Oregon Wants to Destroy the Family, Literally
William Blackstone called the relationship between parent and child the “most universal relation in nature.” It encompasses everyone and occurs everywhere. It is the natural end of marriage. Like any relation, rights and duties are present. Children must obey and honor their parents; parents are obliged to provide for and protect. In turn, children are dutybound to care for their elderly parents. But the mutual duties and bonds of this universal relation extend beyond mere maintenance. Education is usually recognized as well. Indeed, under our current law educational neglect is actionable. We can go further still, however. Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:7, and Ephesians 6:4 all situate religion, knowledge of God, true doctrine, even redemptive history, as the pedagogical duty of fathers. The general principle and supposition in play here is not unique to Biblical revelation. It has been ingrained in western culture since its inception.
As Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges describes in his study of the pre-Caesarian classical world, The Ancient City, the family was not only the most basic, primordial social unit, but also the force that conditioned all subsequent organization.
More essentially, it was almost synonymous with the perpetuation of religion. The ancient family was defined by its shared worship and shared (ancestral) gods more than it was by blood. For induction to the family via either adoption or clientship was possible through sacramental initiation to the sacred fire of the familial hearth. Familial longevity was dependent on the priestly line of the father—religion established his authority for religion. So long as worship continued, the family continued. Marriage marked the conversion of the wife to the husband’s hearth family-cult.
Indeed, religion created marriage, says Fustel, just as it established property and inheritance (“I am the Lord, that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land, to inherit it; and to Moses”). That is a way of saying that in the ancient world, domestic religion was the basis of law which, in turn, was the basis of municipal law, and so on.
“Private law existed before the city. When the city began to write its laws, it found this law already established, living, rooted in the customs, strong by universal observance, The city accepted it because it could not do otherwise, and dared not modify it expect by degrees. Ancient law was not the work of a legislator; it was, on the contrary, imposed upon the legislator. It had its birth in the family.”
Extended families, clans (gens), were united by shared gods, and the mixing of tribal gods for the sake of political convenience was inconceivable. Not even natural affection (or generation) was permitted to trump religious ties. Blood did not suffice, albeit blood was expected to correlate. For the family literally died if its religion lapsed. Plato defined family as a community of shared gods.
Of course, the first thing the reader realizes when entering the world Fustel reconstructs is how utterly foreign it is. It was an isolated, parochial existence of preeminent familial allegiance and secret ancestor worship (the eternal flame), however romantic, that cannot be reproduced with any exactitude absent cataclysmic intervention. There is likely no return to that bronze age… and those that claim the bronze age ethos today usually neglect its constituting, unifying, indispensable socio-political element—even the basic, innate desire for hearth and home in Odysseus.
The point, for us, is that even in early Greece and Rome, religion and family were intertwined, and pedagogy was a parental prerogative. No, a necessity. It has always been thus in western civilization, even in its embryonic state.
The right to instruct children in rites and more besides, is not an aberration concocted of twentieth century culture warring, the advent of the “nuclear family,” nor by post-war liberalism. Even in the late secular—maybe, ironically, pagan, again—point on the timeline we now occupy, our country has recognized this. Even if our law cannot be said to arise out of the family as it did for Mycenean Greeks it nevertheless recognizes this in its own way.
For example, Tatel v. Mt. Lebanon School District, a recent case from the western district of Pennsylvania, is instructive, and gets it exactly right: Parents “have the primary responsibility to inculcate moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship in their children.” Here the district court was citing the famous Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). Things like the “inculcation of religious belief,” said the court, “strike at the heart of parenting.”
In cases of conflict between the belief of the parents and that of the state actors like public schools, the fundamental rights of the parents must prevail. The state cannot interfere with this responsibility and right—the two are always coterminous. “[U]nwelcome moral views” need not be accepted by families. The point is that “[t]he child is not the mere creature of the State,” as Price v. Society of Sisters (1925) put it. Nor can educators or any other agent of the state usurp this parental religious right, as the Third Circuit made clear in Gruenke v. Sip (2000), albeit the Ninth Circuit has tried to thwart this limitation. Tatel, cited earlier, extended the right to parental purview over religious and moral instruction over gender and sex education in schools.
