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Domestic CP - September 1999

Corpun file 4359


Orlando Sentinel, Florida, 8 September 1999

A spanking can be the right thing to do

By David Porter
The Orlando Sentinel

I got the spanking of my life when I was 11 years old.

My sister, Kathi, and I found where my parents had hidden our wrapped Christmas presents. And then we did a very bad thing. We opened the presents to get a sneak peek. Then we tried to reseal the holiday packages. Of course, our sneaky efforts failed.

When my mother found what we had done, she demanded to know who opened the wrapped packages. My sister and I (the only kids in the household) denied any knowledge. I guess we hoped that Mom and Dad would think that maybe Santa Claus doubled back to check the packages to make sure he had dropped off the right gifts at our house.

My mother knew the truth when she asked the question. She just wanted to see if we would 'fess up. She was enraged that we told her a bald-faced lie. She grabbed the brown leather strap from the kitchen door-knob, and she wore us out.

She hit me on the behind, the legs, the arms, the hands and across my back. She hit me so hard that I fell. The belt stung. I cried for mercy. The belt left welts on my arms and legs.

If that incident happened today in Florida, I guess, the state Department of Children & Families would put my mother into jail and charge her with child abuse. That's the impression I got last week when I spoke with department officials while preparing a column about the Volusia County man jailed after a physical confrontation with his 17-year-old, 6-foot-5-inch son. Reports said the confrontation occurred when the boy cursed his parents.

I deserved the spanking I got. I knew it then. I still believe that today.

My parents never abused us. They love us, but they always have insisted on good behavior, responsibility and honesty.

Not only did I tell a lie, but I misled my sister -- my junior by four years -- by involving her in my silly scheme. My sister also received a spanking, though it was not as severe as the one I endured, because my mother was tired when she finished with me.

That's one of several spankings I received from my parents. And guess what: I love my parents. I think they did an excellent job rearing me and my sister.

Some say spankings inspire violence, but I don't mistreat people. I haven't been in a fight since I was in high school.

In my household, spanking remains an option to ensure that my daughter behaves appropriately. Let me clarify that before the abuse investigator rings my doorbell. In the Porter house a spanking involves one or two open-hand swats on the behind.

My wife and I consider spanking with the same regard as capital punishment -- a penalty reserved for the most extreme offenses. Severe rudeness and defiant behavior by my daughter merit a spanking.

Department of Children & Families representatives -- including Lee Johnson, the acting administrator for the district that includes Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Brevard counties -- frown on spanking. They admit, though, that it's not against the law as long it leaves no marks on the child.

Johnson said spankings can be avoided if the parents attend child-rearing classes and seek professional counseling for help with difficult children. He said it's better to discuss problems with children.

I certainly don't advocate spanking. I think Johnson's suggestions are worthwhile. But many parents who responded to my recent columns on this subject complain that the department has taken too much authority from parents while telling children they can put their parents into jail.

What if my mother hadn't spanked us? What if she had followed Johnson's advice? It probably would have gone something like this: "David and Kathi, I'm very disappointed with you. You should not have opened those packages and then lied about it. Now, go to your rooms."

And we would have thought: "Yeah, Mom, whatever . . . " Such a lecture wouldn't have affected us one bit.

When we were growing up, we knew that bad behavior could result in a spanking. It kept us on the right track.

Well-intentioned people may argue over the merits of that approach.

All I know is that it worked for me, my sister and dozens of our friends and relatives.

Corpun file 4239


The Boston Globe, MA, 11 September 1999

Mass. high court to hear spanking case

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press

BOSTON - When Donald Cobble's 12-year-old son Judah gets out of line, the Woburn minister occasionally unrolls about a foot of the soft end of a leather belt, and gives him a couple spanks. Cobble calls it good parenting. The state calls it abuse.

On Monday, both sides will appear before the Supreme Judicial Court in a case that confronts the fuzzy guidelines governing the state's regulation of legal, parental behavior.

To DSS, the spankings, though lawful, put Cobble's son at a risk of future injury that outweighs Cobble's right to practice the religious convictions that he cites when defending the practice.

But Cobble argues the state has no right to tell him how to discipline his child because of something that might happen. He compared it to giving the driver of a parked Porsche a ticket because he might speed in the future.

"The issue is, how far can the state step in and intervene in my life?" Cobble said.

Cobble was reported to authorities in March 1997 after his son told a teacher that his father spanked him. He also told social workers that he was sometimes afraid of Cobble, a pastor at the Christian Teaching and Worship Center in Woburn.

