- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Dan Sevy will eagerly agree that no one wants to see a child suffer.

Yet as a member of Idaho’s Followers of Christ and a participant of faith healing, Sevy believes that medicine is a product of Satan and should be avoided or face condemnation by God.

“Folks of our persuasion have headed toward the frontiers in the past,” said Sevy. “When civilization approached too close, we moved again but we’re out of frontiers and now we’re going to have to stand up to fight for freedom.”

Sevy defended his community’s beliefs in front of a small group of Idaho lawmakers on Thursday. As part of a request by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a legislative committee has convened to review the state’s contentious faith-healing exemption law, which allows families to cite religious reasons for medical decisions without fear of being charged with neglect or abuse.

In 2015, a working group appointed by the Republican governor found that the deaths of two children occurred because the families withheld medical assistance for religious reasons. One death was related to complications of diabetes and the other followed a prolonged gastrointestinal illness. The report concluded the deaths could have been prevented.

Currently, the state does not compile comprehensive figures on child deaths related to the religious exemption.

While faith healing has been a common practice throughout American history, many argue that such legal exemptions should be tossed out because it’s the state’s obligation to ensure that safety comes first rather than parental beliefs.

However, supporters argue that the law - which has been in place since the 1970s - protects religious freedom for people like Sevy. That argument has hit a chord inside Idaho’s deeply conservative Statehouse, where Republican lawmakers shy away from appearing to infringe on parental rights or freedom of religion.

Many children from the Followers of Christ - which Sevy estimated to have roughly 5,000 members in southwestern Idaho - are buried at a cemetery overlooking the Snake River.

“I don’t think the rights of the parents should so supersede the rights of a child,” said Ada County Prosecutor Jean Fisher, who urged lawmakers to remove the state’s exemption.

Fisher said that as a prosecutor, she is held to a higher standard than any other attorney - meaning she can only press charges if she believes the law is in her favor to win. Under Idaho’s religious medical exemption, she has been unable to bring possible child abuse or neglect cases to court.

“I think we should be looking at the rights of children, because children are not chattel anymore,” Fisher said. “Children are not property. I think we need to respect that.”

The interim committee will continue to meet over the summer, but it’s unclear if they will submit a recommendation before the 2017 legislative session.

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