The Mississippi State Legislature is considering a bill that could see parents who "spank" their children face either 10 years in jail or life imprisonment depending on the intention and bodily harm caused to the child, but critics of the bill say its intentions are not clearly defined.
Senate Bill 2180, an act to amend a section of the Mississippi Code of 1972, aims to revise the "offense of felonious abuse or battery of a child; and for related purposes." The bill is sponsored by Senator Brice Wiggins of District 52.
Dewitt Black, Senior Counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), believes that there are problems with the bill's language. Black told The Christian Post that the words "bodily harm" and "reasonable discipline" are not properly defined.
He pointed out that these actions are left to the court's interpretation on what constitutes as a crime. According to SB 2180, a person is guilty of felonious child abuse if the act was intentional and caused bodily harm – including burn, torture, strangle or choke, disfigure, whip or strike – except as "a result of reasonable discipline, in self-defense, or in order to prevent bodily harm to a third party."
"A lot of people have different ideas about what [bodily harm] is," Black said. "Does inflicting pain constitute bodily harm? How about if the parent leaves red marks on the child from a spanking?"
The HSLDA attorney shared that many people do not believe spanking should be legal and that "any striking or whipping of a child should be a crime." However, he countered that there are also those who believe that spanking would be appropriate under certain circumstances – just not with an object.
Pastor David Wright, CEO of DOersTV, says regardless, there is a difference between child abuse and discipline.
"I would hope that the real motive of this bill is to protect children from abuse and not correction," he told CP. "With the decay of Christian values in this nation I doubt that is the real motive. We are to never sacrifice discipline, chastisement and correction of our children and call it abuse if it is not abuse. "
Black shared similar sentiments, saying that historically in America and other cultures parents have been able to administer reasonable corporal punishment – not to abuse a child – but to discipline.
"[This] includes spanking and we believe that right should be preserved," he stated. "As a Christian organization we believe that it is a biblical means of disciplining a child."
Wright agreed that Christians should look to God's Word – offering Proverbs 13 and 23 in support.
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes," Pastor Wright said, quoting the King James Version of the passages. "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
According to Black, the Bill would be a very dangerous law to "have on the books because parents would not know what's illegal and what's legal under state law." He pointed out that this was due largely to the terms "bodily harm" and "reasonable discipline."
He told CP that HSLDA is currently working with state home-school leaders to get the bill amended and "alleviate concerns about [the wording]." SB 2180 as it is currently written is the way it was filed, and Black says he is hoping to see this changed. If passed, the bill will be effective from July 1, 2012.
Meanwhile, Pastor Wright says if parents love their children they will spank, without abusing them.
"To all Christian parents, believe what God said regarding spanking your child as a form of discipline. And if you do not believe it works, just look at society, and all the parents who live disciplining their children to the government and ask yourself which one works the best," he argued.