Mariah Walton was born with a tiny hole in her heart. It was easily fixable when it was first discovered, but rather than treat it, her mother opted to pray. Now Mariah is 20 and that hole has caused Walton to struggle for breath her whole life, as well as land her on a heart and lung transplant list.
"I think it's time to prosecute them," Mariah told KTVB on Wednesday, May 31.
Walton and her siblings are pushing Idaho lawmakers to change their legislation concerning faith healing. Currently, Idaho law protects parents from prosecution if their beliefs would prohibit them from seeking medical treatment for themselves or their children. The law even protects parents who let their children die from treatable illnesses.
Idaho lawmakers consider faith healing preferences to be constitutionally protected. "You know, It's a First Amendment right, the freedom of religion," said Republican State Sen. Lee Heider.
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Walton, who was born to a Mormon family, believes that her parents and other people who practice faith healing should be prosecuted for endangering lives. Walton has been in and out of the hospital for her entire life, and her condition currently threatens her life.
"My lungs burn because I can't get the oxygen I need," Walton told KTVB in an interview. "They used to pay over me. They'd say, 'God's going to heal you just have faith,' and all kinds of stuff."
Mariah's sister Emily told the Independent that their parents would tell the children “we needed to pray for Mariah, that she wasn't growing or doing well, and the evil spirits would leave her."
According to the Independent, Mariah's mother said she attempted to use natural and home remedies like herbs and oils during her prayers.
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The bill to amend Idaho's faith healing laws was initially introduced earlier in the year, but was killed almost immediately by key Republican lawmakers who disapprove new legislation that would modify the current exemptions. Democratic lawmakers have been trying to change the law since at least 2014.
Protecting the use of faith healing has become a contentious issue in Idaho in recent years. Many children of members of the Followers of Christ group in Idaho's southwest have died from treatable conditions, like pneumonia and food poisoning. Even when confronted with testimony like Mariah's, however, Republican lawmakers continue to undermine the bill or expand loopholes for negligent parents.