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Faith-healing panel to discuss limiting religious exemptions in Idaho

Last year, organizations such as the nonprofit Protect Idaho Kids attempted to modify the exemption instead of repeal it, but were again unsuccessful.
Credit: Idaho Press
Local Idaho leaders joined the March to Protect Idaho Kids in Boise on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Participants carried child-sized coffins through downtown Boise to the Idaho Statehouse, asking state lawmakers to repeal Idaho’s faith-healing exemption that allows religious groups to deny medical treatment to children.

BOISE, Idaho — A panel of experts and advocates is set to discuss whether to limit a faith-healing religious exemption in Idaho, one of few states that shields practicing adherents from civil or criminal prosecution when their child dies or sustains disabling injuries without medical care.

The Idaho Press reports the panel discussion is open to the public and starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the state Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium.

Child-welfare advocates, legislators and police officials in Idaho have fought the faith-healing exemption for years in hopes of reducing child deaths in the state, and yet bills to change or repeal the exemption have been voted down or have died in committee.

RELATED: Faith-healing follower sentenced for not reporting sex abuse

The 10-member panel includes Protect Idaho Kids founder Bruce Wingate, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, State Rep. John Gannon, Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones, First Presbyterian Church Pastor Andrew Kukla and Idaho Children’s Trust Fund Director Roger Sherman.

The panel also will include Tara Kester, who grew up in Canyon County’s faith-healing community and, as an adult, came forward to law enforcement about the sexual abuse she and her sisters suffered in secret as children. She is the daughter of Lester and Sarah Kester, both of whom were recently sentenced to prison for their roles in the chronic abuse.

Wingate said former Followers of Christ members Linda Martin and Willie Hughes will speak about their experiences, as well. The small and private Christian sect, which has a strong presence in Canyon County, is known to practice faith healing, with its members refusing to seek medical attention for themselves and children when injured or sick.

RELATED: Caldwell man who blamed 'demon' for sexually abusing children gets life

Last year, organizations such as the nonprofit Protect Idaho Kids — which is hosting Thursday’s panel-style event — attempted to modify the exemption instead of repeal it, but were again unsuccessful.

Wingate said the group will once again push for the modified exemption during the 2020 legislative session. However, this year, they hope to garner support from the House and Senate judiciary committees, not just the Legislature’s health and welfare committees.

A panel of experts and advocates is set to discuss whether to limit a faith-healing religious exemption in Idaho, one of few states that shields practicing adherents from civil or criminal prosecution when their child dies or sustains disabling injuries without medical care.

The panel discussion is open to the public and starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the state Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium.

Child-welfare advocates, legislators and police officials in Idaho have fought the faith-healing exemption for years in hopes of reducing child deaths in the state, and yet bills to change or repeal the exemption have been voted down or have died in committee.

The 10-member panel includes Protect Idaho Kids founder Bruce Wingate, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, State Rep. John Gannon, Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones, First Presbyterian Church Pastor Andrew Kukla and Idaho Children’s Trust Fund Director Roger Sherman.

The panel also will include Tara Kester, who grew up in Canyon County’s faith-healing community and, as an adult, came forward to law enforcement about the sexual abuse she and her sisters suffered in secret as children. She is the daughter of Lester and Sarah Kester, both of whom were recently sentenced to prison for their roles in the chronic abuse.

RELATED: Oregon Followers of Christ parents charged with murder for infant's death

Wingate said former Followers of Christ members Linda Martin and Willie Hughes will speak about their experiences, as well. The small and private Christian sect, which has a strong presence in Canyon County, is known to practice faith healing, with its members refusing to seek medical attention for themselves and children when injured or sick.

Last year, organizations such as the nonprofit Protect Idaho Kids — which is hosting Thursday’s panel-style event — attempted to modify the exemption instead of repeal it, but were again unsuccessful.

Wingate said the group will once again push for the modified exemption during the 2020 legislative session. However, this year, they hope to garner support from the House and Senate judiciary committees, not just the Legislature’s health and welfare committees.

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