Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Foster care, bigots and the rights of kids.

I happen to believe that rights, properly understood, do not conflict but state involvement usually creates conflicts, where none previously existed.

For instance, I do not dispute the right of bigoted parents to teach bigotry to their children. We are, after all, dealing with their children, who are being raised with their own resources.

But, what about adoption? Well, if the adoption agency is private then they have a right to screen out parents who are bigots. Or, if they are bigoted themselves, to screen out tolerants. These private agencies would also, in my view, have the right to discriminate against gay parents, or fundamentalist parents, or simply parents who are too damn cheerful.

Then we come to cases like that of the Pentecostal couple in the United Kingdom who wanted to foster children. It is a case that has the Right in an uproar, and as is so typical for them, they often distort the facts or pretend the case was about something other than what it really is about.

In this case Owen and Eunice Johns, an elderly fundamentalist couple, wanted to foster children for the Derby City Council. The couple are anti-gay and said they would teach anti-gay views to children in their care. The council, which would pay them to care for the children, decided not to use them.

Of course, the Religious Right immediately lied. The Catholic New Service claimed “Christian beliefs can keep couple from being caregivers.” No, that’s not exactly true. Apparently there is the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the atonement and “God-hates-fags” all in the same Apostle’s Creed. Of course, anti-gay attitudes are not a Christian doctrine, it is a view held by some Christians but until recently very few churches made it part of their doctrines and almost none, even today, include being anti-gay as an article of faith.

Now take a second to consider the fostering system. The Jones would effectively be agents of the state, paid by the state to care for children who are current wards of the state. That is how it is, like it or not.

Should taxpayers subsidize fundamentalist parents who will use the money they received to preach anti-gay views to children, who are not their own. In this case neither the children, nor the resources being used, actually belong to the couple in question.

Turn the issue around and I think it becomes clear. Consider a couple of gay atheists who wish to foster. What if they taught children that Christians were evil and wicked and dangerous to society? Should they be funded with the tax monies of Christians? No. So neither should the Johns be on the list of approved foster parents.

The Johns and their supporters are screaming that their “right” to be Christians is being violated. But they are still free to believe anything they want, go to church as much as they want, pretend they speak in tongues, hop around wildly in church and claim to be under the “Spirit” and all the things Pentecostals like to do. They can argue the finer points of Dispensationalism and faith healing until the cows come home. All their natural rights as Christians are intact.

What is different, however, is that the state is not willing to fund them to teach bigotry to children who are wards of the state. I think an atheist foster parent would have the right to teach there is no god, and a Christian foster parent has the right to teach there is a god. But neither should be given access to state funds to teach kids to hate the other. The Johns were not denied foster funding because they were teaching the doctrines of Christianity but because they said they would teach kids that homosexuals are evil and sinful.

Ideally all child care should be private. Given that it isn’t, and the state is involved, then the state should be neutral. And, like it or not, foster parents are basically agents of the state, funded with taxpayer money.

Remove the government funding and the issue changes significantly. I would strongly oppose any effort to prevent the Johns from fostering children if the children came to them through private agencies and the costs of fostering were paid for by the couple themselves or through voluntary donations.

I would say the same thing for a racist couple. Consider how the Johns, who are black, would feel if they had funds taken from them by government in order to pay members of the British National Party to raise wards of the state and teach them black people are a threat to White Christian civilization. While I doubt they would want to take the natural children of White Nationalists away from them, they would have a problem if the state were to subsidize the racist teachings and hand over the children for the bigots to indoctrinate.

The Johns said: “Being a Christian is not a crime and should not stop us from raising children.” Well, the issue is not whether they can raise children. No one is stopping people from having children. The issue is whether or not they should receive tax funds to do so. The Johns could go to private care facilities for children and offer to care for children. If they weren’t well past child-bearing age no one would castrate Mr. Johns or tie Mrs Johns’ tubes. They would still be free to raise children.

What it adds up to is this: the right to raise children was not denied, the privilege to care for wards of the state, using state funds was denied. But that is not a right. Their right to believe their own faith is safe and secure. But the access to government funds to teach hatred, in the name of that faith, to children who are not their own, is not secure.

I would prefer to see a world where the state is out of the foster care business. That would solve such messes completely. Given the reality that the state is involved, and that real children are involved, then the State has to make decisions as to who should or should not be given tax funds to care for state wards. I think the state should be broadly tolerant of people to teach their own views about life but similarly see the state having an obligation not to subject children to bigotry with state funds.

There is another angle here, that of the children. We know a White Supremacist couple won’t foster a black baby, or is highly unlikely to do so. So a black child is unlikely to be taught, with government money, to hate himself. But what about the child who turns out to be gay? That is a a very different matter.

While many parents will tell you they knew their child was gay from a very early age, many other parents never had a clue. A certain percentage of children in state care are gay, or will become gay. They may not be openly gay, or even come to understand it themselves at this time. But that they exist is unavoidable.

Assume that one in 20 children will mature to be gay adults. The child who ends up in the foster system is usually an innocent victim of adult failures. He is there because his natural mother and father screwed up in a major way. Given that there is no way to determine which of the 20 children will be the gay one shouldn’t the State avoid putting any of the children in a home that will teach gay hatred. In 19 of the 20 cases it teaches bigotry to children. But in 1 of those cases it teaches a child to hate himself.

I can’t forget the case of Bobby Griffith. Bobby was raised by fundamentalist parents and taught that being gay was evil and immoral. As Bobby’s mother, Mary, will admit, this directly contributed to Bobby taking his own life. There is nothing the state can do, or should do, to prevent bigoted parents from raising their own children, with their own funds, unless clear abuse is apparent. But given that the state cannot separate the gay kids from the non-gay kids, and given that the state is effectively hiring foster parents to care for these kids, it should, at the very least, avoid putting gay kinds into homes that teach self-hatred.

It is easy to prevent black children from going to the home of whit. But with gay children the “gayness” is not always easy to spot—even if multiple myths exist to the contrary. Yes, sometimes people know. I knew a nephew was gay when he was ten. I didn’t tell him that, but I did tell other family members. He came out at 18. I once had a conversation with a friend’s younger brother and that lasted all of one minute, on the phone. I told my friend I suspected his brother was gay. My friend, who was gay, was shocked and thought I was nuts, until he stumbled across his brother, several years later, marching in the gay pride parade. But much of the time you can’t know.

The state would have an obligation to prevent gay children under their care from being put into anti-gay homes, in order to protect them. Given that it cannot be sure which children are gay, then the only way to carry out this duty is to deny foster status and funds to individuals who would be anti-gay.

The case is a difficult one but I think the court ruling in the United Kingdom was the right one.

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