The Anti-Father Police State
by Stephen Baskerville, PhD
Cathy Young is known for her even-handed attempts to cut through
the pretensions of both the left and right. She has also shown considerable
courage by delving into what for many journalists is a no-go zone:
divorce and fathers' rights.
it is a little awkward to find myself cast as one of her combatants,
with my own views and others' whom I typify characterized as "extreme."
December issue of Reason magazine, Young sorts out, with
her customary balance, a debate between proponents of Clinton-Bush
family engineering schemes and those of us who take a more laissez-faire
attitude toward government intervention in family life.
it is not my positions that are extreme but my "rhetoric" specifically,
the words I use to describe how government is systematically destroying
families and fathers. "Political speech and writing are largely
the defense of the indefensible," wrote George Orwell. "Thus political
language has to consist largely of euphemism." If my language seems
direct, it may be because euphemism currently obfuscates the most
indefensible politics of our time.
a writer as informed and astute as Young has difficulty grasping
the larger trend at work here validates Orwell's observation about
the power of language. Clichés about "divorce" and "custody"
do not begin to convey the civil liberties disaster taking place.
We are facing questions of who has primary authority over children,
their parents or the state, and whether the state's penal apparatus
can seize control over both the children and the private lives of
citizens who have done nothing wrong. Rephrased, the question is,
Is there any private sphere of life that remains off-limits to state
intervention? Bryce Christensen of Southern Utah University (and
not a fathers' rights activist, extreme or otherwise) has characterized
fatherhood policies as creating a "police state."
in only the last few days amount to government admissions of Christensen's
charge. Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, judge has just freed some 100
prisoners who had been incarcerated without due process for allegedly
failing to pay child support. The fathers were sentenced with no
notice given of their hearings and no opportunity to obtain legal
representation. Fathers relate that hearings typically last between
30 seconds and two minutes, during which they are sentenced to months
in prison. ACLU lawyer Malia Brink says courts across Pennsylvania
routinely jail such men for civil contempt without proper notice
or in time for them to get lawyers. Lawrence County was apparently
jailing fathers with no hearings at all. Nothing indicates that
Pennsylvania is unusual. After a decade of hysteria over "deadbeat
dads," one hundred such prisoners in each of the America's 3,500
counties is by no means unlikely.
last week, a federal appeals court finally ruled unconstitutional
the Elizabeth Morgan Act, a textbook bill of attainder whereby Congress
legislatively separated father and child and "branded" as "a criminal
child abuser" a father against whom no evidence was ever presented.
"Congress violated the constitutional prohibition against bills
of attainder by singling out plaintiff for legislative punishment,"
the court said. The very fact that a bill of attainder was used
at all indicates something truly extreme is taking place. Bills
of attainder are rare, draconian measures used for one purpose:
to convict politically those who cannot be convicted with evidence.
do these decisions demonstrate that justice eventually prevails?
Hardly. In both cases, the damage is done. Foretich's daughter has
been irreparably robbed of her childhood and estranged from her
father. Moreover, millions of fathers continue to be permanently
separated from their children and presumed guilty, even when no
evidence exists against them.
Pennsylvania men will fare worse. For many, the incarceration has
already cost them their jobs and thus their ability to pay future
child support. As a result, they will be returned to the penal system,
from which they are unlikely ever to escape. Permanently insolvent,
they are farmed out to trash companies and similar concerns, where
they work 1416 hour days. Most of their earnings are confiscated
for child support, the costs of their incarceration, and mandatory
gulag recalls the description of the Soviet forced-labor system,
described by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in their classic
study of totalitarianism: "Not infrequently the secret police hired
out its prisoners to local agencies for the purpose of carrying
out some local project…. Elaborate contracts were drawn up…specifying
all the details and setting the rates at which the secret police
is to be paid. At the conclusion of their task, the prisoners, or
more correctly the slaves, were returned to the custody of the secret
repressive measures against fathers are enacted almost daily. Last
week, Staten Island joined a nationwide trend when it opened a new
"integrated domestic violence court." The purpose of these courts,
says Chief Judge Judith Kaye, is not to dispense justice as such
but to "make batterers and abusers take responsibility for their
actions." In other words, to declare men guilty.
who doubts this need only look to Canada, where domestic violence
courts are already empowered to seize the property, including the
homes, of men accused of domestic violence, even though they are
not necessarily convicted or even formally charged. Moreover, they
may do so "ex parte," without the men being present to defend
themselves. "This bill is classic police-state legislation," writes
Robert Martin, of the University of Western Ontario. Walter Fox,
a Toronto lawyer, describes these courts as "pre-fascist," and editor
Dave Brown writes in the Ottawa Citizen, "Domestic violence
courts…are designed to get around the protections of the Criminal
Code. The burden of proof is reduced or removed, and there's no
presumption of innocence."
courts to try special crimes that can only be committed by certain
people are a familiar device totalitarian regimes adopted to replace
established standards of justice with ideological justice. New courts
created during the French Revolution led to the Reign of Terror
and were consciously imitated in the Soviet Union. In Hitler's dreaded
Volksgerichte or "people’s courts," write Friedrich and Brzezinski,
"only expediency in terms of National Socialist standards served
as a basis for judgment."
more astounding, legislation announced in Britain will require the
police to consider fathers guilty of domestic violence, even
after they have been acquitted in court. Fathers found "not
guilty" are to be kept away from their children and treated as if
they are guilty. As Melanie Phillips writes in the Daily
Mail, "This measure will destroy the very concept of innocence
are only the most recent developments. Young herself has
written eloquently on the practice of extracting coerced confessions
from fathers like Massachusetts minister Harry Stewart. In Warren
County, Pennsylvania, fathers like Robert Pessia are told they will
be jailed unless they sign confessions stating, "I have physically
and emotionally battered my partner." The father must then describe
the violence, even if he insists he committed none. The documents
require him to state, "I am responsible for the violence I used.
My behavior was not provoked." Again, the words of Friedrich and
Brzezinski are apposite: "Confessions are the key to this psychic
coercion. The inmate is subjected to a constant barrage of propaganda
and ever-repeated demands that he ‘confess his sins,’ that he ‘admit
Chesterton argued that the most enduring check on government tyranny
is the family. Ideological correctness notwithstanding, little imagination
is required to comprehend that the household member most likely
to defend the family against the state is the father. Yet as Margaret
Mead once pointed out, the father is also the family's weakest link.
The easiest and surest way to destroy the family, therefore, is
to remove the father. Is it extreme to wonder if government is quietly
engaged in a search-and-destroy operation against the principal
obstacle to the expansion of its power?
[send him mail],
teaches political science at Howard University.
© 2003 Stephen Baskerville