Discipline Softly?

Since we home school, and homeschooling can be a cause of confusion for many folks who aren’t sure of the law, and sometimes even officials in the social, educational and law enforcement systems, we maintain membership in a homeschooling legal advocacy group, the HSLDA.  While we’ve never encountered any legal problems, there can be misunderstandings and having access to legal counsel is one of those preventative measures we think is worth the small cost.

They send us e-mail updates on homeschooling legal issues around the world, and make us aware of legislation that affects parental rights.  I was notified this morning that Delaware is moving towards expanding their definition of child abuse to include the infliction of pain – meaning that spanking could now be interpreted as child abuse and punishable by law that can include a year or more in prison.  Delaware would be the first state to enact legislation that could potentially criminalize spanking.
I only found one news report on this issue, and the Delaware  legislative web site doesn’t even list SB234 other than as a two year old bill related to recycling.  So I haven’t been able to read the bill itself.  The news report linked to above makes it clear that proponents are framing this bill as a protective measure for young children.  Parents won’t have the legal cover of claiming they were only spanking their child if the child turns up in a hospital ER with serious injuries.  In other words, there’s a perceived loophole that might allow an abusive parent or guardian to escape punishment.  The example used in the news article is pretty extreme.  I wonder if it’s based on an actual event, or just a hypothesized one?
The Deputy Attorney General indicates that the intent of the bill is not to make spanking illegal.  But the intent of the bill doesn’t matter.  What matters is what the bill states.  If the bill states that any form of physical discipline that results in pain is a violation  of the law, that’s what matters.  That’s what a jury will look at.  That’s what a judge will look at.  Not what was the worst case scenario that proponents hoped to avoid, but did mom inflict pain on her toddler by spanking her in the parking lot of K-Mart, where she was reported by a passer-by and arrested?  Was the toddler crying in pain from having her rear end repeatedly swatted?  
I wish I could review the actual language of the bill.  Is ‘pain’ actually a form of abuse?  If so, then why penalize only physical pain?  What about emotional or psychological pain?  Certainly there are abusers who utilize these forms of abuse rather than physical abuse – are they to be let off the hook?  
I despise abuse against anyone – not just children.  But broadening the definitions to include ‘pain’ seems dangerous, and the kind of legal pretext that activist judges and other groups will build on to ensure that their definitions of abuse are what holds sway, rather than popular consensus.  

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