And yet, everything now seems to froth against this definitive, universal duty because, one suspects, its power is potent and instinctively known. The policy of King Edward I (in Braveheart) toward the Scots, “If we can’t get them out, we’ll breed them out,” seems to be the new progressive mantra. (Sometimes they come right out and say it.) In the near term, one emergent strategy to this end is to erect barriers to fostering and adoption that will prevent Christians from participating therein. That is, regime-approved religious prerequisites intolerable to Christians.
Take a new case out of Oregon. Jessica Bates, a mother of five and young widow, felt called to foster and potentially adopt another child after the death of her husband. She is an evangelical Christian and was convicted by the Biblical command to care for orphans while listening to a Christian radio broadcast.
All states perform home study assessments on would be foster or adoptive parents to ensure that the potential home possesses adequate resources to provide and care for a child, including their social, educational, and developmental needs. The Oregon standard even recognizes cultural, religious, and spiritual elements to this equation.
Predictably and because of her Biblical beliefs, Bates refused to agree, as a condition of fostering in the state, to “respect, accept, and support … the sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression.” In the statute outlining “adoption home standards,” “respect, accept, and support” means, as the statute makes clear, use of a child’s preferred pronouns, taking a child to Pride or affirming events, and providing so-called gender affirming pharmaceutical “care” like puberty blockers or hormone shots.
The mandatory training Bates attended as part of the application process offered myriad explanatory examples for how foster or adoptive parents should support and validate a child’s “self-expression,” such as displaying “symbols indicating an LGBTQ-affirming environment.” Attendance to events (including religious ones) “openly hostile” to a child’s alleged gender or sexual identity and expression are not allowed. All of this and more is imbedded in the foster care/adoption agreement for Oregon applicants. The message is clear: Christians—dissenters from and blasphemers of the established religion—need not apply.
Bates sued the Oregon Department of Human Services which oversees the child welfare program for religious discrimination. The case is on appeal in the Ninth Circuit after a lower court ruled against Bates.
Senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, Jonathan Scruggs, who is representing Bates, got it right: “Oregon’s policy amounts to an ideological litmus test: people who hold secular or ‘progressive’ views on sexual orientation and gender identity are eligible to participate in child welfare programs, while people of faith with religiously informed views are disqualified because they don’t agree with the state’s orthodoxy.”
That’s exactly what we’re up against. Move over negative world. Welcome to hostile world.
“The foundation of relationship was not birth; it was worship,” to quote Fustel again. Inculcating religion is the mark and duty of parenting by all accounts, classical, Biblical, and legal.
It is not the state’s religion but the religion of the home, the hearth, the dinner table. (Even the very spooky Christian nationalists do not aspire to violate this right.) To deny this prerogative is to deny parenthood, child rearing altogether. To externally dictate it, to apply religious prerequisites to parenting is to negate the institution in toto, and, by extension, to rip the rug out from society.
If religion is not an intricate, even constituting element of family it will never be so for a people, for a city, for a nation. We will table for now the proper definition of religion, but we must recognize a point of history, text, and tradition. Remember America’s decidedly Christian founding, its Protestant ethos, and its common law inheritance (of which Christianity was an intricate part). Moreover, the majority of Americans remains Christians, even at this late hour. It is depressing and demoralizing to realize that a state once founded on the “Natural right, to worship Almighty God” according to conscience now weaponizes the law against those who would raise children in the fear and admonition of that same God. The new deity of androgyny and mutilation demands fealty and homage. It’s hard, at this juncture, not to wonder whether “the humiliation is the point,” as they say.
Image Credit: “Joseph Combette (1770-1840) Large Empire Family Portrait”