Social workers who entered a private Christian school without a warrant and questioned a 10-year-old boy about corporal punishment violated the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Ruling in favor of parents in Milwaukee, Wis., the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday the government employees – Carla Heck, John Wichman and supervisor Christine Hansen – in probing alleged child abuse at Greendale Baptist Academy, violated both the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
“This is a tremendous victory for parental rights,” said Steve Crampton, chief counsel for the Center for Law & Policy, which represented the parents in the case – John and Jane Doe v. Carla Heck, et al.
Crampton told WND, “This decision puts a stake in the ground telling [social workers], ‘The law applies to you, too.'”
The case arose, Crampton says, when social workers from the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which had been taken over by the state of Wisconsin, forced their way into the school over the objections of Principal Troy Bond, seized a 10-year-old boy with police assistance, and interviewed him about the school’s policy of administering a “swat” as discipline in certain cases.
Based on the information obtained from the child, the Center for Law & Policy said in a statement, the social workers targeted the parents’ disciplinary practices, questioning their own use of corporal punishment. Eventually, the social workers opened files on numerous families in the school and sought to remove the school’s accreditation.
The court also held that the social workers violated the rights of parents when they threatened to remove their children from the home even though, in the words of Judge Daniel A. Manion, they “had no reason whatsoever to suspect that Mr. and Mrs. Doe were abusing their children.”
Crampton said Mrs. Doe was forced to buy a cell phone so she could quickly contact her husband if the social workers tried to seize her children. He says she put blankets over the windows of her home for fear the social workers would try to stake out the house in search of information.
The appeals court further found that the statute under which the social workers acted is unconstitutional as applied to the parents and school. The Center for Law & Policy is petitioning the court for a more formal prohibition against the type of action taken by the social workers to prevent similar problems in the future.
Crampton explained that prior to the decision, the social workers were “free to run around like Barney Fife” with a loaded gun.
The case went to the appeals panel after the parents lost the first round in a lower court in September 2001.
Although the defendants originally were sued in their individual capacities so that damages could be determined, the court gave the government employees “qualified immunity,” preventing any monetary award.
Crampton is fairly confident the government agency will not appeal this week’s decision. “I would be shocked if they do,” he said.