The Return of the Neo-Nazi Parents

Remember about a month ago when a toddler was refused a birthday cake because his name is Adolf Hitler? Well, apparently the boy has been removed from his parents’ home, along with his two younger sisters, despite the fact that, according to local police, there have been no abuse or neglect reports filed against the family. Some confusion remains in this story: the boy’s father has reportedly commented that in fact the children have not been taken, while the local police chief says that they were removed last week, and the social services department have declined to comment.

Regardless of how this shakes out and which bits turn out to be true, it raises some interesting questions, mostly hovering around the intersection of parents’ rights and children’s rights, and the definition of abuse. Some within the atheist and skeptic community (most notably Richard Dawkins) are trying to further the idea that indoctrination should be considered child abuse. The same logic seems to be in play in this case. Assuming the story above is true, the county has stripped parents of their rights because it does not agree with what they are teaching their children.

This all sounds great on the surface to most of us who do not share their views. What better way to ensure that these children don’t grow up to be misinformed and hateful? Yes, parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit (within reason, obviously), but where does a child’s right not to be burdened with outmoded ways of thinking come in?

But what can seem clear on the surface becomes murkier as one dives in. We live in a free country; or at least that’s what we try to tell ourselves. The people of the United States are a very diverse bunch. Most are Christian, yes, but even this majority is full of conflicting viewpoints. What I’m getting at is that anyone from any worldview could come up with a list of other groups whose principles violate their own and should not be taught to children. We as atheists should be especially careful with this, as many people would say that raising a child without religion is tantamount to abuse.

As much as it pains me to say it, as long as there truly is no abuse happening, the Nazis should get their kids back. Actually, I think the kids even have a shot at turning out alright. Children have a tendency to rebel against their parents. After all, how many of us were raised atheist? A few, yes, but not many. I come from a very religious upbringing, and have managed to find my way out and onto my own path. That is not to say that it is common for people to question their inherited belief system, but in this case, I think they will find themselves challenged frequently; something most Christians never encounter, due to their status as members of the majority.

Speaking as someone who has gone through the experience of examining and changing my beliefs, and values that experience very highly, I’m not sure we can or should sanitize that possibility for future generations. I may be biased, but I think a journey of self discovery is just about the best thing we can do as humans, and most of us do it, regardless of where we start out.

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  1. What you are speaking of is a truly slippery slope. vigilance by the community in these children’s lives however deciding who can keep their kids on an ideological basis would threaten everybody’s freedom.

  2. In my line of work I’ve come across a number of families who’ve cursed their children with absolutely hideous obnoxious names.

    It has been my experience that these families are almost always very isolated and controlled by a highly religious fundamentalist types where the family dynamic is ripe for many kinds of abuse. You can be sure that these children were not (if they were) removed from their parents because of their names.

    And no matter how stupid and brain numbing the parental “indoctrination” can be, I think Richard Dawkins is very very wrong on this point. The history of unwarranted church and government intrusion in families leaves me quite concerned that personal and family privacy is an important ‘right’ and that the government should have a really good reason to stick its nose in your/my business.

  3. Jersey represent! If saddling your kids with horrible names, then using them as patsies in your campaign for local-news stardom and a frivolous lawsuit payday is wrong, then we don’t wanna be right.

  4. I would put money on this, that there is something besides their names or their parents’ beliefs behind their removal. Sadly, children’s services probably has more than enough to keep them busy without opening that can o worms.

  5. I don’t think that naming a kid some disagreeable name, even one that brings up horrible parts of our past, is grounds to take the kid away from his parents. After all, how do you make a law or rules defining what names qualify as bad enough in such a case?

    However, from the article details seem pretty sketchy so who knows what’s really up?

  6. at this point we really only have 2 facts. 1- the parents are neonazi morons who poorly named their children and 2- the children were removed from the home.

    since social services can’t and won’t release the details surrounding their decision to remove the children, until there is some sort of trial/hearing on it and the reasons become part of the public record, we’re going to be lacking the truly relevant facts and can only make assumptions about those reasons.

    while being wearing of the potential for a precedent being set here is most surely a good thing, I think we in the greater blogosphere, and especially the skeptic community, should wait for all (or at least more of) the details to become known before denouncing or praising the decision.

