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Religious Tolerance logo

Corporal punishment of children: Spanking

Media reports: 1998 to 2001 incl.

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Media reports about spanking:

bullet1998-MAR-24 Arkansas: "Mitchell Johnson", a 13 year old student in Jonesboro AR, is rumored to have brought a pocket knife to school on 1998-MAR-23. He was caught and was "paddled" by school authorities.  At about the same time, his girlfriend broke up with him because he had become interested in gang membership. On MAR-24, he allegedly pulled the school fire alarm and triggered an evacuation of teachers and students from the school. He and another male student, age 11, allegedly ambushed the people as they left the buildings. Four students were killed; all girls. One female teacher was also killed. Another 11 individuals were injured. The paddling and abuse may have triggered this mass murder, or it may have been totally unrelated to it. There are allegations that Mitchell had been repeatedly sexually molested when he was six and seven years of age, at a day-care center.
bullet1998-MAR-25 Britain: Corporal punishment of students by teachers had been abolished in England in government-funded schools in 1986. On 1998-MAR-25, by a vote of 211 to 15, Parliament passed an amendment to the Schools bill which will become law in 1998-Summer. It will abolish corporal punishment in privately-funded schools. "Families for Discipline," a pro-spanking lobby group, is considering appealing in European courts to defend the rights of parents to delegate to schools the authority to punish their children. Don Foster, education spokesperson for the Liberal Democratic Party said: "It is my clear view that corporal punishment is something that is wrong in principle, is barbaric and is inhuman."
bullet1999-SEP-16: Massachusetts: Donald Cobble is a pastor at the Christian Teaching and Worship Center in Woburn MA. He has been accused of child abuse because he occasionally spanked his 11-year-old fully-clothed son with a leather belt. The MA Department of Social Services filed a report on the father because they feel his discipline methods raised a "substantial risk of physical injury." Cobble and his attorney deny the assessment. Cobble told an interviewer: "...I am a firm believer that that [spanking] is a necessary part of raising a child." He claims that he spanks his son less than once a month; the state claims that he does it about three times a month. He commented: "I happen to live in the most liberal state. They call [the DSS] a child protection agency. It's more like a child protection industry, and this state spends disproportionate amounts of money in this industry. They have just gone wild on this thing and pressed it to where I had to fight it. I didn't get into this to fight it. I tried to get out of it, but it just kept growing to where I had no choice but to fight it." 1 
bullet1999-SEP-01: England: The School Standards and Framework Act came into force on this day. This bans the use of corporal punishment in all British schools. Spanking had been prohibited in 1986 within state-run schools. The new law extended this ban to private schools. 

Phil Williamson, headmaster of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool is leading a movement to restore the right of religious private schools to hit children. He regards spanking as part of the Judeo-Christian heritage. "If it's done in the right context, then children know that for somebody who loves them to smack them, something must have gone really wrong." His school hits girls with a strap and beats boys with a paddle. His group plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to restore their rights to hit children. Meanwhile, the Independent Schools' Joint Council, which represents over 80% of independent schools is strongly opposed to corporal punishment.

Britain was the last country in Europe to prohibit corporal punishment in schools. That country had abolished birching as a legal punishment in 1948, flogging in the Royal Navy in 1957, and beatings in prisons and Borstals (prisons for young offenders) in 1967.
bullet1999-OCT: Canada: The Canadian Foundation for Youth and the Law, a children's rights group has challenged the constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. This is the section of the Code that allows parents to use reasonable force to discipline their children. The case will be heard in early 1999-DEC.
bullet1999-OCT: South Africa: Christian private schools in South Africa applied to the courts for permission to spank their pupils. They based their argument on the promotion of corporal punishment in the Bible. They lost the case.
bullet2000-DEC: Australia: Spanking of students being phased out: Prior to 1995, schools in this country were allowed to use straps, canes, or lightweight wooden paddles to hit students as a method of discipline. Since 1995, a new state law has forbidden such corporal punishment. Fifty-one private Christian schools in the state have complied with the law, with some reluctance. The remaining two private Christian schools in New South Wales, Sunderland Shire Christian School and Nambucca Valley Christian Community School, refuse to conform to the law. They state that they are simply disciplining children according to biblical principles, and that state interference outlawing this practice is unacceptable. The government has given Sunderland Shire Christian School until 2001-MAR to comply with the law; the deadline for Nambucca Valley Christian Community School is the end of December. If they do not comply, then they will be de-certified. This would mean a loss in funding and denial of the right for their students to take public examinations. The latter are necessary for students to obtain an official graduation certificate.

Duncan McInnes, heads the New South Wales Parentís Council. He said that corporal punishment is "... a moral issue and schools should have the right to decide for themselves. There are enough safeguards in the child protection legislation to ensure they are not being abused physically." , Neville Pollard, education director for Christian Community Schools, a state umbrella organization, defended corporal punishment. He said: "If given lovingly and carefully, itís a very viable method of punishment.

