|| A WORD FROM MIKE SMITH
Beyond our expectations
|© PETER CURTIS PHOTOGRAPHY, INC.|
|J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association|
"Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain." Psalm 127:1 (NKJV)
At Home School Legal Defense Association, we believe in this principle of truth so strongly that every Tuesday and Thursday morning before we begin work, we gather to pray for God's help and direction for our leadership, staff, and member families. Among other requests, we always ask God to help us with our casesto grant us wisdom in making the right arguments, and favor with the judges.
We've learned by experience also to ask that God's will be done in each one of our cases, rather than to simply pray that the legal theories we argue would prevail.
That's because we realize that our knowledge is finite. Only God's knowledge is infinite. Sometimes he has an outcome in mind far better than the result that we're pursuing in the courtroom.
This truth has come home again in the final outcome of the Stumbo case, our cover story for this issue. The results of this North Carolina State Supreme Court decision are significant in several ways.
First, the decision is significant because it ruled against the department of social services. It is rare to win any decision in court that appears to restrict the actions of social workers, whose job is to detect child abuse and protect children. Appearing to be unsympathetic to children can be the deathblow to an elected official's careerand many judges, including North Carolina Supreme Court justices, are elected to their positions.
Second, the decision was unanimous. This is very unusual in any case that reaches an appellate-level court, especially at the state supreme court level, where there are seven justices who all hold divergent views.
Third, the majority opinion (four of the seven justices) found that the social workers did not have the authority to even initiate an investigation based upon the information they received. Someoneprobably simply a passerbygave an anonymous tip to the department of social services alleging that a young child was seen naked in the front lawn of the Stumbos' home.
In the North Carolina Supreme Court's majority opinion, Justice Robert Orr recognized that there are circumstances that involve negligence of parents, perhaps, but that negligence does not rise to the standard of neglect, and families should not be subjected to intrusive investigations as a result. I salute the North Carolina Supreme Court for their common-sense approach to this case.
This ruling is unique, because it is the first time (to our knowledge) that any court has ruled in a case involving abuse and neglect investigations that child protective services did not have a right to at least make contact with the family involved. Since there was no precedent for such a decision, HSLDA did not even attempt to argue this position. In other words, the court came to this conclusion on its own-without any urging from HSLDA or the other participants who filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Stumbo case!
A side observation: while courts may occasionally rule on a case without adopting the litigants' arguments, we were surprised that the court would go off on its own in a case involving the protection of children. The North Carolina Supreme Court stuck its neck out on behalf of families in the face of possible recrimination in the next election year.
However, what makes this case even more significant is that a minority of the judges (three of the seven) wrote a separate opinion which adopted almost verbatim the arguments we made in our briefs and in our oral arguments before the court. The minority agreed that the social workers could not demand that the Stumbos allow their children to be interviewed, because there was not sufficient cause to justify such an interview. By adopting this ruling, the minority decision reaffirmed that the Fourth Amendment does apply to child abuse and neglect allegations, and specifically, that it applies to social workers attempting to separate children from their parents for private interviews. This is not new law in our country, but it reinforces the law in the State of North Carolina. Although not binding authority, the Stumbo decision lays the guidelines for North Carolina Child Protective Services workers to follow when they conduct investigations and seek interviews.
This decision and our role in it point out the spiritual principle of co-laboring with the Lord in everything we doincluding protecting our families in court. On the one hand, we believe that we have the background, training, experience (over 20 years), and motivation to do an outstanding job in every single case we handle. We do everything within our power to raise every plausible legal argument to protect our families from unlawful state interference in their lives and homeschooling. But, on the other hand, we also recognize that unless the Lord builds the house we labor in vain. Unless the Lord blesses our efforts, our efforts are in vain.
So, even though it can be damaging to our egos at times (can you believe that lawyers have egos?) when we prevail in a case before a court that does not adopt our legal theories, we believe wholeheartedly that we are God's instruments as he carries out his perfect will. We see our role as being responsible for laboring with all of our soul, all of our might, and all of our strength on behalf of our member families, at the same time recognizing that we're dependent upon God for the results.
We'll continue to do everything we can to protect families' integrity and freedom to homeschool. And we will also continue to pray that God will pour out His blessing on our families, the homeschool movement, and HSLDA.