  7. @JakeL: i agree totally…i thought i made it pretty clear that any opinions expressed were based on what we know now, and obviously may change as more information is released. it should go without saying that nothing any of us (except maybe rebecca) write is the final and official skepchick opinion.

    regardless of what the truth ends up being (and that is by no means me saying that the truth doesn’t matter), i think it is an interesting idea to examine, and i thought it was worth bringing up. i had hoped to expand the discussion outside of the story that triggered my line of reasoning.

  8. I really think this is a blind spot for Dawkins. Freedom of thought and belief is a cornerstone concept for most modern “liberal” democracies. There have been attempts by some modern countries to control the minutia and thoughts of its private citizens and this has always resulted in tyranny, oppression and forced coercion. The usual suspects of fascists, communist and totalitarian countries come to mind.

    The notion that the government should consider the religious, ideological, and political indoctrination/education as a reasonable cause for intervention and interference in a parents rights is an egregious violation of fundamental human rights.

    IMHO just to expand gthe topic.

  9. Removing a kid(s) from that situation seems too harsh (discussing the hypothetical). But what the parents did is really appalling; much worse even then Gwyneth naming her kid Apple. :P

    Removing the kids is also an unusual move; I’ve covered cases where parents almost ripped a kid in half as they fought, and that kid was put right back in the home as soon as she got back from the hospital. Usually the state will do everything it can to keep the family together.

    The Adolf case makes my morality-o-meter start swinging around wildly. Like the classic “should you push the fat man off the tracks” question. This is a tough one.

  10. I had to read the story to get the problem… The kids name isn’t Adolf Hitler, its Adolf Hitler Campbell. See I think its silly that the entire Hitler line is expected to change their names because of the actions of one total douche, but this isn’t a case of that… their clearly Neo Nazi’s, and while their children SHOULD be taken away… I have to admit that having asshats as parents is not yet a basis for the removal of a child…

  11. This very issue has caused quite a bit of mischief in the past few days for myself and my family.

    You see, my sister decided she would upload her artwork (with nudity) onto Facebook. There was nothing sexual about the content – it was just nude drawings of the human form. This caused a huge uproar with one of my many religious family members. She sent us a very nasty email saying how we were “corrupting” her children, and made the claim that she was not speaking from a religious viewpoint. She then went on to say how my sister was extremely immoral for posting nude artwork on a public site.

    This caused me to rage considerably. I’m still recovering from the drama. Her idea of “morality” stems from her religious beliefs, and she as such has forced her children into believing that nudity and sexuality is wrong wrong wrong. She tried her best to guilt us into believing what she does, that we were horrible people for allowing her children to have access to such “sinful material” as she put it.

    Does she not realize that if she doesn’t educate her children about these things, that they may end up in harms way down the road? Why not tell them about the human body, how it works and why, in hopes that they make the right decision later on? Why not give them a choice, and let them decide if the art was offensive or not? God knows they’re old enough…

    I know it’s not directly related to “bad names” but the idea of indoctrination of any type just pisses me off.

    /end rant

  12. I agree that, for better or worse, the kid should stay with the parents.

    I would also say, that you couldn’t get a kid more beat up at school unless you put him in a pink to-to, leotards, ballet slippers, angel wings and made him wear a helmet at all times.

    I suspect little “Hitler” will grow to really hate that name.


  13. I’m a diehard civil libertarian at heart, so the idea of taking the kids away solely because of the name (hypothetical) is really disturbing to me.

    But I am also curious if anyone knows whether there are any state or federal laws restricting naming options. Can parents legally name a child a number? An unpronounceable string of consonants? What about first name “fuck” middle name “you”? I’m not being facetious here. I really am curious if anyone knows if there are any statutory limits in naming.

  14. @Oskar Kennedy (LBB): LOL! Remind me to stay on my side of the Goethals Bridge…

    I idly wonder IF this is the case that there was no further abuse that Social Services got so many complaints due to the press this family got that they had to at least investigate?

