The Washington Times
April 28, 2008

Washington Times Op-ed—California May Ban Spanking

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

It’s often said that California is a trendsetter. Ideas that begin in California have a habit of making their way across the country.

Currently, many families have been alarmed at the recent California Court of Appeal ruling that prohibits homeschooling unless the parent is a certified teacher.

In just 10 days, more than 250,000 people signed the Home School Legal Defense Association petition opposing this decision. Not all these families were homeschoolers. James Dobson of Focus on the Family says the ruling was an “all-out assault on the family.”

The good news is that the Court of Appeal has granted a request for a rehearing of its decision on homeschooling, which by law, automatically vacates the decision, meaning it’s no longer binding.

The court has solicited a number of public school establishment organizations to submit amicus briefs, including the California Superintendent of Public Instruction, the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and three California teachers unions.

Although there is no guarantee the outcome will be different after the rehearing, The homeschool community welcomes the opportunity to file an amicus brief advocating that the court retain the current method of homeschooling in California through the private school exemption.

Just when things seemed to be settling down in California, on April 3, Assembly Bill 2943 was introduced by assembly member Sally Lieber. This bill would have the practical effect of making a noninjurious spanking with an object such as a ruler, folded newspaper or small paddle illegal in California. The bill is identical to Assembly Bill 755, which failed to pass the assembly last year.

This bill amends Penal Code section 273(a), which makes it a crime to cause unjustifiable pain, harm or injury to any minor child. If the bill passes, spanking with an object such as a stick, rod or switch would be lumped in with throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child.

Striking a child with a fist. Striking a child under 3 years of age on the face or head. Vigorously shaking of a child under 3 years of age. Interfering with a child’s breathing. Brandishing a deadly weapon upon a child. These are all factors that a jury could use to conclude that a defendant in a criminal case has inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.

What the bill would do is to equate discipline administered via an implement with the above conduct, which obviously is abusive behavior toward a child.

This likely will have several negative unjustifiable consequences in California. Prosecutors could end up filing criminal charges against parents for simply spanking their children with an object even though reasonable, age-appropriate corporal discipline is a protected right of parents in every state.

Secondly, by the mere fact that jurors in criminal cases would be instructed that they could consider spanking with an implement to be criminal conduct would imply that the legislature believes that this type of conduct is abusive conduct. Finally, if this law passes, it will have a chilling effect on parents who reasonably exercise discipline through the use of spanking with an implement.

Although this is not a homeschool issue, it is a parental rights issue. One of the foundations for the right to homeschool is based upon the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children.

The erosion of parental rights is a dangerous trend. If California continues to push to have homeschooling parents be certified teachers and limit heretofore well-established disciplinary tools of parents, it will be asserting the view that the state knows what’s best for children, thereby limiting the authority of parents to raise their children in a responsible way.

Defending parental rights is apparently going to be an uphill battle in California. Now is the time to take a look at amending the U.S. Constitution to protect parental rights.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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