Guest Opinions

Weighing faith healing and exemptions to the uniform application of laws

You may have heard St. Augustine’s statement, to “pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” A Persian proverb reads, “Trust in God, but tie up your camel.”

When it comes to faith healing, many believe there is no friction between faith in the power of God to heal and God’s expectation that we do our part through personal action.

I am a witness to the power of prayer and spiritual blessings. There are many believers in faith healing in Idaho.

An Idaho legislative committee recently looked at faith healing exemptions in our laws. The question was, essentially, “Should the same standards apply to religious believers in faith healing as to nonbelievers if, God forbid, someone dies when medical care is available, but not used?”

My very personal answer is an unqualified, “Yes.”

Exemptions to the uniform application of laws should be used sparingly, especially when it concerns the life of another human being. Public policy weighs strongly in favor of a uniform standard for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Subjecting me, as a believer, to the same standards as a nonbeliever does not prevent me from exercising my faith, nor does it cheapen my faith in God and his power to heal. Holding me to the consequences of my actions does not violate my religious liberties.

Even more importantly, each child deserves equal protection under the law. This is essentially what the 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.”

Idaho law 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 for commitment of the mentally ill (§ 66-329), the criminal abuse, exploitation or neglect of a vulnerable adult (§ 18-1505), actions under the Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Act (§ 39-5302), enforcement of hospital and nursing home health and safety (§§ 39-1307, 39-2405), licensing of a nursing home administrator (§ 54-1607), examination of a firefighter after a disability (§ 72-1451), and medical treatment of an employee under worker’s compensation laws (§72-432). Obviously, not all of these sections deserve equal scrutiny.

Further, many of these exemptions apply only in situations where parents or patients “rely upon spiritual means alone.” They are flawed by a selective application only to religious believers who decide to solely trust in God but refuse to also “tie up their camels,” and, accordingly, may violate the Establishment Clause. 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 apply to believers and nonbelievers alike in the protection of Idaho’s children and vulnerable adults.

Sean Coletti is an attorney at Hopkins Roden Crockett Hansen and Hoopes in Idaho Falls, and also serves on the Ammon City Council.

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