Pro-Family Groups Fear Del. Child Abuse Law Criminalizes Spanking

A controversial child abuse law has recently taken effect in Delaware, sparking concern among pro-family groups that argue that the new law is an overreaching government attempt to control parenting methods, especially corporal punishment.

The law, signed and put into effect by Gov. Jack Markell in late September, defines child abuse as anything which causes the child pain.

"'Abuse' means causing any physical injury to a child... 'physical injury' to a child shall mean any impairment of physical condition or pain," the law states.

Criminal penalties for breaking the law include one to two years in prison, depending on the circumstances of each situation and the age of the child.

As The New American describes it, many critics of the law argue that it is "another example of well-intentioned government overreach."

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an advocacy group dedicated to defending the constitutional rights of parents, released a statement rejecting the new law, saying that it makes Delaware "the first state in the nation to effectively outlaw corporal discipline of children by their parents."

"Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) opposed this bill as a violation of the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, including the long-recognized right to administer reasonable corporal discipline," HSLDA attorney Dewitt Black outlined in a statement.

"HSLDA worked with the Delaware Home Education Association and the Delaware Family Policy Council in an effort to bring about a defeat of this legislation," he added.

According to Denny Burk, an associate professor at Boyce College, the undergraduate affiliate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., this new law directly affects Christian parents who abide by the Bible in terms of corporal punishment.

"Unless this law is clarified or amended, then parents in Delaware who spank could be charged with a felony and put into prison for the loving discipline of their children," Burk writes on his blog.

"Christian parents could be incarcerated for doing what the Bible commands them to do," he added.

Burk goes on to identify the numerous passages in the Bible he believes condones corporeal punishment, including Proverbs chapters 13, 22, 23, and 29.

Delaware State Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, spearheaded this new law, and continues to argue that it does not encroach on parenting styles, as long as they are not abusive.

"We know children are three times more likely to be assaulted, hurt or harmed if they have a developmental disability or are under four years old," Biden told reporters in a press conference in June.

"We wanted to recognize a very vulnerable victim pool," he added.

Biden has assured critics that the law does not make spanking illegal.

"This will not do anything to interfere with a parent's right or ability to parent as they see fit, but it also makes it clear that if you abuse a child in any way, shape or form, we're going to have a statute that we're going to be able to use to protect kids," he said in a statement.

Regardless of the law's intentions, critics are hoping an amendment will be added to the law which specifically allows for the spanking of children.

"The fact of the matter is that it's written into the law and it very much could be interpreted as prohibiting spanking," Nicole Theis, president of Delaware Family Policy Council, said in a written statement, as reported by The New American.

"While we appreciate that it was not the intent of lawmakers to criminalize spanking, we hope that it bides us a little time to make an amendment to the law," she added.

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