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State can bar couple who spank own children from becoming foster parents, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today the state can keep children away from a would-be foster couple who believe corporal punishment is part of their religious duty - even if they agree to limit the spanking to their natural children and not spank any foster children.

Gregory and Melanie Magazu of Fitchburg, who have two children of their own, sought to become foster and "pre-adoptive" parents in 2012, but were denied permission by the state Department of Children and Families because they said their Christian beliefs sometimes compelled them to spank their own children.

A DCF hearing officer ruled the fact that they occasionally felt compelled to spank their own children, even if always behind a closed door, could cause "serious emotional consequences" for any children placed in their care, especially if they had experienced violence in the past. And should the couple adopt any of the children, then their self-applied ban would no longer apply.

The couple appealed, arguing the decision violated their religious freedom and could bar both Christians and Jews from become foster parents.

The state's highest court agreed that the First Amendment and the equivalent section of the Massachusetts constitution both give citizens the "absolute" right to religious belief.

But where the Magazus' case falters is whether the constitutions also provide an absolute right to act on those beliefs if that would affect others, the justices continued.

And there, the state can balance a right to acting on a belief and its effect on others, children, the court said. In this particular case, the state's desire to protect vulnerable children from potential harm outweighs the couple's First Amendment rights:

Consistent with this compelling State interest, the department has determined that a foster child should not be placed in a home where corporal punishment is used as a disciplinary measure. Creating an exception to this policy for individuals like the Magazus who employ physical discipline in conformity with their religious beliefs would severely undermine the department's substantial interest in protecting the physical and emotional well-being of children whose welfare has been entrusted to the department's care. Moreover, expecting the department to place with the Magazus children who have not suffered neglect or abuse is neither realistic nor feasible given the type of children served by the department and the potential dearth of information concerning the precise nature and scope of their prior trauma. Based on the department's compelling interest in protecting the welfare of foster children, we conclude that its prohibition against the use of corporal punishment in a foster home outweighs the burden on the Magazus' right to employ physical discipline in accordance with their religious beliefs. Accordingly, the Magazus are not entitled to relief [under state law].

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Comments

It's called child abuse so this makes sense to me...

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nt

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Spanking (as the average person would define it) is not child abuse. It is a way of ensuring that a child has an uncomfortable consequence to a negative action. Some kids respond well to talking, time out, or subtle "I'm disappointed in you" type cues. Some kids need to feel physical discomfort before they modify their behavior to be more appropriate or safe.

However, many people who feel that corporal punishment is a religious obligation fall short on that requirement, as they feel the Bible compels them to beat their child into complete obedience. ( See: Duggar family.) I can see the state not wanting to get involved with that.

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Read the research. It screws kids up. It might be legal, technically, but it shouldn't be:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201309/research-sp...

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if the child won't behave otherwise. One wonders if Mr. Affluenza might've been more better if there was a little carefully-applied physical discipline earlier in his life.

A light crack to the rear won't screw anyone up when applied judiciously and appropriately, as opposed to maliciously and arbitrarily. If you're leaving a scar, you're doing it wrong. If you're angry when you're doing it, you're doing it wrong, if the kid's not old enough to understand consequences or to even formulate voluntary behavior, you're doing it wrong. Which is to say that if you're doing it with pedagogical intent and not being an ass about it, you're probably on firm ground.

I can count on less than two hands the number of times my mother or father spanked me when I was a kid. I've even checked my own ass in the mirror to make sure there aren't any scars from past incidents that I'm mentally blocking. And I turned out OK. In fact, I'm so normal and well-adjusted that I've elected to refrain from posting photographic evidence of the above in this comment.

What is it with liberals' persistent need to condition normal people's rights and responsibilities on the misbehavior of a small minority?

Some dude balloons up to 600lbs on McDonalds and dies at 30? No more large sodas for anyone!

Inner-city gangster(sta?/stah?) unloads his unlicensed weapon into a crowded subway platform? No more guns for anyone!

Asshole throws his half-drunk bottle of water on the side of the highway? No more bottled water!

White trash dad gets drunk and beats his wife and kid? Well, no more spanking for anyone!

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if the child won't behave otherwise.

