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Wards of the Nanny State

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When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ [Hitler] said in a speech on November 6, 1933, “I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.’”

—As reported by historian William L. Shirer

It’s not easy being a parent in the American police state.

Danger lurks around every corner and comes at you from every direction, especially when Big Brother is involved.

Out on the streets, you’ve got the menace posed by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later. In the schools, parents have to worry about school resource officers who taser teenagers and handcuff kindergartners, school officials who have criminalized childhood behavior, school lockdowns and terror drills that teach your children to fear and comply, and a police state mindset that has transformed the schools into quasi-prisons.

In your neighborhoods, you’ve got to worry about the Nanny State and its network of busybodies turning parents in for allowing their children to walk to school alone, walk to the park alone, play at the beach alone, or even play in their own yard alone.

And now in the last refuge for privacy—one’s home—parents are being put through the grinder, their actions scrutinized and judged by government goon squads armed with outrageous, overreaching, egregious laws that subject families to the hyped-up, easily offended judgment of the Nanny State.

The latest slap in the face comes from the Arizona Supreme Court whose 3-2 ruling in Arizona v. Holle paves the way for parents to be charged as child molesters or sexual abusers for such innocent acts as changing their children’s diapers or taking baths with their kids.

I kid you not. This is really happening.

As Chief Justice Bales wrote in his dissent:

Parents and other caregivers who have changed an infant’s soiled diaper or bathed a toddler will be surprised to learn that they have committed a class 2 or 3 felony. They also will likely find little solace from the majority’s conclusion that although they are child molesters or sex abusers under Arizona law, they are afforded an “affirmative defense” if they can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their touching “was not motivated by a sexual interest.” Such a defense, as the majority notes, does not mean that a crime has not occurred, but instead that the miscreant may avoid “culpability” by persuading the factfinder that the “criminal conduct” should be excused.

Now the court is not fully to blame for this idiotic ruling.

That prize goes to the well-meaning idiots in the Arizona legislature who drafted legislation that criminalizes any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals, whether or not improper sexual intent was involved.

By allowing this legislation to go unchallenged, however, the Arizona Supreme Court has created a paradigm in which parents are de facto sexual predators who, if formally charged, have the burden of proving their innocence “after a lengthy, expensive, and reputation-tarnishing trial.” As legal reporter Mark Joseph Stern writes for Slate: “Arizona’s Supreme Court had an opportunity to remedy this glaring problem… But by a 3-2 vote, the court refused and declared that the law criminalized the completely innocent touching of a child.”

Not only would a parent accused under this law have to prove his or her innocence to the jury “by a preponderance of the evidence,” but they could be forced to spend an undetermined amount of time in jail just waiting to prove their innocence.

The message is chillingly clear: your children are not your own but are, in fact, wards of the state who have been temporarily entrusted to your care. Should you fail to carry out your duties to the government’s satisfaction, the children in your care will be re-assigned elsewhere.

In other words, the government believes it knows better than you—the parent—what is best for your child.

This criminalization of parenthood has run the gamut in recent years from parents being arrested for attempting to walk their kids home from school to parents being fined and threatened with jail time for their kids’ bad behavior or tardiness at school.

For example, working mom Debra Harrell was arrested, spent 17 days in jail, lost custody of her daughter and faced up to 10 years in jail all because she let her 9-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park. A Connecticut mother was arrested after her 7-year-old, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his scooter and allegedly injured himself. Patricia Juarez was arrested after letting her 7-year-old son play at a Legoland store in the mall while she did her shopping. Tammy Cooper was arrested, jailed overnight and charged with child endangerment for letting her kids ride their scooters alone in the cul-de-sac outside her suburban home.

Jeffrey Williamson was arrested after his 8-year-old son skipped church to play with neighborhood children. The experience left scars on the household. “Every time that we leave in our car or drive down the street or something like that, every time they see a cop in Blanchester, they freak out and say, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, are they going to arrest you?’” Williamson said.

