Holding on to parenthood

By Steve Farrell
web posted July 12, 1999

In 1996, Hillary Clinton, echoing an obscure proverb, taught America that "it takes a village to raise a child." It was a catchy cliché that went the rounds, made its way on to elementary school bulletin boards, into school mottos, and no doubt, into social service handbooks across the country - as a reminder of how important to American children these teachers and workers really were.

And while, not wishing to belittle the efforts of those who with sincere hearts do try their best to teach the untaught, or rescue the bruised and battered from abusive parents, good intentions don't always translate into sound law.

Part of the problem has to do with definitions. For instance, what is a village? If the importance of a village in raising a child merely meant that mature adults should feel a moral responsibility to be models to the many children around them; and that parents and grand parents, teachers and storekeepers, ought to treat every child in the community with as much love and concern as they would their own; then few of us would object. In fact, it is natural for most human beings to so voluntarily act.

Religion reinforces and expands this inbred spontaneous charity to a sense of duty as well. "Love they neighbor as thyself" has ever been the Christian charge, a charge which prompts neighbors to dig in and help neighbors. Many do.

All around us we know of people who voluntarily offer to babysit to relieve a distressed mother; of women who include as one-of-their-own the neglected child next door or the nephew or niece left abandoned by the untimely death of a parent; of men, who noticing the neighborhood loner, decide to invite him with his own children to a ballgame or fishing trip, and those wonderful Thanksgiving or Christmas meals anonymously left on a door steps. And who can forget the clergymen, athletic coaches, scout leaders, parade chairmen, Sunday School teachers, fundraisers, and a vast assortment of others, who step forward to serve others without pay, and without compulsion. Simply because they love.

And while it's true, that the American people have often failed in their unregimented attempts to do good, as have all other people around the globe, yet where in history can you find a people which have been so kind and charitable in their efforts to be their brother's keeper.

Frenchmen Alex De Toqueville upon finishing a detailed study of the United States remarked: "There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America." He sited as evidence, the universal spirit of duty "due from man to man" which this devotion produced.

The simple fact is, the United States has a strong history of love of neighbor, of community spirit, or of being a village. But with one qualification - our legal and social tradition has left this business, until recent times, in private hands, to spontaneous acts of charity and community service, with due respect for the sanctity and privacy of the home. And in those cases where physical abuse by a parent was clearly evident, yet reverence for the Bill of Rights, was most always preserved.

That's how it was, but things are changing.

A few local Supreme Court decisions, based on a political philosophy, diametrically opposed to the system set up in the United States, paved the way early on for the disaster we have today.

It was in 1839 that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invoked the concept of parens patriae (the parenthood of the state) to justify the state's actions in supplanting parents if they are found "unequal to" or "unworthy of the task of educating children."

Next the 1882 Illinois Supreme Court held: "It is the imperative duty of every enlightened government in its character of parens patriae, to protect and provide for the well being of its citizens." Parens patriae, they dared to call the "most important function" of government, one of which "all constitutional limitations must ....not interfere with."

This was an outrageous conclusion, that we might preserve a child's rights by forsaking his future adult rights.

What ever momentum was building to this point for the parenthood of the state was cleared up by the 1925 U.S. Supreme Court Pierce v. Society of Sisters which ruled: "The rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be abridged."

Fortunately, in 1925, there were still enough Americans and legal scholars who endorsed the natural law argument of John Locke that "God (not the state) hath laid on [parents] an obligation to nourish, preserve, and bring up their offspring...providing a temporary government which terminates with the minority of the child" - an obligation which included the Biblical call to educate their own children.

Further, the protection of children's rights, except in the case of obvious physical abuse, as a duty of the state, was still viewed by most, as an absurdity. Children, taught Locke, were minors who were commanded by God to honor their parents, to sustain and defend the parents who bore, fed, and loved them. While allowing the state to become ruler in the home, as Blackstone pointed out, would open the door wide for a level of intrusive tyranny never before witnessed. Justice must have bounds for it to endure as justice.

But the victory for parents, and for rights in general, which occurred in 1925, has not survived the socialist onslaught which followed in its wake over the past three quarters of a century. The fact that people like Hillary Clinton believe that "there is no such thing as other peoples children," should be a warning that we are sliding toward the day when there is no such thing as privacy in the home and God-given rights for parents.

Steve Farrell is managing editor of Right Magazine. Please email your comments to Steve at SFNewsmax@aol.com

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