  15. I think in focusing on the name, we are glossing over the real issue-the distinct, occasionally alluded to possibility that this family is genuinely raising their children to be Jew-hating, Poland-invading Nazis. While I would, in general, agree that the kids, in the absence of whatever legally constitutes abuse, it does raise an interesting question for a democracy-we acknowledge other arenas where free speech crosses a line into illegal action (such as conspiracy and slander)- does such a standard conceivably exist when it comes to raising children, where, again, the line between speech and act is thin? Can you teach your children something so thoroughly crazy and bound to lead to violence/abuse/whatever that you should be stopped?

  16. Ok … as a pediatrician, here’s the deal – over 17 years of practice I’ve been repetitively frustrated ,dismayed and at times, disgusted by the strategies of the childhood protective agencies. When I’ve asked them to investigate they have failed to act much more often than not, but when a neighbor barks based on mere suspicion or because of neighbor to neighbor conflict, they pounce. My thought on this, and I have no proof of course, only trends, is that this government agency keeps itself busy by going after low hanging fruit, attacking the more difficult and dangerous only when time permits. I am VERY skeptical of the practices of this important, but red tape filled bureau.

    Regarding this case specifically, without more details I can’t make a judgement as to whether or not this child should have been removed.

  17. This is about so much more than their children’s names. It’s about the parents’ use of their children.

    The dad ordered a birthday cake that said “Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler”. Ordinarily parents would put their son or daughter’s first name only on the cake. But not this pissant. No, he chooses to ask for his son’s first and middle name on the cake so that he (the dad) can provoke controversy. He used his kid in an unseemly way to cause trouble.

    That’s abuse, if you ask me. And I’ll bet there’s a lot more abuse where that came from.

  18. I say banning indoctrination is a really bad idea.

    Indoctrination is all too often a pejorative for teaching-I-disagree-with.

    It’s like cult, which is a pejorative for “religion that doesn’t agree with mine”

    And who decides what’s indoctrination? The people. Around 50% of which really think Sara Palin would make a great president in 4 years.

    Freedom… FAIL.

  19. Banning indoctrination is wrong and actually insulting to children. We would be acting on the assumption that all kids are incapable of growing into intelligent adults who can think for themselves.

  20. halincoh:

    My thought on this, and I have no proof of course, only trends, is that this government agency keeps itself busy by going after low hanging fruit, attacking the more difficult and dangerous only when time permits.

    This is SOP for pretty much any target-driven government agency. That’s why government performance measurement is such a hard thing to do well.

    I would oppose removing the child just for a name for 3 reasons:

    1) The civil liberties implications are … disturbing.

    2) Power like this could be used against atheists. After all, atheists are one of the least liked ideological groups in the US, and from a Christian perspective raising your child atheist is effectively condemning them to eternal torture. How long before they would come for your children?

    3) It seems like overkill to me. If the name is a problem, how about a court order mandating a change? Change Adolf to Aldous or similar and drop the Hitler. Then you have an odd, but fine name.

  21. Personally, I would not take children out of a home just because of the beliefs of their parents. Some kids will grow up with screwy beliefs, but I feel the same way about it as I do about freedom of speech. How long before someone decides that it’s wrong for me to teach my hypothetical children that God is just pretend?
    A better plan, I think, would be to require all children to receive public schooling – their parents can teach them whatever they want at home, but they can’t completely isolate them from differing views.

  22. @James Fox, but while Dawkins, as do I by the way, consider it a form of child abuse, he doesn’t advocate removing children from their families or even preventing the families from doing it. However much we might wish they didn’t. His argument is more about consciousness raising and pointing out how ridiculous it is to label a child a xian, muslim, Hindu or whatever simply because the parents are. Using the example about how we don’t tend to label a child a Marxist, a Tory or Lib-Dem because its parents are.

