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Leviathan in the Nursery

A couple of years ago Americans were hearing much about the child-abuse "crisis". For a time it seemed the media's airwaves and publications were full of ghastly accounts of parents abusing and neglecting their children. Decisive action must be taken, we were warned, in order to stem what was fast becoming a national epidemic. Legislatures in many states, responding to this latest crisis, quickly set about crafting child protection laws designed by "experts" to halt the growth of this problem. In short order, these laws were on the books, and reformers were congratulating themselves on a job well done in solving yet another social ill.

But what are the first fruits of this latest crop of fix-it legislation? For Stephen and JoAnn DeCosta of Rumney, New Hampshire, it has truly been a bitter harvest. In August, 1989, the New Hampshire Department of Health & Welfare, Division of Child and Youth Services, ("DCYS"), alleging child abuse, removed the DeCostas' four children from their home. And what is the abuse the DeCostas are accused of? It seems an anonymous caller informed DCYS that the DeCostas -- Bible-believing Christians who discipline their children according to biblical principles (Prov. 22:15; 23:13-14) -- spank their children. And according to the DCYS dictionary, spanking and child abuse are synonymous. In a subsequent secret court hearing, DCYS succeeded in persuading a judge to protect the children from future parental spankings by placing them in state custody. There the children will remain, unless the DeCostas can regain custody on appeal or, as a condition of the children's return, promise not to spank them and permit DCYS to constantly monitor the family. As we go to press, the DeCostas still have not recovered their children.

Under New Hampshire's Child Protection Act laws, the proceedings in these cases are secret, and Mr. and Mrs. DeCosta could have faced thousands of dollars in fines and a year's imprisonment for so much as talking about the case. Fortunately for the DeCostas, their ordeal became public when DCYS made the mistake of filing separate criminal assault charges against them. These charges were hastily withdrawn when DCYS discovered, much to its chagrin, that Section 627.6 of the Criminal Codes of New Hampshire actually authorizes parental spanking of unruly minors. But charging the DeCostas in the criminal court allowed them to respond publicly to the criminal allegations raised against them. This permitted the DeCostas and their supporters just enough freedom of speech to publicize the invasive outrage DCYS was committing in the continuing closed-door juvenile proceedings. As word spreads of their plight, public reaction has been one of disgust for the state's actions and an outpouring of sympathy for the family. Whether they are able to articulate it or not, most people seem to viscerally understand that the issue in this case is a critical one: Who rules the family -- the parents or the State?

Travesties abound in this case. Initially, DCYS was able to persuade the judge not to allow the DeCostas to even see their children. Only after the DeCostas discovered, by chance, that their 3 year old daughter had broken her arm in two places while in state custody, did the judge relent and permit visitation. However, the judge denied the DeCostas any contact with their oldest child, accepting the arguments of DCYS social workers that visitation would impede her "bonding" with her new foster-home family. In spite of a state policy that children are to remain within the religious community of their family, even when separated from their family, DCYS has consistently balked at permitting the DeCosta children to have contact with the Baptist church the family attends. Apparently, DCYS and the courts are blissfully oblivious to the probability that the only child abuse the DeCosta children have suffered is at the hands of the state, in being forcibly taken from their parents and church and placed in the homes of strangers.

The DeCostas' attorney contends DCYS has been surreptitiously leaking false information about the case in a calculated attempt to blunt public support for the parents, knowing court secrecy rules prevent the DeCostas and their supporters from divulging vindicating facts. "I'd love to tell you the facts in this case, but I can't," their attorney told ANTITHESIS. "If you knew the facts, you'd wonder how anyone could have thought to charge them with child abuse in the first place." The judge's secret findings in the case, virtually a rubber stamp acceptance of the claims made by DCYS displaying a pronounced bias against the DeCostas, were leaked to the state's largest newspaper and published. Defying logic, the judge held that while no single spanking constituted child abuse, (31 spankings distributed over four bottoms during a seven year period), the aggregate of all the spankings did. The judge thus circumvented the criminal code provision condoning parental spanking and found "injury" to the DeCosta children according to provisions of the Child Protection Act, which defines injury so broadly as to include hurt feelings and wounded pride.

The DeCostas' nightmare is a vivid example of how various social "crises" are often used as the pretext for smuggling into law the hidden agenda of the statist proponents of omnicompetent government. A "housing crisis" becomes the pretext for legislation denying landlords freedom to control their own property; a rise in crime becomes the rationale for depriving citizens of the right to own firearms. A "health care crisis" is the basis for nationalizing health care; an "auto insurance crisis" serves as the excuse for government turning insurance companies into public utilities. Most of these governmental intrusions aren't brazen enough to attract widespread outrage. But when the state grabs for control of the home and begins telling parents how they will raise their children, this is one usurpation Americans are unwilling to countenance. Therefore, the DeCosta's battle is our battle. Let us all pray for victory.

Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990
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