DSS filed abuse charges against Cobble but offered to drop the charges if Cobble agreed to stop spanking. He refused.

Now, Cobble said he risks state action, including the possible removal of his son from his home, if he's cited for spanking again.

Cobble quotes Biblical passages to explain why he spanks, and said that if the state interferes with a lawful spanking, they're infringing on his right to practice his religion.

A brief filed with the SJC by Cobble's attorney, Chester Darling, described the spankings as occurring less than once a month, and while Cobble's son was fully clothed.

The spankings left no welts or bruises. Instead, his son told social workers, they left his buttocks a pink color "that would last about 10 minutes and then fade."

Though the state was unable to determine any instances of physical injury, a social worker expressed concern about "soft tissue swelling and skin bruising" at a hearing on the abuse charge.

The finding of abuse has since been upheld by a Superior Court judge.

Darling scoffed at the notion that what he called Cobble's "mild punishment" of his son would escalate to dangerous levels. An SJC ruling in the state's favor would dangerously restrict how parents raise their children, he said.

"You'll have kids standing by the phone ready to dial 9-1-1 if they think they're going to be touched," he said.

Cobble said social workers may have pressed his case because he was so vocal about his faith.

"If someone does not have a religious conviction, they can't relate to someone who does," he said.

"I think they think I'm a religious whacko," he added.

Officials at the state Department of Social Services declined comment, citing the proximity of the court hearing.

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, former head of the D.A.'s child abuse unit, said Cobble's argument that Constitutional protection of religion cover his spankings may fall flat. Parents aren't protected by the Constitution if the court decides that religiously motivated-behavior is harmful to a child, she said.

Coakley also said the state often asserts itself in what some would consider private parenting issues, such as laws requiring child safety seats.

If questions of abuse aren't that clear-cut, the state has to act on case-by-case basis for the safety of the children. If the laws were rigidly defined, she said, "then you wouldn't have any flexibility."

The SJC's ruling has the potential to establish guidelines where the DSS hasn't had them before.

"It's a case that's being watched by a lot of people," Coakley said.

© Copyright 1999 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc.

Corpun file 4358


The Boston Globe, 14 September 1999

Minister's lawyer likens spankings to 'religious' event

SJC weighs parental right, DSS finding

By Sacha Pfeiffer

The whippings that Donald R. Cobble Jr. occasionally administers his young son are, his lawyer argues, "essentially a religious ceremony."

Before and after spanking 12-year-old Judah with a leather belt - always on the buttocks, and always when the boy is fully clothed - Cobble says he does two things: He hugs his son, and he tells him that he loves him.

Often, the Woburn minister also reads from the Bible as he delivers the spankings, so Judah understands "the religious nature and spirituality of the discipline."

To Cobble, the ritual is constitutionally protected, effective parenting.

To the state Department of Social Services, it verges on child abuse.

Whether Cobble's method of discipline is protected by his constitutional right to freedom of religion will be decided by the state Supreme Judicial Court, which yesterday heard arguments by lawyers for both sides.

The high court's decision is anxiously awaited by advocates and opponents of corporal punishment, who disagree passionately over whether physical discipline is a parent's protected right, or whether it is simply sanctioned violence.

"The line between corporal punishment and child abuse is hard to draw," said Mary O'Connell, a professor of family and children's law at Northeastern University. "Some parents are abusers in ways so hideous the human mind can't even cope with it. In other cases, you see people who don't seem to know the line between correction and abuse."

Cobble, an associate pastor at the Christian Teaching and Worship Center in Woburn, attracted DSS attention in 1997, when his son, Judah, then 9, told a teacher he feared being spanked by his father.

The child's remarks triggered a DSS investigation, which led a social worker to conclude that Cobble had abused his son in the past and could do so in the future. Eventually, a Superior Court judge reached the same conclusion.

Cobble was not criminally charged but is appealing the DSS finding. He does not deny that he spanks his son. But he says he only uses the soft end of a belt, and only when Judah's behavior merits it -- not when his academic performance is poor.

Cobble's spankings left no welts or bruises; instead, according to what his son told social workers, they left pink marks that would fade after about 10 minutes.

"Just speaking to a child is not enough," Cobble said. "Some need the rod sometimes."

Cobble's lawyer, Chester Darling, agrees, and thinks DSS is flexing its muscles in an area where it has no authority.

"They should keep their noses out of these families and their personal business," said Darling. "The state has no business telling parents whether they can or can't spank their children."

