Judge Orders Children out of Home School Because of Creationism?

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This news story has been raising some eyebrows lately: it appears that a North Carolina judge has ordered three children of a divorcing couple to be sent to public school in part because of the father’s concern that the children are being taught creationism at home. Prof. Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert, has some comments here. Personally, I’m very skeptical about the news report. Legal reporting is often extremely misleading, and it’s always best to be skeptical. In this case, the story only quotes the mother (who, of course, lost the case and is the one complaining) and not the judge. The mother claims that the judge based his ruling in part on this issue, but we don’t have the judge’s own words before us.

Putting that aside, this is not an easy question to call. Of course, the prospect of a judge basing a custody decision solely on this issue is very troubling–there are far more relevant factors in a custody case than whether a child is receiving adequate science instruction. And a parent has a right to direct the religious upbringing of a child, including the right to teach a child ludicrous religious dogma instead of science. That’s a sad thing, but people often think other people’s exercise of freedom is a waste. Certainly history includes many atrocious cases in which atheist parents have lost their children because judges thought it was “better for the child” to be taught religion.

Still, the father also has a right to educate his children, and if he thinks the children are not being instructed adequately, he has a legitimate complaint. There are good reasons to be concerned about the quality of education in home schooling environments (although there are certainly many very high quality home schoolers). In a case like this, it is probably best to ensure that although the mother is free to teach her children her religious beliefs, the father is also free to teach real science to kids if he chooses. But, again, we don’t know all the facts, or even the other side of the story.

I think everyone can at least agree that child custody cases are extremely complicated matters–which cannot be accurately described in a brief news story, and obviously should not be decided on the basis of evolution or creationism education alone–and that except in cases of actual abuse, minor children should not be taken from parents because of the religious instruction that parents are giving their kids. The problem is, when does religious instruction become abuse? That line can often be blurry–but if it’s just a dispute over evolution and creationism, it’s clearly not abuse.

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A Can of Worms from Holy Schmoly on March 18, 2009 3:43 PM

This, at The Panda’s Thumb. There are a lot of considerations that go into a custody decision. I’d be surprised if this were the only reason.  The story itself caught my eye because, surprise! I found myself in the same situation not that l... Read More

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I noticed that story, mostly because I was educated in creationism as a homeschooler. I don’t consider that abuse, just an unfortunate side effect of homeschooling. Most of my education was top notch, even the non-evolution parts of biology so I’m not annoyed that my parents knew very little about science. I’m thankful that they instilled in me enough of a love of science that I was able to eventually figure out that creationism is just bullocks.

I hope that they weren’t forced into public school just because of stupid old creationism.

The Raleigh News & Observer had audio of the judge’s ruling. We listened to it, and I don’t remember creationism being mentioned.

IIRC, his logic was that the father father never agreed with the homeschooling, and that a regular school environment would be in the bests interest of the children. The children will finish out the semester in homeschool and then transfer to public (?) school starting next year.

The children will probably have a better education in the Wake County schools than at home school. Wake’s public schools are some of the best in the country.

Jesse Wrote:

I hope that they weren’t forced into public school just because of stupid old creationism.

Me too, and not only because anti-evolution activists must be salivating at the opportunity to yell “censorship” without it necessarily being a bald-faced lie. There are probably other issues complicating it, but if the parents’ disagreement were the only factor, and if it’s legal (I’m no legal expert), if I were the judge I’d rule that the mother could home school the children, but the father had to devote equal time to teach the children a critical analysis - a real one, not a phony one like the DI’s nonsense - of whatever creationist arguments the mother teaches them.

Timothy Sandefur said: The problem is, when does religious instruction become abuse?

There are some, such as PZ Myers over at Pharyngula, who would agree that religious instruction in and of itself is child abuse.

but if it’s just a dispute over evolution and creationism, it’s clearly not abuse.

this is not an easy question to call.

so which is it, Tim?

