Everyone is entitled to their own choice of faith, beliefs, and lifestyle, and to an extent, families try to pass down these beliefs to their children. However, a group of Mormons who are known as ‘Followers of Christ’ might be taking it a bit too far.
20-year-old Mariah Walton has a strong message but a weak body. Her lungs have been wrecked by illness and she’s permanently disabled.
When she’s not bedridden, she has to carry around an oxygen tank to help her breathe. At times, she has screws in her bones to keep her breathing device in place.
All of these things could have been avoided when she was a baby by getting a small congenital hole in her heart closed. But instead, her Mormon parents, who had decided to go off the grid and not give their children medical help, tried to pray her illness away.
For years Mariah grew increasingly ill and her parents would pray for her and use alternative medicine. Finally, she decided to leave without a Social Insurance Number or a Birth Certificate.
If she were living one state over–in Oregon–her parents would have gotten charged, but because of certain laws in Idaho, they’re off the hook.
In Idaho, parents cannot be prosecuted for neglect if they choose faith over providing medical care for their children.
These laws, which have been in place since the 1970s, have been the cause of Mariah’s case as well as several preventable child deaths.
Mariah and her sister recently participated in a panel discussion on this issue with lawmakers at the state capitol.
Idaho is one of only six states that still offers a faith-based shield for crimes such as neglect and manslaughter.
Mariah’s family is one of those groups who is benefiting from this legal protection. But a large number of children have passed away in southern Idaho. They came from families that belong to these reclusive groups who use faith-healing techniques.
There is a cemetery just west of the capital which records the deaths of children who had lived as short as a day, week, or month. The child mortality rates for the Followers of Christ between the years of 2002 and 2011 was ten times higher than the rate of the entire state of Idaho.
Mariah wants to see her parents get prosecuted. ‘They deserve it,’ she told The Guardian. ‘And it might help others.’
She was diagnosed at 18 with a congenital heart defect. Since she was not treated when she was young, she now awaits a heart and lung transplant which is a very risky procedure.
Mariah’s sister Emily recalls her parents gathering them as children and being told that Mariah isn’t doing well. Their parents would urge them to pray for her so the evil spirits would go away.
Her parents said that they had also been using “natural medicines” like oils and didn’t realize how sick Mariah actually was.
Mariah is continuing to push for legislation that would require ill children to be treated by law. For some Idaho lawmakers, this raises concerns for the rights of parents. ‘It’s a first amendment right,’ said Sen. Lee Heider. ‘The Freedom of religion.’
However as more and more reports of preventable child deaths come in, lawmakers are beginning to review the current system.
Although the Followers of Christ do not often speak with the media, Heider attended one of their services. He described them as nice people who greeted him and read from the New Testament.
Mariah’s parents don’t agree that she should be the ‘poster child’ for this issue, but Mariah hopes to send a message and that the laws will be changed soon.