DSS agrees that parents have a right to discipline their children. But it argues that the constitution does not protect parental discipline that jeopardizes the health or safety of a child.

At the same time, DSS acknowledges that it is not always easy to distinguish between discipline and abuse. To gauge the severity of a punishment, a lawyer for the agency argued yesterday, factors such as frequency and force of the punishment, and a child's resulting pain and fear, must be taken into consideration.

To supporters of corporal punishment, the Cobble case represents government intrusion into a parent's God-given right to raise his son the way he sees fit.

"Physical punishment is not inherently wrong and it's not illegal," said Virginia attorney Jordan Lorence, a First Amendment specialist who has worked on many parental rights cases, "but many government social work agencies are controlled by a philosophy that says all physical punishment should be illegal."

But many corporal punishment opponents think that some parents "lean on" outdated Scripture to justify what amounts to child abuse.

For example, noted Nadine Block, director of the Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio, which advocates alternatives to corporal punishment, Deuteronomy teaches that a son who disrespects his father should be stoned.

"Do reasonable people really believe we should be stoning children?" she said. "We try to be respectful to people's beliefs, and yet we feel that our greatest priority is to protect children."

© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

Corpun file 20569

The Wall Street Journal, New York, 15 September 1999

Therapy gone mad

The Pastor vs. the Social Workers

A minister, charged with abuse for spanking his son, slaps the state with a lawsuit.

By James Taranto

BOSTON -- On Monday the Rev. Donald Cobble looked on as his lawyer defended him before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court against allegations that he is a child abuser.

This is no Amirault case, with innocent people languishing in prison after conviction on charges that could not possibly be true. Mr. Cobble, associate pastor of the nondenominational Christian Teaching and Worship Center in Woburn, Mass., is a free man, and he openly acknowledges having done what he's accused of doing: punishing his 12-year-old son, Judah, by spanking him with a belt. He says he'll do it again if the need arises.

Donald and Judah Cobble

In March 1997 Mr. Cobble's adherence to the Proverbs led him and his family into the purgatory of a child-abuse investigation. A few months earlier Judah, then nine, had brought home a daily report from his teacher bearing two X's indicating bad behavior. "I went home, and I had to give Dad the note," Judah told me. "So he said, 'OK, you're going to get two licks with the belt because you got two X's.'"

These "licks" consisted of smacks on Judah's clothed buttocks with the soft end of a belt, which, Judah later told a social worker, left "pink marks on his body" that "would generally fade after ten minutes." In a word, spankings.

Judah stayed out of serious trouble until March, when his teacher told him she was giving him another bad report. "I said, 'No, don't do that -- he'll spank me again.'" This set the bureaucratic wheels in motion. The teacher and a "behavioral management specialist," Mary Murphy Parkola, interrogated Judah about his father's disciplinary methods. Mr. Cobble and his wife, Lisa, were called to a meeting with the teacher, the principal and Ms. Parkola, who explained that they were filing a report with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. (The Cobbles were then separated and have since divorced; Mr. Cobble has primary custody of Judah, their only child.)

That report, known as a "51A," recommended that the department undertake an investigation of possible abuse. A week later, a state social worker named Rena Ugol visited Mr. Cobble and then Mrs. Cobble, with whom Judah was living at the time. She interviewed all three, and a few days later filed a report saying her investigation supported the claim that Mr. Cobble had physically abused Judah. She also cited Mrs. Cobble for "neglect" because she had failed to prevent her husband from spanking their child.

Another social worker, April May, entered the picture in April. By June, Ms. May had completed her "45-day assessment" of the family. She presented Mr. Cobble with a "service plan." The document called for him, among other things, to "acknowledge harmful effects of physical abuse on Judah," "acknowledge responsibility for abusing Judah," "refrain from using physical discipline with Judah" and "attend individual therapy as a means of learning new, more appropriate ways of disciplining Judah."

Mr. Cobble refused to sign the service plan. Whereupon the state . . . did nothing. Mr. Cobble, however, decided to fight to clear his name. He challenged Ms. Ugol's finding at a Department of Social Services administrative hearing; the department, not surprisingly, sided with itself. Then he slapped the department with a lawsuit, and Superior Court Judge John Cratsley ruled against him. Mr. Cobble appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court exercised its prerogative to take the case directly, bypassing the intermediate appellate court.

Mr. Cobble argues that the Department of Social Services has violated his constitutionally protected right to exercise his religion; the department denies it, asserting in its brief that it "investigates reports of abuse without regard to claimed religious justifications for conduct that places children at risk."