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bullet2001-JUL: USA: Poll by Best of the Christian Web: BOTCW is a conservative Christian web site. It conducted a poll of its visitors. It introduced the question by stating that: "The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned spanking saying it causes children to become violent. But Proverbs 29:15 says 'The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.' " It asked the question: "Do you believe that spanking is an appropriate form of punishment for children?" The first option: "Yes - Spare the rod, spoil the child" received 174 votes; the second option: "No - Spanking is abusive," received 11.
bullet2001-JUL: Canada: Families flee country: Twenty-six mothers who belong to the fundamentalist Aylmer Church of God have fled their homes in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada with a total of 74 of their children. Most have settled with congregants at a sister Church of God in Dayton OH. Some have resettled in Indiana. This followed the seizure of seven children by the local Children's Aid Society in Ontario, after their parents refused to promise to not beat them with rods. Henry Hildebrandt, pastor of the church, said that the members of the congregation will not go against the Bible, even if it means the return of their children. "There is no way we could make such a promise. It's not worth it anyway, because it's our biblical conviction...It is very hard on them, but our biblical convictions mean very much to us." Darrel Reid, head of Focus on the Family - Canada said that "The theological underpinning for family corporal punishment is tied up with the responsibility that God gives families for raising the young. You can find it particularly in the early books of the Bible, where God says your responsibility is not just nurturing but also correcting them."

The Aylmer COG membership is mainly composed of German-speaking Mennonites from Mexico. It it their belief that the Bible requires that when they spank their children, they must strike them with an object, typically a wooden stick or a leather belt. They believe that they are forbidden to spank their children with their hand, because the hand is considered an instrument of love, guidance and comfort. The parents of the seven children are due in family court on JUL-26.
bullet2001-NOV-08: UK: Lawsuit in UK over spanking: The British government passed a School Standards and Framework Act in 1999. One provision of the act ended corporal punishment by teachers -- at least without the consent of the child's parents.  Phil Williamson, head teacher of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, England has initiated a lawsuit to overturn the law. The Guardian Newspaper reported that "The management team at the Christian Fellowship School had been told by inspectors that the consequences of disregarding the law by continuing with the use of corporal punishment would be that teachers would be barred from their profession and the school closed down."
Attorney for the Fellowship, John Friel, said that his clients believed "as part of their religious worship and part of their religious beliefs that corporal punishment is part of their Christian doctrine."  He asked the court to decide whether the act "completely abolishes the use of physical punishment in independent schools."  If so, then he would regard the law as violating the religious freedom of the parents and school staff. He commented: "For older
pupils, they could be smacked on the backside with something akin to a
ruler, although it would be a bit wider, about three or four inches. All parents have the right to bring up their children according to their own philosophy and religious views -- the government shouldn't interfere.
" 2
bullet2001-NOV-14: IL: Parents allegedly whipped 12 year old daughter to death: Larry and Constance Slack allegedly were displeased at their daughter Lauree. They felt that she was being "uncooperative" after they ordered their children to find a smock with credit cards inside. In an attempt to teach their daughter responsibility, they allegedly tied their daughter Laree to a futon, and whipped her with a 5-foot length of electrical cable. The cable is 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and was composed of strands of copper wire and insulation. The parents allegedly told the police that they were meting out the biblical punishment of "40 lashes minus one, three times." This totals 117 blows. They allegedly stuffed a towel in her mouth at one point to silence her screams. She died a few hours later in hospital from internal bleeding as a result of the torture. Her father attempted to commit suicide while in custody. Demetra Soter, coordinator of pediatric trauma at Cook County Hospital said that she knew of only two comparable cases in recent years in the Chicago area. The parents were each charged with first-degree murder. They were also charged with aggravated battery in the alleged beating of their 8-yer old son. 3,4

Media reports stress that the parents were described by neighbors as devoutly religious and members of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses web site 5 teaches that parents should love and care for their children. One essay states: "Some children need little more than a few stern words to bring them into line. Others need firmer measures. But chastisement 'to the proper degree' would never include anything that might do a child real harm emotionally or physically." 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jay Lindsay, "Mass. high court to hear spanking case," Boston Globe, 1999-SEP-11, at: http://www.corpun.com/
  2. "Christian schools wants exemption from British, EU regulations on beating children," AANEWS, 2001-NOV-8.
  3. Kirsten Scharnberg and Eric Ferkenhoff, "Girl died after parents hit her 160 times, court told," Chicago Tribune, 2001-NOV-14, at: http://chicagotribune.com/
  4. Cathleen Falsani, "Biblical beating kills girl," 2001-NOV-14, at: http://watchtower.observer.org/
  5. "Watchtower: The official web site of Jehovah's Witnesses" is at: http://www.watchtower.org/
  6. "Children Deserve to Be Wanted and Loved," at: http://www.watchtower.org/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAY-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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