In 1865, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, published his famous novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Readers then and now continue to be mystified by a narrative that can only be described as illogical and wholly irrational. The novel introduced readers to a world of such absurdity that it helped launch the phenomenon now known as the literary-nonsense genre.
Lately, another story has been unfolding rivaling even Carrol’s work within the same genre. Our newsletter published a brief note on this case back in January. To review, in November 2015, a loving family was dragged down a legal rabbit hole and introduced to the whacky world of institutionalized kidnapping. Barnevert, Norway’s child protective services, seized Marius and Ruth Bodnariu’s five children after suspicions that they were receiving “Christian indoctrination.” “Christian indoctrination,” of course, is a term of art; most would recognize it simply as religious education. Not content with competing education, however, the State seized the five children and placed them with three separate foster homes where, presumably, they will receive State sanctioned indoctrination instead. Without having committed a crime, and with no due process, two parents have lost their children. The parents must now overcome baseless charges and seek vindication in Norwegian courts, or alternatively, the European Court of Human Rights.
United States Precedent
The family’s prospects would be much different in the United States. Unlike Norway, the United States Supreme Court has for some time now recognized the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. One of the first major cases to address this issue came in 1925 when the Supreme Court decided a case called Pierce v. Society of Sisters. During this interwar period, several states become concerned with the influx of immigrants and the values that they were imparting to their children. Sound familiar? As a result, citizens in Oregon passed the Compulsory Education Act, a law meant to enlist public schools in promoting American culture while simultaneously closing down parochial and private schools. All childrenbetween ages eight and sixteen, with some exceptions, were required to attend public school.
The Society of Sisters of the Holy Names and Hill Military Academy sued Oregon governor Walter Pierce alleging, among other things, that the Act violated the parents’ rights to direct the education of their children. In a unanimous decision by Justice McReynolds, the Supreme Court agreed with the parents. The Court rejected the State’s arguments and held that a
“child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
Among the most well-known of Pierce’s progeny is a case called Wisconsin v. Yoder. There, three Amish students refused to continue attending school after the eighth grade because it conflicted with their families’ religious beliefs. The Court again ruled against the State holding that
“The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.”
These cases, and others like it, have for the most part protected families in the U.S. from what has transpired in Norway. Nevertheless, opponents continue to fight to reverse long standing precedent.
United States Precedent Under Attack
Legal attacks on Pierce and Yoder have come from various angles but the most creative is the theory that the child has a right to an “open future.” This right is said to trump the right of parents to raise their children. This right of autonomy, which children cannot exercise right away, is held in trust by the parents until children are old enough to make choices. It is argued that by removing children from public school, parents violate their children’s right to an open future. Scandinavian countries have embraced this “open future” to such extremes, that schools in Sweden have instituted “gender neutral” classrooms. Teachers cannot refer to students using pronouns, “he” or “she,” because doing so would violate the child’s right to an open future. After all, the child should decide for himself or herself whether he or she is a he or she.
Other attacks come from the media. Take for instance MSNBC host Melissa-Harris Perry who insisted that
“we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”
This notion that children belong to the State was specifically rejected by both Pierce and Yoder but continues to be a rallying cry for liberals in America. It stems from Karl Marx’s utopian vision and must be repudiated at all cost.
The latest strategy is the State’s idea of “partnership.” If the State cannot claim ownership of your child, as much as it wants to, it will claim a “partnership” interest with the parent. The Obama administration Department of Education has released its vision for education in several reports. In one report we learn that
“research shows that initiatives that take on a partnership orientation—in which student achievement and school improvement are seen as a shared responsibility, relationships of trust and respect are established between home and school, and families and school staff see each other as equal partners—create the conditions for family engagement to flourish.” (emphasis added).
“Equal partnership” entails equal responsibility, equal decision-making, and equal authority. Needless to say, the report does not say what gives the State the right to claim such a partnership.
The Path Forward
The Bodnariu situation has affected all groups of people, but especially people of faith. What can people of faith do to prevent similar happening in the U.S.? There are several things, but I highlight four below:
1. Promote and Defend Limited Government—the Founders of this country envisioned a government with limited and enumerated powers. It was James Madison who said that an energetic government is always oppressive. All efforts to increase the power and size of government should be resisted.
2. Be an Informed Participant—Thomas Jefferson once wrote that an “educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Lack of knowledge leads to manipulation and bondage. The prophet Hosea records God’s words stating that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” More than being informed, Christians also have a responsibility to be involved. Not everyone is called to run for office, but Christians should be encouraged to attend school board meetings, town hall meetings, and be active in local matters. At the very least, it means voting. Every election offers the opportunity to defend and promote life, family, and religious liberty. Most elections also offer a choice between smaller government and bigger government.
3. Influence Culture—One of the most important lessons I have learned is that “Law is downstream from culture.” This means that, for the most part, it is culture that influences law and not law that influences culture. Andrew Fletcher once wrote “Let me write the songs of a nation, I care not who makes its laws.” Fletcher is right to suggest that culture is a great influencer of nations. Those who influence culture influence nations and their respective laws. This means, among other things, that people of faith need to engage the arts: film, painting, literature, music, architecture etc. Withdrawal from society is not only unbiblical but unwise. If the world ever needed Christian witness in culture, it is now.
4. The Church Must Lead—The final point is the most important one. The ultimate problem is spiritual in nature. It is a problem of sin and unbelief. As important as the points above are, and they are important, the ultimate solution is one of Spiritual renewal that only Christ can offer. The Church must reject false teaching within its ranks, seek the salvation of the unsaved, and speak prophetically on the important issues of the day. Few people know that the American Revolution was preceded by a movement called the Great Awakening. Led by pastors such as Johnathan Edwards and George Whitefield, colonial America experienced great revival. Historians have noted that this evangelical movement contributed to the thinking of the Founding Fathers and led to the religious freedom that we enjoy today. Churches must lead.
The Present Situation
Some progress has been made in the last couple weeks. Some media in Norway have given attention to this case and have even expressed concern for the family. Most recently, the parents were finally allowed to meet with their five children at the same time in the same place. The three hour visit was filled with mixed emotion but it is a step in the right direction. The parents are to stand trial later this year.
I am still hopeful that a court, any court, will eventually vindicate the Bodnariu family. Perhaps their best chance is outside of Norway in the European Court of Human Rights. In the court of public opinion Norway is all but defeated. The large demonstrations have garnered attention from international media and Norway’s reputation has been stained. Norway’s image will continue to deteriorate so long as people make their voices heard. It is hard to comprehend that Norway would continue to trade its standing in the world for the ability to continue to harass families. The country prides itself as a beautiful place to live but its totalitarian reality is becoming more lucid every day. Perhaps an excerpt from Carrol’s novel best describes what Norway has become:
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'