Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Limits of Parental Rights

No, this is not another post about the FLDS situation. There are plenty of those already, including my own. It's true that the issue I want to discuss was brought to my mind because of the FLDS situation, but it really is a much broader issue: parental rights.

Generally I'm a supporter of protecting parental rights, but everyone must admit that there are limits. Clearly, no one has the right to inflict abuse of any kind on children. Child neglect also warrants intervention. But the FLDS situation has raised our awareness to some shades of gray that our society is struggling to come to terms with.

I don't know if the number of children who have been victims of abuse or gross neglect in the FLDS compound is 0 or 400. I'll leave that for the court to decide based on the evidence, and I hope that they make the right decisions in each individual case. But the media isn't satisfied to report on the evidence (whether real or imagined) and allegations of abuse. In addition, they have launched into a full-scale assault on their lifestyle. The implication of many media commentators, and talk show hosts such as Dr. Phil, is that even without specific abuse, the compound is destructive to children, and therefore the removal of the children is justified. This is based on the opinion, which I agree with, that the world-view and culture of the FLDS are misguided and socially destructive.

Now I've already focused too much on the FLDS in this post. As I said, I want to talk about a broader issue. To bring this closer to home to the mainstream LDS church, to which I belong, let's consider this quote from The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

Mainstream LDS accept this as truth. But the feminist movement would generally disagree. They would see this statement as old-fashioned, discriminatory, and destructive. They might even go so far as to say that it is irresponsible to teach such a distorted world-view to children. Why should women feel any guilt for making the same decisions that men often make: to work instead of staying home with family? This view that used to be limited to extreme feminists is now generally accepted by our society. The distinction between the roles of men and women is diminishing, and is likely to continue to diminish as times goes on, causing the position of the church to become even more radical.

So how long will it be before they come for our children? How long will it be before Dr. Phil interviews an ex-LDS about what life is like growing up believing that women have the primary responsibility to nurture children, and the audience gasps. After all, says Dr. Phil, parents at least need to have a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Perhaps I'm being too sensational, but I hope you get my point. Here's the question: Where do we draw the line? How wrong is too wrong to be parents? How many lies do you need to tell your children about the world before you become an unfit parent? And who gets to decide if what you are saying is lie or truth?

In short, where do the rights of parents end?


Anonymous said...

Intresting thoughts, espacially since there are an awful lot of people in the U.S. who dont think theres that much difference between us and the FLDS. Were just a bigger cult to them, heck were not even really christians. (Insert groan here)
Just too many subtle nuances for them to notice, like our freedom I guess. I guess thats why I would never even consider Obama or Clinton, I want smaller government not a bigger one that thinks it has to put its nose in our business. Parental rights to me are one of the most important issues I can think of. Im a history buff and cant help but think about what if my family and I lived back in Joseph Smith's day or even Nephi's and we were in Jerusalem and taken to Babylon and told like Daniel to accept Nebuchadnezzar as our god. Werent parental rights violated across the board there and then. Im not saying any thing that drastic is about to happen but we are
LATTER DAY Saints and who knows what tomorrow will bring. Hope Im not jumping around too much, it just ties in, in my mind to how we are supposed to live. I would like to think that in any circumstance me and my house would serve the Lord.

David West

Dan Knudsen said...

I’m curious as to what the results would have been had the Texas officials swept down on a community of equal size, anywhere else in Texas, and had taken 400+ children, protectively separated them from their parents, interviewed each of them, etc.--how many of them would have been found to have been abused; how many of the teenage girls would have been found to have been pregnant (or would have had an abortion to terminate a pregnancy); and, then compare those results to the results announced on the status of the FLDS children. Also, what kind of commotion would have been raised by those parents, and how many of those doing this service, for the benefit of all mankind, would have been shot by the law-abiding fathers of those children?

Mike said...

Thanks for your comments.

Dan, actually I would not be surprised if there is a higher concentration of abuse among the FLDS than among the general population. Based on the interviews of some FLDS, it does seem that they are not fully willing to condemn things such as underage marriage, and perhaps are willing to bend the truth in order to protect others. But, as I said in my post, I don't know for sure if the number of abused children is 0 or 400. I'll leave that to the courts to decide. But I do see your point that if you were to grab 400 random kids, I would bet that at least some of them would have been abused in some way, unfortunately.

But really, my post was intended to go beyond the FLDS issue and talk about a parent right (or lack thereof) to teach something to their children that is seen as destructive by the rest of society, regardless of whether there is actual abuse or not. Given the current status of the FLDS situation, its difficult not to make the discussion about FLDS (and admittedly my post focussed too much on them), but really I think we are not seeing the forest for the trees. In the media's discussion of FLDS we are ignoring the larger question: Even if we vehemently disagree with what a parent is teaching his/her child, does he/she have a right to teach it anyway? The media sometimes refers to this as "brainwashing", which sometimes seems to just mean "teaching something as truth which I think is false."

Dan Knudsen said...

I agree with what you’ve said, but wanted to make the point that it would be interesting to have something to compare to the FLDS--even though it was a bit off-track to your post. I am sympathetic to their plight insofar as their constitutional rights have been violated, but that’s it.

Mike L. said...

Thanks for your comments Dan. I think I agree with you on the constitutional rights issue. At this point I just hope the court does its job (and quickly) to find those who have been abused and let everyone else get on with their lives.