Teaching kids exclusively fiction IS damaging to normal mental development.

If i were to lock my kid in a closet to prevent them from getting contact with any other human beings for years at a time, that would most certainly be considered physical abuse.

if one locks a child’s mind away from reality for an even longer period of time, that certainly seems to be a case for abuse in my book.

If this were some wacky cult instead of religion, and the child was being indoctrinated into the cult instead of this “religion” against the father’s wishes, this discussion would be short.

the only thing separating religion from cult is the 501c3 status.

Paul Burnett, above, adumbrates something that we need as a society to find a way to solve. It is the distinction between instruction and indoctrination.

If one believes that any “fact” that disagrees with the bible must be >notafact< because the Bible is perforce inerrant, then that person cannot teach another.

Timothy Sandifur Wrote:

The problem is, when does religious instruction become abuse? That line can often be blurry–but if it’s just a dispute over evolution and creationism, it’s clearly not abuse.

The issue may not be whether or not it is abusive to the individual child, but whether or not it becomes abusive to the society in which the child is fed and protected.

Much depends on how many parasitic individuals can exist in a society without pulling down the fabric of society or endangering the welfare and safety of others.

We don’t let blind people fly airplanes, drive buses, or even drive as individuals in rush hour traffic. That’s not discrimination; it’s just common sense.

We like to have qualified doctors working on our diseases and ailments. We want qualified engineers and architects construction the buildings we work in and the infrastructure we depend on for power, water and waste management.

We want competent scientists working on understanding the universe in which we exist, and working out the implications of that knowledge for applications.

If any individual, family, sectarian group, or whatever, wants to educate their child with pseudo-science, they should not then expect that their child should be given any substantial responsibilities or rewards for supporting the society that supports them. And if they choose to subvert the educations of others in order to sneak their dogmas into society, they ultimately degrade the society in which they live.

If society can support parasites, then the parasites can believe whatever dogma they wish. However, they should not have access to any responsible positions in society until they get remediation and ditch the pseudo-science.

Even primitive societies require all their members to contribute. Maybe they can’t be faulted for having superstitions, but the effects of those superstitions can be devastating to a society if they prevent members from perceiving correctly their relationships to their environment. Just because our own society is larger and “more sophisticated” doesn’t remove similar dangers for us.

If any individual, family, sectarian group, or whatever, wants to educate their child with pseudo-science, they should not then expect that their child should be given any substantial responsibilities or rewards for supporting the society that supports them. And if they choose to subvert the educations of others in order to sneak their dogmas into society, they ultimately degrade the society in which they live.

If society can support parasites, then the parasites can believe whatever dogma they wish.

But we need to consider the importance of compartmentalization. I spent my life working with brilliant engineers, who have had important roles in designing, inventing, and developing many of the technologies we’re using to have this discussion.

And quite a few of these engineers were flaming YEC bible-bangers of the worst stripe - but ONLY when that compartment was entered. Most of the time, designing the substrates and the circuitries and the protocols shared no overlap with the “bozone” inside which the woohoo lived, and so there was no conflict. And no question that these people were far more than “being supported” by society - they played key roles in making that society work, and were rewarded accordingly (and I think justly).

It’s simply not the case that even the most prima facie preposterous religious doctrine cripples its victims. It ought to be clear-and-present obvious that even Ken Ham couldn’t survive through an entire day without a profound respect for the importance of evidence, of drawing logical conclusions, of hewing to the rigid discipline of cause and effect. If he approached eating like he approaches biology, he’d starve. If he approached walking that way, he’d spend all day flat on his face.

Hey, creationists wouldn’t be regarded as nearly so threatening if they applied creationist-type dogmatic idiotic thought processes to their goal of rallying political and financial support, and crippling targeted scientific disciplines. But in fact, they are as intelligent and creative in seeking their goals as they are relentless. They are far from idiots in their zeal to impose and enforce specific idiocies. Compartmentalization is real.

