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Atheists: End Faith Healing Exemptions in Washington State

Girl undergoing Faith Healing

Updated: 2/20/2019

Olympia, Washington—American Atheists, on behalf of its nearly 1,500 constituents in Washington, submitted testimony supporting HB 1376 and SB 5749. These bills would protect children by allowing the government to prevent and prosecute medical neglect.

HB 1376 and SB 5749 were introduced in the memory of 17 year old Zachery Swezey of Carlton, Washington. In 2009, he died from appendicitis after his parents refused to seek medical treatment due to their religious beliefs.

But he is not alone. Research shows that between 1975 and 1995 alone, there were at least 140 pediatric deaths from conditions with a 90% or higher survival rate with medical treatment.

Under current law, prosecutors in Washington can do little to take action against those responsible for these tragic and unnecessary deaths. That’s because Washington’s child neglect law exempts faith healers from prosecution for child negligence and criminal mistreatment.

HB 1376 and SB 5749 are common-sense solutions to a tragic situation. They are constitutionally sound, since the Supreme Court has recognized that parents do not have the right to inflict their beliefs upon children by denying them appropriate care. Moreover, these bills remove the current language that unconstitutionally favors one specific religion by creating special exemptions for Christian Scientists.

Finally, HB 1376 and SB 5749 have won broad support. Child welfare advocates, medical professionals, religious groups, civil rights advocates, prosecutors, and parents’ groups have all endorsed these bills.