The record seems to contradict this claim. Both the 51A form and Ms. Ugol's report substantiating it make repeated references to the biblical basis for Mr. Cobble's disciplinary practices. Two examples stand out:

At the end of the 51A, the reporter (whose name is omitted from the redacted copy that is part of the court records, but who presumably is one of the three women from the school where all this started) gives her reason for recommending an investigation: "Both parents are physically disciplining the child and have admitted to teachers [that they] are using corporal punishment as dictated by Biblical Scripture."

And when Ms. Ugol enumerates her grounds for supporting the finding of abuse and neglect, she concludes with this: "It should additionally be noted that after the 51A report was filed, the parents transferred Judah from his public school to a Christian school. While this may have been done because parents prefer the latter school and felt the transfer was in the child's best interest, it is also possible that the transfer was an angry response by parents to remove the child from the venue which they believe was responsible for the 51A report/investigation. There is the potential that Judah's willingness or ability to disclose any further sense of 'unsafety' may have been compromised by this response from his parents."

It's chilling enough that Ms. Ugol regards the Cobbles' choice of a Christian school as a reason for suspicion. But consider what she suspects them of: being angry. They have just been accused, on the flimsiest of grounds, of committing child abuse -- a horrific crime against their own son -- and they might, we have reason to suspect, be angry at their accusers. Such gall!

When the Department of Social Services substantiated the charge of abuse against Mr. Cobble, it did not refer the case for criminal prosecution. It didn't even seek to declare him an unfit parent. Is it the department's view, then, that some child abusers are fit parents? In answer to this question, Assistant Attorney General Juliana deHaan Rice, who wrote the state's brief and argued its case Monday, says that Mr. Cobble was never declared a child abuser in the first place. The department found merely that, in her words, "reasonable cause existed to believe that this child had been subjected to the risk of physical abuse" (emphasis mine). She added: "It's a fairly low standard for supporting a 51A report."

Such legalistic niceties may warm the heart of an assistant attorney general, but they are cold comfort to a family that has been disrupted by a parade of social workers asking intrusive questions and pronouncing what sounds like a verdict of guilt. Child abuse is a despicable crime. When government agents throw the charge around as lightly as they do in Massachusetts, that too is despicable.

Corpun file 4356


The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, MA, 15 September 1999

The case of a father's refusal to spare the rod

By Yvonne Zipp
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Rev. Donald Cobble believes in parenting according to his reading of the Bible. When his son does something wrong, the Woburn, Mass., dad gives him a couple of smacks on the behind with a belt.

"The rod is a necessary part - not the whole - of training a child," says the pastor at the Christian Teaching and Worship Center, quoting Proverbs. "'The rod and reproof bring wisdom.' There are some things rebuke won't take care of."

But what he calls necessary discipline, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services called child abuse. While the spankings weren't against the law, the DSS says, they put Mr. Cobble's son at risk of future injury - a finding a Superior Court judge upheld.

Cobble appealed that ruling to the state's high court this week, saying the decision infringes on his right to discipline his son according to his religious convictions.

The case comes at a time when many Americans are pondering what constitutes appropriate discipline for a child -- and questioning who should make that call, the parent or the state. While government has enlarged its oversight of families in recent decades, some parents are now challenging that role.

"There's a generally healthy reassertion of parental rights and responsibilities," says Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things First in New York. "We're witnessing today a growing suspicion of specialists, especially government bureaucratic specialists to know what's good for a child."

That is one of the arguments used in Cobble's appeal. "I'm saying, keep away from the family unit," says Chester Darling, Cobble's attorney. The state should intervene in legitimate cases of abuse, but when it comes to corporal punishment, "it's none of the state's business what kind of discipline is used."

The Massachusetts case is an example of how divisive an issue spanking is in the US - with some considering it a necessary tool to create upstanding adults and others regarding corporal punishment as next to human rights abuse.

"Opinion polls in the country are pretty much divided 50-50 about the use of corporal punishment," says Martha Minow, a professor at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. "The climate is one of great disagreement."

US divided on spanking

For one, people's views on spanking divide along regional lines, she says. The South, for example, is more inclined to follow the philosophy of "spare the rod, spoil the child," while the Northeast is more likely to spare the rod.

For another, laws about spanking vary widely from state to state. For example, corporal punishment in schools is legal in 23 states, many of them in the South. And a quest earlier this year to turn Oakland, Calif., into the first no-spanking zone in the United States was quickly swatted down.