Pretty fair report Tim. (From a homeschooling IDiot, me).

Flint said:

But we need to consider the importance of compartmentalization.

Oh, indeed.

I was thinking more of those who can’t keep their pseudo-science (or other misinformation) from intruding into the larger society.

I also know the same kinds of people you describe, and they contribute a great deal. These people at least seem to have enough sense to know where their sectarian induced pseudo-science no longer contributes anything to their work. What they do outside of work may be another issue if they attempt to push their pseudo-science onto the schools.

A parasite takes from its host and gives nothing substantial back (with perhaps the exception of excrement and poison).

The question about a child being “abused” by the teaching of pseudo-science by his/her parents comes down to the effect of that teaching on the larger society rather than its effect on the individual child.

And we do have to be concerned, in a democratic society, about the effect of systematic misinformation influencing policies that affect all. This is probably where we see the most insidious effect of sectarian pseudo-science; e.g., the denial of objective scientific evidence needed for important decisions on health and climate issues.

Thus, we can clearly identify the major parasites in the “Discovery” Institute, Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation “Research”, and others. Their politically active blind followers are also biting the hand that feeds them.

I suspect that the major reason we worry about creationism in the home schooling environment is because of the history of the fundamentalists who actually have leached off and have attempted to undermine the society that supports them. We have decades of experience with their disruptions.

This is a divorce proceeding. It appears that the divorce may have arisen at least in part because of the church this mother is going to and their home schooling obsession (all of the children who attend this church are homeschooled). I can’t possibly guess how much of this is getting even with the mother for her newfound religiosity and how much is real concern for the kids. I’m not even sure if the father can.

And a parent has a right to direct the religious upbringing of a child, including the right to teach a child ludicrous religious dogma instead of science.

I always object to children being viewed as their parents’ possession, where parents are free to do what they want with/to their children. While bringing children up religiously is surely not an abuse of parental rights, keeping them away from the possibility to learn about real science might be. There is not only the parents’ freedom. What about the child’s freedom?

Wouldn’t a science tutor be a more practical and less invasive solution? Assuming of course, that the news story is correct.

Mike Elzinga said: If society can support parasites, then the parasites can believe whatever dogma they wish.

I don’t think anyone would accuse the Amish or Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania and other states of “parasitism,” but their insular practices of raising their children have been called “child abuse” by some. Is it “child abuse” to deliberately only partially educate a child so that they will remain in a centuries-old time bubble?

But here is an example of out-and-out parasitism: A small Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community on the Arizona-Utah border has most of the world’s cases of fumarase deficiency disease, and depends on the larger society’s welfare mechanisms to support their defective offspring. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fumara[…]t_settlement and the article’s references.

Wouldn’t a science tutor be a more practical and less invasive solution? Assuming of course, that the news story is correct.

We’re all making the assumption that this is strictly about science education, particularly creationism.

But back out to the larger view. You have a divorce going on with what appears to be a significant disagreement between a mother who wants to cocoon her child deeper into her religion and a father that doesn’t think that this is such a good idea.

That’s actually both a reasonable and common disagreement that divorcing parents have.

It’s not at all unusual for divorce settlements to stipulate how much church, and what denominations, the children get.

If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the topic of “religion” was a bone of contention in this household, even before home schooling got discussed.

Obviously you are right that it’s best to be skeptical. But as a person who grew up with extreme religious fundamentalism forced upon me from a young age, I disagree that such an environment is not abusive to children.

We clearly don’t know what is really going on here. But I firmly believe that it is NO ONE’s right–not even a parent’s–to indoctrinate another person, especially a helpless and trusting child, into any kind of belief. People of all ages need to be free to make their own decisions about what they do and do not believe. If the judge ordered the children placed in public school to relieve them of constant exposure to religious indoctrination from their mother, then I applaud him for standing up for the rights of these children to be individuals and to make up their own minds.