That's a false dichotomy, liberally larded with hysterical "OMG THE NANNY STATE" exaggerations and lies. But don't let lack of truth stand in the way of your rant.

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"This area is hard to study in the home because spanking rarely occurs at all nor in front of strangers." No like seat belts, no one is going to tell the cop that they spanked their child any more if they can get the child taken they won't admit it. I was not spanked when I was a child, not at all, and I still have issues as others came into my life that caused them for me. I stopped spanking my child and he went a little wild at times. I never did you spanking all the time in the first place, but I really do believe that there is a time for spanking. That negative consequences are sometimes necessary and should be appropriate to the person and the situation. If caregivers don't spank the kids well no the boss can't spank or punch or do violence on them, all they can do is fire them and then they can't survive cause if you can't get a job you starve. That is reality and the police do spank people all the time in various ways, better to spank than sit in jail for months at a time or even die in car chases or be shot isn't it. Time out will not work on its own without sometimes enforcing it, no child or most will not willingly sit just because you tell them too. There is a difference between beating a child and spanking a child. Many times it is those without any experience of raising children that have misconceptions about it until they do it full time and for life. Most have been spanked and maybe they just forgot about it. I have met a lot of people that have been spanked that went out into the world and lived a very normal and decent life. "It is hard to study in the laboratory because of the prohibition against hurting subjects." That is what all this is to lead to when all the rights are taken away from the family, then they can put it in so called clinical or medical lab situations and study it like Freud did and come up with the same results suicides for lots of these children as his own child committed suicide can I say that was from his parenting, no not for sure, but neither can I say it wasn't, but you can't either. Torrey's daughter committed suicide too. Let's look at the reality rather than what some say should be the reality, especially when it isn't.

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What if the only way my boss could get me to do what he wants me to do is if he gives me a good whack on the behind? (Trying to make a point, not begin an S&M story...)

I could call the cops and accuse him of assault. Why is it that the only people we're allowed to hit are children? We're not allowed to hit other adults. We can even be charged if we hit a pet! But a little defenseless child?! I'll never understand it.

And even if my boss hit me and it didn't leave a mark or affect me emotionally, he could still be arrested and charged. Mind boggling.

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Spank their kids. About 90%. Sooner or later, maybe just once.

But in Massachusetts 90% of parents lie about it.

That doesn't make us better. Just more sanctimonious.

To be more sanctimonious than the god-botherers is a great goal.

I'm on board. I would like to express my theoretical support, vehemently, for something noble.

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Given the research on the ineffectiveness of spanking at best, and given that these are not their own kids, and that foster kids are often already traumatized, the commonwealth's rules seem quite sound.

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Spank their kids. About 90%. Sooner or later, maybe just once.

So you say.

But in Massachusetts 90% of parents lie about it.

So you say.

That doesn't make us better. Just more sanctimonious.

Saying "90% of parents spank their kids" doesn't make you correct. Just a liar.

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Did mommy hit you so hard you can't google "spanking prevalence?"

http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1564&context...

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Did mommy hit you so hard you can't google "spanking prevalence?"

Did mommy teach you how to lie with weblinks? Not a mention of Massachusetts in there. Listen to you boo-hoo when you get spanked online for lying, and yet you think physical spanking is effective and appropriate to use on kids. What a hypocrite!

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Why this issue gets you so worked up. When your mom finds out you have been using her computer to say nasty things to adults on the Internet, she might get out the hairbrush again.

If any adults are still following this, the assumption that Massachusetts culture is sufficiently different from the culture of the rest of the country to invalidate the statistics linked above is more extraordinary than anything else in this thread.

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That is a survey of 1,000 parents who used corporal punishment in the last twelve months. So among children of parents who USE corporal punishment, as high as 90% of toddlers were spanked. This does not mean that 90% of parents spank their children.

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The stats are not exclusive.

Conclusions on p 29 refute your suggestion.

" CONCLUSIONS
...In the United States CP is:
1. almost universal—ninety-four percent of toddlers are spanked"

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If you can't see the difference between parent-child relationship and superior-subordinate in a workplace, the argument is already lost on you.