Then there was the father who was arrested, charged with child cruelty, and banished from his family home after he spanked his 3-year-old daughter once for talking back to her mother, pushing the screen out of her window, refusing to pick up her toys and throwing a belt at him. The father was also ordered to undergo 52 weeks of parenting classes and two monitored visits with his daughter each week.

Parents in Florida can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and face up to two months in jail if their kids have 15 or more unexcused absences from school over the course of three months. Truancy laws in Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina, among other states, have also resulted in parents doing jail time for their kids’ absenteeism.

This doesn’t even touch on what happens to your kids when they’re at school—especially the public schools—where parents have little to no control over what their kids are taught, how they are taught, how and why they are disciplined, and the extent to which they are being indoctrinated into marching in lockstep with the government’s authoritarian playbook.

The harm caused by attitudes and policies that treat America’s young people as government property is not merely a short-term deprivation of individual rights. It is also a long-term effort to brainwash our young people into believing that civil liberties are luxuries that can and will be discarded at the whim and caprice of government officials if they deem doing so is for the so-called “greater good” (in other words, that which perpetuates the aims and goals of the police state).

Clearly, the schools should be educating children about their duties as citizens and how to protect their constitutional rights. Instead, government officials are molding our young people into compliant citizens with no rights and subjecting them to invasive questioning, searches of their persons and property, and random drug testing, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

What we’re dealing with is a draconian mindset that sees young people as wards of the state—and the source of potential income—to do with as they will in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents. However, this is in keeping with the government’s approach towards individual freedoms in general.

Surveillance cameras, government agents listening in on your phone calls, reading your emails and text messages and monitoring your spending, mandatory health care, sugary soda bans, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, political correctness: these are all outward signs of a government—i.e., a monied elite—that believes it knows what is best for you and can do a better job of managing your life than you can.

This is tyranny disguised as “the better good.”

Indeed, this is the tyranny of the Nanny State: marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots. This is what the world looks like when bureaucrats not only think they know better than the average citizen but are empowered to inflict their viewpoints on the rest of the populace on penalty of fines, arrest or death.

Unfortunately, even in the face of outright corruption and incompetency on the part of elected officials, Americans in general remain relatively gullible, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster, how or what we eat or even keeping our children safe.

We have relinquished control over the most intimate aspects of our lives to government officials who, while they may occupy seats of authority, are neither wiser, smarter, more in tune with our needs, more knowledgeable about our problems, nor more aware of what is really in our best interests. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government does indeed know what’s best for us and can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes—we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that could care less about our freedoms or our happiness.

The lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny.

Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government, whose priorities are to remain in control and in power.

Having allowed the government to expand and exceed our reach, we find ourselves on the losing end of a tug-of-war over control of our country and our lives. And as long as we let them, government officials will continue to trample on our rights, always justifying their actions as being for the good of the people.

Yet the government can only go as far as “we the people” allow. Therein lies the problem.

We have suspended our moral consciences in favor of the police state. As Chris Hedges told me years ago,

“Not having to make moral choice frees you from a great deal of anxiety. It frees you from responsibility. And it assures that you will always be wrapped in the embrace of the powerful as long as, of course, you will do or dance to the tune the powers play… when you do what is right, you often have to understand that you are not going to be lauded and praised for it. Making a moral decision always entails risks, certainly to one’s career and to one’s standing in the community.”

The choice before us is clear, and it is a moral choice.

It is the choice between tyranny and freedom, dictatorship and autonomy, peaceful slavery and dangerous freedom, and manufactured pipedreams of what America used to be versus the gritty reality of what she is today.

Most of all, perhaps, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the choice before us is that of blindly obeying, never questioning, and marching in lockstep with the police state OR asking hard questions, challenging injustice, standing up to tyranny, and owning up to our responsibilities as citizens, no matter how painful, risky or uncomfortable.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

More articles by:

John W. Whitehead is the president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

CounterPunch Magazine

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