In many ways, Massachusetts illustrates just how radically views have changed. In Colonial Massachusetts, says parenting expert Murray Straus, a parent could legally kill a child for being rebellious. Not that there are many -- if any -- reported cases of a parent availing himself of the Rebellious Child Law, he adds quickly, "but it shows you the sentiment of the times."

The informal standard of defining abuse has traditionally been: "If a child is injured, then it's abuse," says Mr. Straus, co- director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He cites an example of a New Hampshire mother who hit her child with a belt. She was cleared of abuse charges because the child didn't require any medical treatment. But Straus adds, "We're in a state of flux on this issue in this country. The culture is changing; standards are changing."

Now, for example, he says Americans are more likely to define hitting a child with an object as excessive punishment. Just 27 percent of respondents had struck their child with an object -- such as a belt or hairbrush -- during the past year, according to a 1995 study by the Family Research Laboratory. The number of parents who used corporal punishment on their teens was halved -- from 66 percent in the late 1960s to 33 percent in 1995.

A slim majority of parents, 55 percent, believed it was "sometimes necessary" to spank a child, down from 94 percent in 1968. But 94 percent of respondents with children aged 2 to 5 said they had spanked their children within the year.

"The beliefs and attitudes are changing faster than behavior, but both are changing," says Straus. "You can now find lots of people who weren't spanked as a child."

Defining abuse

If people are divided over corporal punishment, the law in many cases is even murkier, experts say.

In Massachusetts, there is no specific list of actions that constitute abuse. Moreover, a parent doesn't have to injure a child to be reported - as long "as the substantial risk of harm" is there, as DSS argues was the case with Cobble and his son.

"The legislature has balanced opposing societal viewpoints," says Juliana Rice, an assistant attorney general representing the commissioner of the DSS.

Recognizing that "what may be harmful for one child may not be harmful for another," the law does not define abuse in terms of parental conduct, but rather on the degree of harm to the child.

That can be confusing -- and not just for parents. At the court hearing Sept. 13, the Massachusetts justices repeatedly asked lawyers what kind of corporal punishment would be acceptable, in their view.

"How is a parent to know?" asked Justice Roderick Ireland.

"The law needs to give us a clear and lucid definition of when spanking becomes abuse," says Mr. Neuhaus.

Professor Minow, who personally opposes spanking, agrees, saying that when the definition of abuse is decided on a case-by-case basis, there's the threat of selective punishment -- with immigrant families and religious minorities being subjected to closer scrutiny.

"We need to send a message to the legislature that there are several red flags," says Dean Tong, author of "Ashes to Ashes, Families to Dust" and a forensic consultant on abuse cases in Tampa, Fla. "When the laws are very vague, it's open season for victimization."

blob Follow-up: 17 November 1999 -- High court throws out abuse ruling in spanking case

Corpun file 4376, 15 September 1999

Hands off parents

Ruling underscores parents' rights to educate and discipline their kids

By John H. Fund
MSNBC Contributor

NEW YORK, Sept. 15 - Without a search warrant and with no apparent emergency, the social worker forced her way into the house and strip-searched a child on the most vague evidence of abuse. A federal appeals court has declared that parents have the same right to protection from such misconduct as suspected criminals do from police officers.

Parents who school their children at home are often unfairly targeted by social workers and police.

THE CASE, DECIDED by a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is a boost for the growing number of parents who educate their children at home and are often harassed by authorities. "Child Protective Services agencies have too many times behaved as if there is a social worker exception to the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures," says Mike Farris, of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which brought the suit.

The case began in 1994, when a caller phoned in a tip to Woodland, Ca. social workers that a child in the home of Robert and Shirley Calabretta had screamed "No, Daddy, no!" at 1:30 a.m., and two days later a child had yelled "No, no, no!" in the late afternoon. In addition, the caller said that the Calabrettas were "extremely religious" and educated their two daughters, aged 12 and 3, at home.

Four days later, social worker Jill Floyd visited the Calabretta house but was denied permission to enter. Even so, she could see the two children through the screen door and saw no indications they had been abused. Nonetheless, ten days later Floyd returned with a policeman and forced her way into the home.

A question of discipline

While inside, Ms. Floyd questioned the two daughters who said they were sometimes paddled by their father with a small stick. The social worker then incorrectly told the mother that using any object to discipline children was against the law, and demanded to see the stick. Calabretta complied, as she also did to a demand that her three-year-old's pants be pulled down in a search for bruises or marks. None were found.