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Religiously motivated abuse is really nothing like "spanking." For instance, the movement reveres the writings of a creep who advises whipping with flexible rubber hoses to cause maximum pain without leaving a mark (which goes to show that these people know what they are doing is wrong and would have legal consequences if they were caught; why hide the bruises if you think there's nothing wrong with inflicting them?)

Then there's the "blanket training" of infants -- any time the baby tries to reach past the edges of a blanket, its limbs are whacked with a ruler.

If this was an occasional little swat on the behind, meh, not much to be outraged about. But there's a whole religious subculture that is deeply abusive and damaging to children, and I have no problem with preventing that subculture from acquiring more children to abuse.

See "To Train Up a Child." Incredibly disturbing stuff that has been linked to multiple deaths of foster children in the past. We don't need any more of that, thank you.

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One person's "spanking" or discipline is another person's abuse. It often crosses the line. I've seen the subsequent bruises, welts and even scars.

The Court ruled correctly, in my opinion.

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and cite your sources. Otherwise you're just throwing out blanket accusations.

Abuse is only abuse when it's abuse. Spankings that are measured and rare such that they punctuate lessons that won't sink in otherwise are not abuse, they are one of the many pedagogical tools of sound parenting.

You may not be able to distinguish between a slap on the wrist with a hand and a slap on the wrist with a hammer, but I assure you that there is a world of difference between them.

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Whatever it takes to let these folks sleep at night, I guess. Personally, I've tried to make it a guiding principle that whenever I have to start a sentence with "Well, most people would consider it abuse, but *legally*..." I should probably step back and re-evaluate things a bit. But hey, sure, freedom of religion, yeah! These fine folks should absolutely get their sociopath on. Go right ahead and beat their kids, riiiight up until the point where the legal distinction between punishment and abuse becomes a sticking point. They just can't do it to wards of the state, because the supreme court has made the startlingly forward-looking decision (which will almost certainly lose on appeal when Scalia unearths sacred golden plates on which the Lord Almighty exhorts us to beat our offspring senseless) that the Establishment Clause isn't a suicide pact.

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"their Christian beliefs sometimes compelled them to spank their own children"

I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind when he said "turn the other cheek."

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The line about sparing the rod ...

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The fine semantic distinctions between discipline and abuse are likely to be lost on children, particularly when they have been victims of the latter and when the method used -- beating the child -- is the same in either case. Therefore, it's hard to argue in favor of the positive value of "discipline" in the form of spanking, in this case at least. As for your religious beliefs, you are free to believe whatever you want, but your beliefs end where someone else's nose (or butt) begins, and you damn well better get a grip on that.

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Absolutely, the likely history of the kinds of kids in the foster system means physical punishment just isn't going to be interpreted in the same way, even if you are a believer in spanking. Very sensible ruling

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I'm so happy to live in a state where sensible courts (usually) rule in a sensible way. There are other places where you can imagine that this ruling would have totally gone the other way.

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It appears that the Magazu family was applying to be a foster parent family resource, rather than acting as foster/pre-adoptive parents in a specific instance where they were kin of the foster child. And I think most people can generally agree with the notion that the state can and should set guidelines for the families to whom it entrusts the safety and welfare of foster children.

I do wonder, however, how this will impact future kinship placements. As it currently stands parents are able to recommend foster and adoptive placements even as their own rights are being terminated, and many appeals in MA involve whether the DCF placement or the parents placement is best for the child. Moreover, kinship placements are given preference over non-kinship preferences.

So what happens to a child if their kin spank their own children? Will DCF determine that the kid instead has to go to a non-kin foster home because of the logic in this decision? Will this decision be cited as reason to deny permanent kinship placement at termination hearings? I don't have the answers to this, and I don't think we'll know for sure until another case dealing with the issue comes down from the appellate court.

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The state is doing well to try and keep kids away for religious whackos both limiting them as foster parents and adopting. Unfortunately, they are going to foreign adoptions to get hold of kids, thanks to the $10,000+ IRS tax credit per kid that is the same for domestic and foreign adoptions. With over 600 kids waiting for adoption in Mass, the tax credits should he much less for foreign adoptions. Too often they help fund human trafficking of babies and kids overseas.

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