  23. @John Phillips: I cannot help but think that many people are going to be turned off by what Dawkins is saying. I wish he would put more emphasis on the idea that children lack the ability to form opinions on such complicated topics and should not be labeled. When Dawkins starts throwing the term “child abuse” around, especially when citing religious indoctrination, I don’t think it does much to further the cause. I do like Dawkins very much but I also think he is slightly off when it comes to the way he approaches this issue.

    As for the Nazis…

    Making the teaching of ideology criminal, no matter what the ideology, is not practically possible because social services cannot even handle the children who are physically and sexually abused.

  24. They didn’t refuse him a birthday cake, that’s unfair. They refused to write his name on the birthday cake (as they’re entitled to do. Their right to not decorate cakes with something they find offensive overrules his parents’ right to demand and get one), but they did offer to supply the cake blank for the parents to write the name on themselves, which is a reasonable compromise.

  25. I would say that the harm arising from having a horrible name is far, far less than the harm arising from being taken from your family, so I find it highly unlikely that the children were removed on those grounds.

    Even more so considering the media attention they’ve already received. The social services are not morons, I imagine. There will be another reason for the removal, or reason has lost its way.

  26. @wet_bread: As far as I know the U.S has no limitations as far as I’m aware. My father, who’s a professor, had a grad student named Marijuana Pepsicola Jones. Everyone just called her Mary Jane. However, as this story came out the press highlighted other nations that have the right to ban names. Sweden, China, and New Zealand were in there to veto the names Metallica, F#@$ you, Dreamcrusher, Bus Stop, 4Real, Satan, Adolf Hitler (many nations ban you from naming your children this), and my favorite, the @ symbol.

  27. OK, let’s ramp up the controversy here… by bringing in evolution!

    Consider this point: In evolutionary terms, children really are an extension of their parents — or more precisely, of their lineage. And for humans, that lineage isn’t just a matter of genetics… cultural transmission counts too.

    There are a bunch of implications to that… one, as noted above, is that interfering with a parent’s upbringing of their kids is a big deal. That doesn’t mean it can’t ever be justified — after all, there are several cases where we have no problems directly interfering with someone’s self-mistreatment! Preventing a suicide is only the most obvious example, and not even the most justifiable — we also are willing to force medical (or psychiatric) treatment on people when they pose a hazard to others. Sometimes, even being a (mere) burden to society is sufficient.

    And that tells us where we are willing, and (I say) ought to be willing to interfere with parental upbringing:

    1) Where the “lineage” is essentially suicidal — that would be the most severe child abuse, including killing them.

    2) Where the upbringing would turn the kids into problems for society — by gross mal-socialization (say, unacceptably violent), by traumatizing or otherwise injuring them (society will need to pick up the pieces), or by leaving them unable to participate in the society at large.

    3) Or, where the lineage itself, including its cultural components, is hostile to its surrounding society.

    This last seems to be the most acceptable justification for this case… but for a “free” society, it’s also the least justifiable in general!

    America in particular has a long history of tolerating dissenters from its social norms, intervening only when the dissent becomes something that can’t be incorporated into our pluralistic framework. Of course, it’s not the dissenters themselves who get to decide whether that standard is met — even isolated cults are tolerated unless and until they pose a threat to their neighbors. (Yes, accumulating enough weapons to “conquer” the vicinity counts as a threat!)

  28. I think we all agree that these kids should not be removed from their parents due to horrible names and the indoctrination that is surely going on there.

    Let’s hope that little Adolf does not let the torment he is sure to endure from other childern fester and grow into the hate that his parents obviously have. What a horrible obsticle for this kid to have to overcome.

    Maybe they shouldn’t lose their kids but I think a good old fashioned ass kicking is in order for idiots of this caliber.

  29. Children are born animals. They act like animals and they will think like animals. Until they are taught to be civilized human beings. Taught by their parents, I would hope. A parent has no greater responsibility than to teach their children to become honest, decent, productive members of our society. Teach them to respect other people and their beliefs, to care for the planet we live on, and to have pride in themselves and their accomplishments. It would be nice if they did this while also teaching the children to be rational, skeptical thinkers. But for me, the truth is that we should not be trying to control what happens in the household of a family simply because we may disagree with the philosophies being employed. As has been said so effectively in this thread, that is a very dangerous slope that you don’t want to get near the edge of.
    For me, although I may find the whole neo-nazi thing abhorent, it is out-weighed by my demand for individual and family freedom. That family should be left alone unless it can be proven that the children are in some kind of imminent physical or psychological danger.