But I suspect that it’s really something else going on.

Oh, I meant to add this bit as a response to your question about when religious instruction becomes abuse. If it’s meant to terrify the child into obedience–such as threatening with eternal punishment in Hell, or with missing out on “the Rapture,” and thus having to suffer through years of unrelieved torment on Earth–this last bit was my particular form of religious abuse–then it’s abuse. If a child is ever being intentionally frightened or made to feel insecure by his or her parents, that child is being ABUSED, whether or not the parent has the child’s best interests at heart.

Due to my religious abuse as a child, I shut off my ability to play and had to re-learn how to have fun as a pre-teen, when a fortunate divorce separated me from the crazy half of my family. Even after I learned how to lighten up and enjoy life once in a while, I still suffered from near-crippling anxiety that was just generalized; my brain had learned how to be in a constant state of anxiety (fearing the wrath of God) and so that was my default mode. Some days I would just randomly throw up because a wave of anxiety would overcome me out of nowhere–I suppose it was a “panic attack.” Once I ended up in the hospital when a random anxiety attack made me pass out. Most of my memories of my life before high school are of crying, hiding, and being afraid of God. Pleasant, huh?

Today, as an adult, I am on medication to control my anxiety attacks. I feel certain that I would not have to treat myself with meds if I weren’t exposed to the emotional abuse of religious terror as a child. And I want to make it clear that in all other ways, my family was quite nice and pleasant. No other form of abuse took place. It was entirely a forced fear of God that did it to me.

Paul Burnett Wrote:

I don’t think anyone would accuse the Amish or Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania and other states of “parasitism,” but their insular practices of raising their children have been called “child abuse” by some. Is it “child abuse” to deliberately only partially educate a child so that they will remain in a centuries-old time bubble?

That’s a nice example. The Amish around here are actually very helpful to the community. They manufacture furniture, help with the work others need done, and generally seem to be conscious of not wanting to be a burden. They don’t proselytize or attempt to influence the education of the children of others, and they keep to themselves as much as they can.

Then their children do eventually have an opportunity, though painful for them, of choosing to stay or leave the community.

I have Mennonites way back in my ancestry, and the historical record of their activities in Canada shows that they were extremely important to the survival of the frontier communities during and after the Revolutionary War. They were, of course, pacifists, and despised by those who participated in the revolution.

The case of debilitating genetic diseases is interesting because it raises all kinds of issues related to the future gene pool. We generally assume that it is humanitarian to care for people who cannot care for themselves. The same can be said about being responsible caretakers of pets. Such behavior illustrates an important cooperative and altruistic character that is important for survival of the group which, in turn, helps with the survival of the individuals in that group.

Those of us who have lived and worked in situations where the survival of the entire group depends critically on the knowledge and abilities of each individual member of the group become especially attuned to the dangers of sloppiness and parasitism. Selection can seem ruthless, but it is ultimately and literally life-saving.

Primitive societies have little choice about how to handle such cases; but advanced societies with good science can at least work on the problem and learn how to extend life and perhaps mitigate or eliminate the effects of these diseases.

Michael Wrote:

Wouldn’t a science tutor be a more practical and less invasive solution? Assuming of course, that the news story is correct.

Suppose it were biology? What goes on the transcript?

I think the solution to this might be state or national standards that mandate minimum requirements (and in the case of biology, this includes evolution). If the home-schooled student doesn’t pass such a course, he/she doesn’t have it on a transcript and would have to take a non-credit, remedial course in college in order to enter a field that requires knowledge of biology. It’s less clear about students majoring in non-biology related areas, but I think most secular colleges and universities have a general education requirement that includes science of some sort.

I have known students from home-schooled programs (some of them religious) who qualified and were accepted for a competitive high school program at a math/science center. They were still required to pass a rigorous biology course that included evolution.

