Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parental Rights and Wrongs

Authorities in Texas raided a religious compound recently and took into custody 416 children. They were responding to a call for help, allegedly from a 16-year-old girl in the compound who claimed that she was mistreated by her husband. There were other reports of abuse in the community.

The compound residents are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from the Mormon Church some time ago. They apparently split from the Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy. The leader of the sect was convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape, for ordering the “marriage” of teenage girls to older men.

But to hear some of the wives from the Texas compound describe it, they lived in an idyllic environment. The children were all being raised to live moral, upstanding lives, they say.

At this point, it seems hard to know what was going on in there. No one denies that they practice polygamy, which I thought was illegal anyway. The children were housed in large dormitories, like barracks. It seems likely that the kids were not in a very good environment, but again, it depends on whose story you believe. At the very least, the religious teaching was not based on accurate interpretation of the Bible.

One question here is how far religious freedoms go. Should these men be allowed to take multiple wives? Should they be allowed to raise these hundreds of children as they please? Beyond physical harm, what constitutes child abuse?

Then I wonder, when is the state justified in stepping in? They have taken all these children away from their home, such as it was. It seems that their custody situations are unsettled at the moment.

It is scary to think that some social services case workers and bureaucrats can decide when parents are not doing a good enough job – if indeed the decision was made at that level. Authorities can then forcibly remove children from the custody of their parents.

Clearly there are many, many cases when such intervention is needed. I get sick every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect.

But good parenting doesn’t blow with the winds of political correctness. If current trends continue, parents could lose their rights to raise their children as they see fit.

Just last month a court in California ruled that parents could not homeschool their children in the high school years. Since no parent could be certified to teach every high school class, no parent is suited to teach his or her high school children at home, they said. Parents, then, would face criminal prosecution, unless they turn their children over to the state for education.

We need to keep a wary eye on those who think that raising children is the role of the state, not the parent. The Bible clearly teaches that raising and teaching children is the job of the parent.