This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:

For 60 years, Mormons believed they had a First Amendment right to engage in plural marriage.

The United States government did not see it that way.

The government argued polygamy offended the nation’s sensibilities.

It contended one man with more than one wife was harmful to children and families — essentially the same case Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter employed against ending Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The government feared one man could not support several wives and many children without resorting to welfare.

Treating women in this way, the government argued, leads to subjugation of girls, the alienation of boys and the abuse of children.

People have the right to believe whatever they want, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed; they just can’t act on it.

So government agents, such as future U.S. Sen. Fred T. Dubois of Idaho, locked up Mormon polygamists. The people who wrote Idaho’s Constitution sought to disenfranchise anybody who even believed in the LDS faith. And until Mormons renounced the practice, Utah’s admission to the union was on put on ice.

Followers of the Rastafari faith sincerely believe marijuana is a sacrament. They say it’s good for body, mind and soul — and brings them closer to God.

But if they follow that teaching in Idaho, it will bring them closer to a magistrate judge along with a jail cell, fines and community service.

When the Gem State looks at marijuana, it does not see a sacrament; it sees a gateway drug, leading people to addiction to more lethal street drugs.

Idaho considers marijuana use a breeding ground for black markets, crime and corruption. A state that won’t even allow seriously ill children to use a derivative of marijuana to prevent seizures has zero tolerance for the idea that the First Amendment gives anyone the right to smoke pot.

And members of the Santeria — a mixture of Caribbean and Roman Catholicism — engage in animal sacrifice for healing, births, marriages and deaths. The First Amendment aside, at least one community in Florida sought to ban the “unnecessary” killing of chickens, goats and turtles. The courts sided with the Santeria.

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In other words, freedom of religion in this country is a right — but it’s one right among many, to be balanced against other constitutional interests such as, in this case, the “general welfare.”

With one glaring exemption.

In Idaho, a parent has an absolute right to withhold medical treatment from a suffering or dying child as a religious principle.

“We believe in freedom of health care,” Dan Sevy of Marsing, a member of the Followers of Christ who practices faith healing, told a legislative panel looking into the practice Thursday. “Not health care, but freedom of choice. There is no greater intrusion (by the state) than into your faith, your body or your family.”

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Co-chaired by Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, the panel launched its probe amid reports of children dying because of faith healing.

In 2013, the last year on record, the Idaho Child Fatality Review Team found five newborns died from faith healing in lieu of medical care. Five more deaths were documented in the preceding two years. And in a Canyon County graveyard used by members of Sevy’s religion, there are 40 graves occupied by children — signaling a child mortality rate 10 times higher than what you’d expect.

Within and outside Idaho, it turns out the faith healing exemption is an anomaly.

Nowhere else in Idaho’s child protection law will you find the rights of the parent placed above those of the child, deputy Attorney General Mary Jo Beig said.

And as the Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell reported, Idaho is among seven states with a faith-healing exemption. Moreover, only Idaho and Virginia preempt taking action against parents in virtually any circumstance, such as non-support, neglect or injury to a child.

Odd, isn’t it?

Idaho’s conscience is not troubled about infringing on the religious rights of consenting adults.

But when it involves the health and safety of children too young to choose for themselves, it’s willing to look the other way.


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