By Stephen Baskerville
The California appeals court decision criminalizing parents who homeschool their children is only the tip of an iceberg. Nationwide, parents are already being criminalized in huge numbers, and it is not limited to homeschoolers.
During the Clinton years, the trend toward turning children into tools for expanding government power increased rapidly. Otherwise indefensible programs and regulations are now rationalized as “for the children.”
As a result, government now has so many ways to incarcerate parents that hardly a family in America has not been touched. The criminalization of parents is highly bureaucratic, effected through a bureaucratic judiciary and supported by a vast “social services” machinery that few understand until it strikes them. They then find themselves against a faceless government behemoth from which they are powerless to protect their children or defend themselves.
Homeschoolers are usually accused of “educational neglect,” a form of child abuse. Like other child abuse accusations, it does not usually involve a formal charge, uniformed police, or a jury trial. Instead the accusations are leveled by social workers, whose subjective judgment is minimally restrained by due-process protections. As Susan Orr, head of the federal Children’s Bureau points out, these social workers are in effect plainclothes police – but they are not trained or restricted like regular police.
Homeschoolers are not alone. Any parents can be charged with “child abuse” on the flimsiest of pretexts, because child abuse has no definition. Because of our presumption of innocence, crimes are generally defined as they are adjudicated: A crime has been committed if a jury convicts. But the roughly 1 million cases of child abuse annually (out of 3 million accusations) are “confirmed” or “substantiated” not by jury trials but by social workers or (sometimes) judges. Most such parents are not imprisoned. They merely lose their children.
Virtually every American can now tell of a relative or friend visited by the feared Child Protective Services because of a playground injury or a routine bruise. Too many dismiss these frightening ordeals as aberrations. In fact, they proceed from a bureaucratic logic that is driven by federal funding. The more “abuse” the social workers find, the more money they get to combat it.
But serious as this is, it is still mild compared to the largest sector of semi-criminalized parents: the involuntarily divorced. The moment one parent files for divorce, even when no grounds are evinced, the government automatically and immediately seizes control of the children, who become effectively wards of the state. Astoundingly, they are then almost always placed in the “custody” of the parent that initiates the divorce, placing the divorcing parent and the state in collusion against the parent that is faithful to the marriage and family. The non-divorcing parent, even if legally unimpeachable, can then be arrested for unauthorized contact with his or her own children. Here too abuse accusations can be readily fabricated out of thin air, further criminalizing the innocent parent. He (it is usually, though not always, the father) can then be arrested, even without a shred of evidence that any abuse has occurred. He can also be arrested if he cannot pay child support that may consume most or even all his income. He can even be arrested for not paying a lawyer or psychotherapist he has not hired.
But what is most striking here – in contrast to homeschoolers – is the absence of opposition. The genius of the feminists is to vilify fathers in terms designed to incur the revulsion of decent people – “pedophiles,” “batterers,” “deadbeat dads” – and too many conservatives and Christians are fooled.
In fact, the social science data are clear that these alleged malefactors are rare among biological fathers and almost entirely the creation of feminist propaganda. Accused fathers are no more likely to be criminals or child abusers than are homeschooling parents. They have merely fallen into the clutches of another sector of the child exploitation bureaucracy.
Indeed, it is well-known among scholars that true child abuse takes place overwhelmingly in single parent homes – homes without fathers. By removing fathers under trumped-up abuse accusations, the child abuse apparatchiks create the environment for real abuse, further expanding their business.
Campaigns against homeschoolers and fathers are only the extreme manifestations of the larger attack on all parents. They indicate where we all may be headed if we do not take a united stand for parental rights against a judicial-bureaucratic machine that is not only destroying families but justifying its own expansion in the process.
Though conservatives often misuse the term, two features used by scholars to define totalitarian government were its highly bureaucratic methods and its willingness to invade and destroy the private sphere of life, particularly family life. Both these tendencies come together in the governmental leviathan that now administers our children: the education establishments, family courts, child protective services, child support enforcement agents, “human services” agencies, counseling services, domestic violence programs and much more.
The very idea that the criminal justice system has been diverted from its role of protecting society from dangerous criminals and instead used to threaten law-abiding parents with jail for educating or raising or simply being with their children should be seen by all Americans as a serious threat to our families and our freedom.
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Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of “Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family” (Cumberland House, 2007).