The problem is, when does religious instruction become abuse? That line can often be blurry–but if it’s just a dispute over evolution and creationism, it’s clearly not abuse.”

Tell it to the father whose children are being brainwashed to believe in an alternate reality that serves a lifelong delusion, in most cases, where ignorance and prejudice are embraced.

It’s never “just creationism.”

So so long as you believe in evolution you won’t hold any prejudices? In other words you’re perfect? What about Herbert Spencer & HG Wells with their desire to massacre “inferior” races?

Sounds like certain small churches which say you can’t sin after they’ve baptised you.

Novparl said:

So so long as you believe in evolution you won’t hold any prejudices? In other words you’re perfect?

The facts of evolution and evolutionary biology are heavily documented facets of (biological) reality. Accepting the facts of reality are no guarantee for perfection, though denying reality, whether through religious commands or invincible ignorance, is considered to be a grotesque character flaw.

What about Herbert Spencer & HG Wells with their desire to massacre “inferior” races?

We all know your propensity to present distorted, inaccurate caricatures in place of actual evidence. It gives you the same sort of charm a diplomat who argues that the Iranians can’t be reasoned with because they’re all scimitar-wielding desert thieves has.

But, this is what we must expect from a pseudo-skeptic who’s too terrified to attempt to read even a Wikipedia article.

Sounds like certain small churches which say you can’t sin after they’ve baptised you.

You do so much projecting, you should get a job at a movie theater.

When I first came across this news story I was appalled. That was until I read this one line

“In an affidavit filed Friday in the divorce case, Thomas Mills stated that he “objected to the children being removed from public school.” He said Venessa Mills decided to home school after getting involved with Sound Doctrine church “where all children are home schooled.”

Where all children are home-schooled.

That indicates the possibility of a problem like they are hiding children from reality of their teachings.

I looked a little into this church, they make some doomsday cults look like nurturing environments. When googled the ministry was on another apologetic ministry website blog (think adult version of campus crusades for christ super evangelical and fundamental) and even they think these people are misguided and as the analysis goes on to show total brainwashed wackjobs, The title “Sound Doctrine Church: Will they pour the Kool-aid soon” speaks for itself.

Then in looking at the church ministry’s manifesto, I was shocked to find they admit that some of their teachings may be considered brainwashing. Essentially this church teaches that your own opinions and/or thoughts are evil and complete hogwash. And in order to be a true Christian you must allow God to “crucify your mind” and that individuals need to “pour contempt on our own opinions and hearts’ desires”. And just to put a nail in the these people need their head examined coffin “Only those who hate their lives, deny themselves and pick up their cross to follow Jesus are Christians.”

As much as on the surface this may look to be a science issue it really is not. And as much as I ususally can disagree with Mr Sadefur he is right the issue here is when does religious instruction become abuse? This church is abuse and that judge did the right thing putting these children into public schools. Honestly I can’t believe he will allow them near such a destructive environment period especially when the father clearly objects. If the mother wants to believe fine she is an adult, but the children are going to be brainwashed into thinking thier own thoughts are evil and sinful which sounds like a path to self-loathing which Oh wow no shock is one of the values this “church” preaches.

Novparl,

Read those articles yet? Revised your opinion yet? Should anybody care yet?

This thread is not very enlightening.

Child abuse is legally defined.

Statements like “meat is murder”, “property is theft”, or “religion is child abuse” have no legal meaning.

The standard for taking children away from their parents is set high, and it should be.

Merely homeschooling a child in a creationist milieu may be misguided, and detrimental to the child’s long term interests in some ways, but it does not constitute abuse.

Obviously, if we decide to break up loving families on the grounds that they can’t provide what we see as an ideal environment, enforcement will become arbitrary and sometimes cruel. Many non-creationists will be affected.

Therefore, the standards for child abuse focus on things like physical or severe psychological harm. No competent judge is confused about that.

