Friday, January 15, 2010

Child care as a religious ministry

Here's an interesting case in Pennsylvania, yet another case where I don't know all the facts, but that won't keep me from speculating.

In 1997 the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare closed down a Catholic church's child care operation in its basement. They had 20 kids. The state says all child care centers should follow certain developmental goals. The church says that interferes with their religious freedom. An appeals court has just agreed with the state. I don't.

The church's lawyer is Phillip Murren:
"If separation of church and state means anything, it means the church should not have to go to the state and get permission to engage in one of its prime ministries," he said. ...

Murren said the state can visit, inspect and enforce regulations for health and safety, but should not be dictating what should be taught or by whom. He said the issue has been in dispute since the state overhauled the Public Welfare Code in 1968.

"They claim the authority to review everything that goes on in the preschool ministry and determine if it's appropriate to what its secular standards of developing social and emotional development would be."
The court said all the church had said in its filings were vague assertions that the state was being intrusive but didn't give any examples of it how any particular thing the state wants would be a problem for them.

Through the magic of Google, I just looked at Pennsylvania's licensing regs. They require a posted written daily plan in all child care centers. "Daily activities shall promote the development of skills, social competence and self-esteem. Daily experiences shall recognize the child as an individual and give some choice of activities that respect personal privacy, lifestyle and cultural background."

The church child care center was not licensed. Their bad. I agree with health and safety licensing regs.

But otherwise I agree with the church. This part of the state licensing regulations is unjustified. This is not the state telling its subsidized programs what kind of program they have to have. This is for what would be in California Title 22 programs, i.e., every stinking child care center in the state.

The Secretary of Public Welfare said, ""This decision upholds our belief that every facility — regardless of affiliation — should be held to the same quality standards to protect the health, safety and development of our children."

Health and safety, fine. Every child care center should be held to the same standards for development of kids?   No.

I agree that recognizing the child as an individual, and giving her some choice in activities, and respecting privacy, lifestyle, and cultural background are all good things. I try to do them myself, with my own offspring. And developing skills and social competence are worthwhile goals. I'm not sure about the self-esteem; I think that too easily turns into narcissism.

But I do not think the state should specify to parents how they rear their children (with some limits, of course; we don't have to allow child abuse). I've posted before that the goal of good child development people is to turn kids into liberals, but conservatives should be able to raise their kids as conservatives if they want to. If they want to screw up their kids with crazy religion and politics, that's the price we atheist liberals have to pay in order to live our own godless lives the way we want to. Freedom of speech and religion means for crazy people, too.

So when we require parents to put their kids in a place that builds their self-esteem, even for a flaming liberal like me, this looks like an intrusive nanny-state regulation.

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