The state Department of Education is considering the possibility of providing exemptions from the newly mandated AIDS instructional courses in all grades of Idaho's public school system, and at least one religious denomination wants some accommodations on the issue.
Christian Scientists, in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Elaine Eberharter-Maki, have asked, not for a blanket exemption from the courses for their children, but for some accommodation for their religious beliefs, which leave health care to spiritual rather than medical means."For many years, Christian Scientists have obtained, on religious grounds, certain accommodations for their children in compulsory courses teaching disease development on the body, symptoms of disease, vivid pictures of, or movies of disease, and drawing pictures of disease," attorney Charles Bauer said in the letter.
"When a class presents medical procedures as the only alternative available to treat disease, it is directly contradicting the child's actual practice of worship and study in the home and church," Bauer said. "Our basic approach is fundamentally different, and people have difficulty in understanding that this is something we rely on. This is our means of care."
Officials said some schools already recognize the right of an individual to hold such religious convictions and have granted waivers based on them, helping to plan alternative courses of study.
But Deputy State School Superintendent Gus Hein said those waivers probably were granted illegally since individual schools and administrators have no right to make those decisions.
"If we feel comfortable giving exemptions, then we should provide schools with the language and ability to do so in a written form," he said. "Right now, we're examining the best way to deal with religious objection to health-education classes, and how to make it work on a practical basis."
Hein said the department is concerned that the AIDS education requirements will not be fulfilled if exemptions are granted.
"We are seriously considering it, but it's not yet definite," he said. "We will be going back to the board in September with any revisions in the plan, and a decision will be made at that time."