Religious Shield

Tylee and JJ from East Idaho News

If you haven’t kept up with this tragedy in South East Idaho, I’m sorry to have to relate this tale. You could Google it for yourself.

Lori Vallow and her new husband, Chad Daybell have been arrested.  They are in jail in Rexburg, Idaho. The bodies of Lori’s children (JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan) were found on Daybell’s property. The two children had been missing since last September. The couple have lied to authorities about the whereabouts of the children. The deaths of Vallow’s former husband and Daybell’s former wife are also suspicious and being investigated. It is all very tragic and horrific.

Prosecuting this will not be easy. Proving murder will take evidence or testimony. So far, the charges against Vallow and Daybell (husband and wife) include felony conspiracy to alter evidence (hiding the bodies). Vallow had previous charges of child abandonment. There have been no charges of murder.

But consider this; the Idaho legislature has taken one charge off the books: Injury to Children (18-1501 Idaho Code). This section of code makes it a felony to cause harm to children either through action or knowingly, through inaction. The law is clear that adults have a duty to protect children from harm.

Except… imbedded in this section of code (sub section 4) is Lori Vallow’s and Chad Daybell’s defense:

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 the “Religious Shield” law in Idaho.

I have discussed this before in reference to the religious sect in South Western Idaho, the Followers of Christ. This faith believes that God will cure and no medical care is needed if one’s faith is strong. Many young children have died in their congregation from treatable illnesses. But the Idaho legislature has determined that protecting this congregation’s religious freedom is more important than protecting children’s lives.

Is this why prosecutors in Rexburg have not filed any child injury or neglect charges against Daybell and Vallow?

Vallow and Daybell had their own religion. They believed these children were “zombies”. They and a group of like-minded believers concocted a belief system whereby they determined that people that didn’t believe as them were “zombies”, possessed by a dark spirit. The only way to rid them of this darkness was to liberate their bodies from it: death. These two could argue their actions were “spiritual means”.

These two have their defense handed to them by the Idaho legislature.

I do not know if such a defense is being planned. I do not know if the local prosecutor is refraining from making these charges due to this statute. But it sure adds complexity to an already complex and tragic case. It shouldn’t and the Idaho legislature is negligent for its inaction.

Removing sub section 4 from Idaho Code should be a very simple thing to do. But the Idaho legislature has failed to do so. There is no need to shield anyone who harms children. The state has a much higher priority to preserve child health, welfare and life.

And removing the “religious shield” does not limit anyone’s religious freedom. One can still use prayer or spiritual means to care for one’s children. But if doing so causes harm, the state should have the authority to say that is wrong.

The legislature has the duty to protect our citizens, just as JJ and Tylee should have been protected by their mother.  No one should be shielded from prosecution for harming a child.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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