Three months later, the Calabrettas sought damages against Floyd and the police officer for what they called an illegal search of their home. Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that unless there is evidence of an emergency -- "probable cause" -- a social worker investigating a report of child abuse must have a search warrant. The two-week lag between the tip about possible abuse and the forced search demonstrated that there was no emergency.

Parental privacy

'A significant number of social workers believe there's something strange about you if you are religious and if you're a home-schooler.'

Home schooling advocate

Last week, the federal appeals court agreed, with Judge Andrew Kleinfeld ruling that parents have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes" and should not fear "having government officials coerce entry in violation of the Fourth Amendment and humiliate the parents in front of the children."

Farris, the lawyer for the parents, says the ruling has important national implications. "A significant number of social workers believe there's something strange about you if you are religious and if you're a home-schooler," he said. "This ruling means blind prejudice can't override the Constitution."

Nonetheless, J. Scott Smith, the lawyer for the defendants and the government agencies involved, may seek a further appeal. He says holding social workers to the evidentiary standards that apply to searches of criminal suspects will "handcuff social workers" protecting children. That is always a fear, but given the Calabretta case and the unfounded prosecutions of child-care workers in recent years, there is also clearly a risk that the state can run roughshod over the rights of adults who care for children.

John H. Fund is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and a regular contributor to MSNBC on the Internet.

Corpun file 4370


Chicago Sun-Times, 16 September 1999

A refreshing cold smack of reality

By Neil Steinberg
Sun-Times Columnist

Has spanking your child become a crime?

The Supreme Court in Massachusetts is deciding whether Donald Cobble should be convicted of abuse for occasionally spanking his son.

The issue doesn't seem to be physical harm, or satanic abuse. The question seems to be whether a parent can spank a child, as punishment for misbehavior, without risking the wrath of the state.

My experience with parenting is limited to less than four years of endless, head-crushing, gerbil-on-a-wheel effort. But it seems to me that spanking is like the atomic bomb. Something that should never be used, but is enormously helpful to have in the old arsenal.

Growing up, we feared my father's belt. He was always threatening to get his belt, taking off the belt, alluding to the belt. Rarely did he ever spank us with it--just enough, looking back, to give some sort of meaning to the threat.

(Gee, I hope saying that doesn't put him in any sort of legal peril. You never know nowadays. Don't worry dad, I'll deny it on the stand. Just another columnist making stuff up).

Spanking -- moderate, disciplinary, controlled -- is not a crime. People who draw back in horror at the thought of corporal punishment, in my view, either don't have children, don't remember what children are like, or are blessed with freakishly well-mannered children.

Whatever the case, it is presumptuous of them to dictate to others -- especially through law -- how they should raise their children. Rather like a sailor at D-Day saying: "What's all the fuss about? I was at Omaha Beach, reading the Saturday Evening Post on a sack of flour aboard the S.S. Rearguard and watching the puffs of smoke a mile away. I think those guys on the beaches are exaggerating."

Parenthood is intensely difficult, at times. Children can be beasts. Civilization must be imparted to them, and if they are too young to understand the importance of certain behaviors -- not running into the path of trucks, not gleefully destroying the house in which they live, not benignly beating on their playmates -- it may be occasionally necessary to deliver that lesson to their bottoms, in a loving fashion.

Or not in a loving fashion. Parents lose control. They shouldn't, but they do. I don't think that every mother who gives her kid a slap in the supermarket should end up in Violence Court.

You know those mothers. The ones you see dragging their kids by their arms, screaming at them. How you felt for the poor child. How you've wanted to go over to the mother and calmly instruct her in the teachings of Jesus, inform her of the need for patience with little ones.

Until it's your child, the one you've poured an endless amount of patience and love and understanding into, throwing a gibbering, melt-down fit because you won't let them eat a package of M&Ms before lunch.

Maybe you react well. Maybe you kneel down, take their hand, explain that pre-lunch candy is bad. Maybe you give them a time-out hug, or tell them the story of the Ant and the Caterpillar. Maybe you say, "I understand your feelings, Jeremy, and I respect them." Maybe you break down and buy M&Ms.

Or maybe, trying all these, failing, at wit's end, you give them a swat on the bottom. Or several swats.

I wouldn't judge you. I don't think any parent who isn't an idiot would judge you. And God knows the government shouldn't judge you.

What parent has never slipped? You? Good, you're lucky. Don't flaunt it.

It's ironic. You abandon your kids, and nobody minds as long as you pay child support. But if you stick at your post, in the trenches, trying to mold a human being out of the lump you were given at the hospital, and suddenly everybody's a critic.

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