Do Anti-Spanking Laws Protect or Destroy the Family?
By Richard Walbaum
If anti-spanking laws are evolutionary and thereby in accord with natural law, they will not cause other problems but will be supportive of the family. I can identify several problems with anti-spanking laws:
1) If “legal” punishment is not sufficient to control the child’s behavior, he can run the family since he knows he won’t be punished.1 This divides the family by pitting children against parents. Parents are liable for the property damages their kids cause, but are not allowed the means to control or adequately discipline them. And children are given the power to abuse the parents; there are already reported cases of children who have bruised themselves and turned their parents in for child abuse.
2) The law outlaws spanking, an act that is not by itself abusive; psychology, intent, and the situation must be considered. For example, a child may think a spanking game is great fun. Is breaking someone’s bone abusive? I saw a show where firefighters wanted to break a person’s leg (they didn’t) in order to extract him from being pinned in his car to save his life. I have seen boys take turns hitting each other in fun, and bruises are a part of football. When the intent is not abuse, the act is not abusive. The same applies when it is done in love for disciplinary purposes; absent love, it could easily be abuse. Since abuse is more than just the act, prohibition of an act cannot affect abuse. Natural law is purposeful; if a law has no function, it should not exist. Spanking can, of course, be made to cause great harm; anything can be abused. If it turns into a crime, doesn’t the current law handle it? If not, the law is not aligned to natural law and needs to be changed. If it can’t be changed because of undesired side effects (e.g., replacing our form of government with a totalitarian form), then do nothing and let natural law take care of it; natural justice is a fundamental aspect of natural law and retribution will naturally be made.
3) Since spanking is not abusive per se, the government may be prohibiting right action. Natural law does not outlaw right action; there is no penalty for it, it is rewarded. Government does not have the power to prohibit right action because free will is a gift of the Creator, and we have a right to perform all possible actions (subject to certain conditions) for the purpose of learning life’s lessons; any infringement violates the intent of the Creator. Nor can government compel wrong action; every situation is complex, and to not spank when it is necessary might be a sin of omission. If you argue that spanking is never necessary, well, if a boy pulls a knife on his sister (this happened in Europe), I wouldn’t spank him; I’d cane him (just what his step father did). If government passes child discipline laws (spanking laws being the first step), spontaneous right action applied to the situation at hand will no longer be possible. A law to constrain abusers must not also constrain the virtuous; it must be discriminative enough to be able to tell the difference.
4) Jurisdiction vested in the parents by virtue of birth and consent of all parties, is transferred to the state in violation of that consent. The parents gave the children birth using the natural laws instituted by God. They are a gift of the Creator. That the parents are a jurisdictional unit seems to be lost from sight; they are being relegated to the status of baby sitters. Parents can and do make and enforce laws upon their children. “Be home by 10 PM or you will be grounded for a week” is parental law outside the jurisdiction of the state. Unfortunately, parental jurisdiction is being terminated by bringing family questions (in this particular case spanking) before the state. Just as we may disagree with the harshness or leniency of the laws of other countries, other states, or other parents, we have to respect their sovereignty because of the agreements they have made between themselves, and the lessons they are learning. As long as there is going to be abuse from a jurisdictional authority, I would rather have it be the parents with whom there is natural love and affinity, rather than an uncaring state. Government can dispense much more destruction on far more people, both virtuous and sinner alike, and is hard to keep under control. Any abuse by parents is at least localized, and at its worst if you could see the mechanics from cosmic perspective, is really a lesson to be learned by parent and child.
5) Violations of natural law by the state may be worse than the potential harm of spanking. If you bring in government to solve a problem, it is possible that it will tear apart or destroy the family. Regarding marriage, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Matt. 19:6. The state never imposes divorce, but always tries to protect the marriage. How much more are children placed into a family by God, but how casually government will remove them. And consider the damage upon the children ― imagine being stolen away from your parents. The possibility of losing your kids also provides a disincentive to get professional help if needed. Public policy should not be in conflict with itself; if parents need help, there should be no law to act as a disincentive.
