Disabled Woman Proves Parents Should Not Have Religious Freedom When It Comes to Kids' Health

Usually, freedom of religion is great. It's literally one of the pillars that our democracy was built on, and for the most part, we love it. But sad stories that involve the health and well-being of children make us question it -- and Mariah Walton's story has us in that place right now. Walton, who's currently waiting for a heart and lung transplant, wants to prosecute her parents for refusing to get her the medical attention she needed as a kid on religious grounds. It's heartbreaking, and has us thinking the first amendment needs some adjustment.


Walton's 20 now, and her fragile condition was caused by a congenital heart defect that doctors are telling her could have been easily treatable -- if they had gotten to her as a kid. But because of their faith, her parents treated her with prayers and natural methods instead, and now, she's counting on a successful heart and double lung transplant to keep her alive.

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In Idaho, where Walton was raised, it's totally legal for parents to do what her parents did, and first amendment rights protect parents from any kind of prosecution -- even in cases where children die from preventable illnesses.

But Walton wants to prosecute her parents for endangering her life, so she's supporting legislation that would protect children from their parents' religious beliefs by requiring medical treatment for children in imminent danger of dying.

The thing is, many Idaho lawmakers are concerned that this proposal would violate parental rights, so it hasn't even been scheduled for a hearing yet. Basically, it's being stalled in the legal system, and it's barring Walton from getting the justice she feels she deserves.

It's frustrating. As much as we love the idea of religious freedom and a country that doesn't stop anyone from practicing any faith, the idea that parents could put that before the basic safety of their children is astounding. In some lights, this looks like neglect.

Really, in a perfect America, your religious rights would not extend beyond yourself. Your faith is good and fine, but it shouldn't have any bearing on another person's health or quality of life -- even if that other person is legally in your care.

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Sadly, Walton's story isn't new. Even just in Idaho there's more than one story of a child dying from a preventable cause because that child's parents turned to prayers instead of doctors, but similar cases have happened all across the country. Including Idaho, 16 states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children, which means that freedom of religion trumps child neglect.

That feels wrong, no?

It's a tricky situation, to be sure, but our thoughts go out to Mariah -- we hope she gets the answers (and the heart and lungs) she needs.

Watch the full Today show clip here:


Image via today.com

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