Earlier this year, Pope Francis noted that the “family is the fundamental cell of society.” Throughout most of human history, this has been accepted as an axiom. Today, however, many question the family’s central role in shaping civilization. As a result, governments are intruding into family life in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
The latest example of this kind of overreach can be found in a controversial bill passed by the Scottish parliament that appoints a state guardian for every child in the country. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill gives these guardians the responsibility to monitor a minor child’s “well-being” until they come of age.
This sounds more innocuous in theory than it is likely to be in practice.
The problem is that the definition of “well-being” is so broad that it potentially authorizes a government worker to overrule parental decisions. Christian groups are especially concerned that religious observance could be viewed as threatening to a child’s “well-being.” Elizabeth Kendal, an adjunct research fellow at the Melbourne School of Theology, says the “law is wide open for abuse,” noting many possible scenarios where the state could object to traditional parenting.
“Are children's 'well-being' at stake if they are set curfews, denied their 'sexual rights,' and taken to church when they'd rather play football?” she asks. “There are many who would say emphatically 'yes.’ ”
In addition, opponents are concerned that religious convictions and positions on such hot-button social topics as abortion or same-sex marriage that run counter to the conventional wisdom could be seen as deleterious to a child’s “well-being.” Home-schoolers are particularly concerned that the law will undermine their ability to function.
The director of an opposition group known as the Christian Institute labels this bill a “monstrous invasion of family life” that “offers the state unbridled access into the living rooms of every family in the country, reducing and diluting the roles of ordinary parents and intruding on their fundamental rights.”
Supporters of the bill focus on its more laudable elements, such as increased benefits for indigent children and additional protections for kids in foster care. Such provisions are not objectionable when they are accommodating children who do not have the benefit of a traditional family structure. The problems arise when the state sees fit to override the judgment of parents in intact homes.
We know of no similar legislation being proposed here in the United States, but we oppose any attempt to erode the primacy of the family as society’s most important social structure.