I owe an apology to Bryan Taylor, Prosecutor for Canyon County. I hope this is good enough for him.
Last week I wrote about Canyon County’s Followers of Christ Church and their strong belief in faith healing over medical treatments and how this has led to many documented preventable deaths of children. I referenced a conversation we had, when I asked him if he thought the law should be changed. He pretty much said, “That’s your job.” Meaning, as a legislator who works to write, repeal or revise the laws, that’s what I should have been working on. And he was right.
What I did not reference, but, thanks to the Canyon County Information Officer for supplying it, was a lengthy and detailed, even directive email to me.
Prosecutor Taylor clearly stated: “As a prosecutor, I feel as though it is my responsibility to protect our children.” Then he went on to outline the steps I should follow to change the law that would make “the cleanest” change.
I had discussions in the statehouse but drafted nothing. Today, I apologize for my inaction. But more I apologize for last week mischaracterizing Mr. Taylor’s position.
In 2017 the Idaho Senate took a run at the law. A bill got to the floor of the Senate where it was killed 11-24. Three out of five Senators with some of Canyon County in their legislative districts voted yes. Not a single Senate Democrat supported it. There were complaints it didn’t go far enough.
It’s hard to build coalitions around passionate issues.
I was also informed last week by the Canyon County Information Officer that Canyon County has in fact been doing child fatality reviews for some ten years or so. I have asked for details about how often, who attended, what were the findings, but those details are pending. But digging through press reports suggests it sounds like there could have been some conflict about how child death investigations were handled in Canyon County.
A LA Times article from 2017 described how the Canyon County Sherriff had formed his own unit to investigate childhood deaths. He had concerns that the then-coroner was not doing an adequate investigation. In 2018 Canyon County elected a new coroner.
It would be my hope that persistent investigation of childhood deaths in Canyon County could help bring clarity to this issue. Further, persistent scrutiny maintains focus. If clarity for a resolution to this issue, as expressed to me by Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor is found, I would hope such resolve could be communicated to our state legislature. And then some clear action to change the laws must be taken by the Idaho legislature. It’s long past time.
The “cleanest” solution proposed by Mr. Taylor was simple repeal of Idaho Law 18-1501(4): The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.
This is in the criminal statutes that define “injury to children” and carries a punishment of jail or prison. Removing this section which protects parents from prosecution would not prohibit the free exercise of faith healing, prayer, or religious practices, all protected by our Constitution. But it would turn up the pressure on parents to consider the children’s well-being.
Maybe Mr. Taylor said it best in that poorly-remembered, unacted-upon email he sent me when I was a State Senator almost five years ago now:
By changing the statute, it does not force an individual who believes in faith-healing to change their beliefs and I don’t think we should ask for that. The First Amendment protects ones right to have whatever religious beliefs they choose, but that right does not include the right to abuse or neglect a child.
Well said Mr. Taylor. I hope you will accept my apology. I wish I had done more.
Dan Schmidt is a family physician who lives in Moscow. Dr. Schmidt, a Democrat, served in the Idaho state senate from 2010 to 2016.