read More »

Are Idaho lawmakers ready to legalize all religiously motivated child abuse?

Are Idaho lawmakers ready to legalize all religiously motivated child abuse?

girl in white pray_63441574

As Idaho legislators consider a bill that would protect children from egregious “faith healing” medical neglect, some have a lot to say about religious freedom.

Sen. Lee Heider, who chairs the Sen. Health and Welfare Committee, has repeatedly stated that he opposes a bill that would make it illegal for adults to deny children necessary medical care for religious reasons.

“I don’t find fault in the fact that, because of their religious beliefs, we should prosecute them if a child dies. You know, it’s a first amendment right, the freedom of religion.”

“I think everybody cares about the health of children,” Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter told the media, “but we also have to remember the very first amendment to our Constitution. . . . No. 1 was religion. . . . I think it’s important to remember that they didn’t do ‘em alphabetically.”

Given this allegiance to protecting people’s right to freedom of religion, I wonder if legislators would support the legalization of all parenting decisions made in the name of faith that also jeopardize children’s health and safety. Read More »

Idaho Governor talks about ‘faith healing’ child deaths; town hall meeting is held

Idaho Governor talks about ‘faith healing’ child deaths; town hall meeting is held

Panelists at Boise town hall meeting (Nishant Mohan/ID Public Radio)

Last week, before I headed to Boise, Idaho, I was looking forward to being part of a panel discussion organized by local child advocates. The purpose was to offer a public forum for Idahoans who wanted to ask questions and share their views about the state’s religious “faith healing” exemptions.

But I had no idea just how significant the week would turn out to be.

On Wednesday, the day before the event took place, Rep. John Gannon submitted a bill to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The bill aims to better protect children who are raised in religious groups that reject medical care. (Previously, committee chairman Sen. Lee Heider had promised a hearing if a bill on the issue was submitted to his committee although he remains steadfastly opposed to changing the law.) On Thursday, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter stated he wants the legislature to study the issue. Read More »

Legislators in Idaho don’t like the idea of faith-healing-believing parents being prosecuted for denying their children needed medical care. But chances are, it’s not something they need to worry about.

Given the media attention surrounding “faith healing” child deaths in Idaho, legislators are probably thinking about whether they should change the state’s laws that currently fail to protect children in certain faith communities from medical neglect. Some have said it’s wrong to prosecute parents who neglect their children’s health for religious reasons.

But before lawmakers go too far down that road, I suggest they give thought to a baby named David Hickman.

David was born two months prematurely on September 26, 2009. His parents were members of the Followers of Christ who don’t believe in medical care. So when it was clear that David was going to come well before the due date, his parents didn’t go to a hospital. Instead, they continued with their original plan to have a home birth with no medical professionals present.

David's mother, Shannon Hickman, at her trial

Shannon Hickman, David’s mother at her trial

After David’s tiny body emerged, he seemed okay at first, despite the fact that he weighed only 3 pounds, 7 ounces. But soon after that, the color and muscle tone began leaving his face. His body turned blue. Then gray. Still, his parents only prayed and anointed him with oil. Nine hours after delivery, David died. Medical experts later determined he would have had a 99 percent chance of survival had he been provided medical care. Without medical care, his chances were “zero,” according to court documents. Read More »