However, this is a divorce case with a custody element. The issue is not whether or not a parent is abusive - it is implied by the fact that there is even a controversy, that neither parent is overtly abusive.

In a custody case, the question of which parent can provide a more “ideal” environment may be of relevance.

Home schooling is not an easy thing to do well. The feelings of the children matter, too. They may prefer to attend school.

Putting aside scientific issues, it is reasonable for a judge to consider home schooling versus school attendance as a single factor in a custody decision, along, of course, with whatever other factors are of relevance in that individual case.

As a biology grad student in the ‘90’s, I taught introductory biology and also genetics to undergrads. I taught a number of students who had been homeschooled, and some of them had not been taught evolution by natural selection. I learned that this did not matter; in all but one of those cases, the students were much better readers and writers than their public school educated peers, and thus did very well in these classes. They were well-prepared to understand the theory of evolution even though most of them were encountering it for the first time, and they often had a more sophisticated understanding at the end of the course, because they could read and write well.

I suspect that you are right, Tim, and that this decision has more to do with the divorce and other issues than it does with the teaching of evolution. However, I’d much rather teach a high school or college undergrad who can read and write and do math well, than students of the same age who are deficient in these areas, but can parrot back what they learned and misunderstood in high school about the theory of evolution.

Also, I did homeschool my son during middle school due to concerns I had about how the schools in my area were not addressing his needs (he has a form of autism called Aspergers Syndrome). We did discuss evolution, but I spent more of my efforts teaching him basic physical science (especially Newton’s laws) and also working on measurement, units, significant figures, accuracy and precision, because I knew how well these skills would prepare him for doing science in high school. We also did quite a lot of natural science in our mountain environment, because I was interested in inculcating into him a love for the natural world so that he would ask good questions, as well as good observation skills. Finally, we really worked on teaching him what science actually is, and how the scientific method really works. Now that he is in high school, he is doing very well in science, loves it, and can think about it in more sophisticated ways than can his peers.

Child abuse is legally defined.

poor argument. legal definitions change on an almost daily basis.

…or would you have us actually go through the history of what defines child abuse on a state by state basis for the last 100 years?

maybe just a smack on your knuckles with a ruler will suffice?

I taught a number of students who had been homeschooled, and some of them had not been taught evolution by natural selection.

you need to recall, or learn, that not all homeschooling is done for reasons of religious indoctrination.

however, in this case, that is EXACTLY what the purpose of the homeschooling is.

and no, I have never seen someone homeschooled by evangelical xians, that had a better grasp on ANYTHING, let alone science, in my years of teaching.

It’s decidedly a handicap to be homeschooled in a tradition of ignorance.

Merely homeschooling a child in a creationist milieu may be misguided, and detrimental to the child’s long term interests in some ways, but it does not constitute abuse.

The formal teaching of anti-scientific lies to a child is a very good sign that some form of serious psychological abuse is or will occur.

Does anyone here think that Casey Luskin wasn’t abused as a child?

Home schooling is not an easy thing to do well. The feelings of the children matter, too. They may prefer to attend school.

This has nothing to do with “home schooling”. The formal teaching of bald-faced lies to a child as if they were remotely credible is not “schooling.” It is brainwashing.

If anyone tells you it’s not brainwashing, they are liars as well. Liars for Jesus. Liars for “the intent of the Framers.”

Same difference.

Lying turds.

I thought Ms. Mills had done a good job [in homeschooling]. It was great for them to have that access, and [I had] no problems with homeschooling. I said public schooling would be a good complement.

Judge is probably a member of the NCSE and got his text from the ACLU, just like Judge Jones. Stinking communists.

As would “assuming” someone is a bad parent because they are a Christian, Jew, Atheist, or whatever.

But like I already pointed out, Christians get it put on them the most in this country.

Christians don’t teach their kids to ignore what’s been discovered so far.

If they did, I wouldn’t have had much of an education.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on March 14, 2009 1:32 PM.

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