6) Anti-spanking laws violate Christian precepts, and since this is a Christian nation, they will give rise to discord. Natural law brings harmony to the entire diversity of creation; it doesn’t create discord. We have seen that the Bible promotes family, that children are to be regarded as a gift from God, not a gift from the state, and the father, not the state, is to have authority over the children. Those who believe in the Bible are entitled to follow it as a way of life, and Congress even passed a law asking us to voluntarily apply the teachings of the Bible and the Holy Scriptures (96 Stat. 1211).
7) If the police power can be invoked against religious beliefs regarding parental jurisdiction over children, then it won’t stop there. The Jewish practice of circumcision, even though based upon covenant with God, will not be able to resist the police power protecting children against what an objective person (i.e., the state) would view as mutilation or sexual abuse. If spanking cannot stand, then by what theory of law can circumcision? What is the difference?
8 ) It gives rise to confusion about right and wrong. When a person does what he believes to be right (even to the point of telling the state to butt out), and you charge him with criminal conduct, you create confusion and resentment which may give rise to more problems than you solve. When one’s own internal reference, one’s conscience, one’s link to natural law is in conflict with man’s law, that law is inappropriate. Even if the law if right, if mankind is not ready for it, the law is inappropriate. Anti-spankers argue that it is common for abusers to tell the state to “butt out.” I disagree; it is the righteous that will tell the state to “butt out.” Thieves, murderers, rapists, arsonists, burglars, etc., do not tell the state to butt out; they know what they are doing is wrong.
9) If the theory of law is upheld that the state has the power to prevent spanking based upon the potential for harm, it won’t stop there. Pregnant mothers could be placed on strict diets because of the potential harm that unsuitable food may have on the unborn. I heard of a woman who wanted a regular birth, but the county prosecutor filed suit insisting that she get a C-section because a regular birth might endanger the unborn’s life (she got the C-section and avoided a court case). Experts might specify the proper diet and living habits for each member of society, with fines shared with those who turn them in for violations. This would be based upon the cost of health care that society must pay due to bad living habits. Etc. etc. etc., all based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of state power, and what makes this a free country.
10) Those who are concerned about families and child abuse want to put that concern in the hands of the state ― an entity that deals in law, punishment, guns, jails, money, regulation, child kidnapping, slavery, and sales of children, but not concern. There are no bonds of affinity or affection between government and those it regulates. The general level of corruption in our society, reflected in our government, will be brought to bear against the virtuous, though the law is presumably targeted against the abusers. The virtuous will be caught in the same trap set to catch the abusers; it can’t tell the difference. The tool (the state) needs to be more refined than the equipment (the family) it is being used on.
11) It conflicts with the right to privacy and creates a police state. In order to make determinations of day to day discipline (spanking being the first step), the state must become intimately involved with each family, requiring massive monitoring and intrusion into family life, and citizen police (“see something, say something”), contrary to the principles of a free society and the original design of this government.
12) You may argue that even though anti-spanking laws cause harmful side effects, this is a small price to pay to protect innocent children from injustice. First of all, price is a subjective value judgment, plus you are asking others to pay it. Freedom includes the ability to abuse that freedom; our founding fathers paid the price for both. If you want a free country, you have to put up with the potential for abuse. Second, justice is a law of nature; if you see injustice when you see an “innocent” child being spanked, your understanding about how life works is incomplete. But that’s another story for another time. Third, natural law does not solve one problem by creating another. Any law in accord with natural law will not have this kind of price to pay.
Either rewrite the anti-spanking laws without these side effects, or leave it alone and let natural law and justice take care of it as it has done for several thousand years. Your desire to protect children, while laudable, is too shortsighted if it runs the risk of destroying the family and our way of life.
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