  30. I just finished reading Them: Adventures with Extremists and this story really hits home.

    The 12-foot Bilderberg lizards running the world from a secret “power room” have once again oppressed the rights of everyday citizens of the world. Now, they have gone one step too far in kidnapping our children that were harmlessly named after the true powerful elite of the world.

  31. Hi guys,

    I think being a parent is not something trivial. Ideas get transmitted from one generation on to the next (think of religion. If nobody was promoting it, it would die off). For some strange reason, people acknowledge that you must have a driver license to drive a car (a large machine which can kill a lot of people if in the wrong hands), but nobody acknowledges the need of proving that you’re a suitable candidate when it comes to having children (perhaps because of the religious belief that the only goal of human beings is to spread by copulating and thus populate the Earth). However, one single child educated in fanaticism is far more terrible than a bad driver. Plus, the state is to pay for at least some of that child’s expenses, which means that it can ask for something in exchange (that the child is not a mass killer seems fair enough). You can’t promote destructive notions against state and society and intend to benefit from both at the same time. How many parents have been denied their children’s custody because of being alcoholic or drug dealers? Is nazism less damaging than alcoholism or dealing with drugs? That is, is the ideology of actively brainwhasing, killing, exterminating and dominating minorities, whole states and whatever in necessary, harmless compared to selling marijuana?

    Honestly, I cannot even understand the controversy. I don’t know what those children were doing in that house in the first place. The same way some parents cannot raise children due to economical limitations, some cannot due to mental reasons, and both types are reasons for the state to take action.

  32. These children have my sympathy. They are going through hell through no fault of their own. They have idiot parents. They may be being abused but I have a hard time beleiving CPS would do a removal for naming only. CPS is always underfunded, underresourced and understaffed. They work under a mandate of keeping families together if at all possible. Parents can abuse and neglect their children as long as the kids lives aren’t in danger.

    I think that it would be a very bad idea to try and use the law to say what parents can teach their children. We don’t want to be like the theists who want their brand of religion to be taught as facts. It is too dangerous.

  33. As a disclaimer, my children also have unique names, though not related in any way to evil, fascist states. For my children’s names I get no end of harping about from some relatives and strangers, who seem to think I’m a cruel idiot for not naming them “Richard”. Did I consider that some people will mock them for their names? Yes, of course! But people don’t need a name to mock you. They’ll jump on anything, or not. I chose names which my spouse and I liked. Incidentally, I’ve discovered that my kids’ names would be too unusual in 1870.

    Okay, so first off, a review of what the cake article states.

    It never states whether they wanted to get “Adolf Hitler” on the cake or “Adolf Hitler Campbell” on the cake.

    It doesn’t specify that the parents hold any neo-nazi beliefs, and in fact the father states that his parents raised him “not to avoid people of other races but not to mix with them socially or romantically. But he said he would try to raise his children differently”, which means that he’s trying to raise his children that mixing with other races socially or romantically is fine and dandy.

    The given reason for the name is that the father “liked the name and because ‘no one else in the world would have that name.'”

    While AHC’s younger siblings have names of “Aryan Nation” and “Honszlynn Hinler”, the parents could simply be snarky about names, especially after so many people freak out about it. I know after everyone freaked out about my oldest child’s name, there was no way I was going to name my other children “acceptable” names.

    The issue seems to be that many people find the name offensive. But many people name their children things which people find offensive — infamously, Frank Zappa named his kids “Moon Unit”, “Dweezil”, “Ahmet Emuukha Rodan” and “Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen”, with his autobiography stating that the nurses at the hospital wouldn’t let them put Dweezil on the birth certificate, so they named him something else but called him Dweezil, upsetting an elemetary school age Dweezil so much that he insisted they legally change his name to “Dweezil”. Many people also get offended at the name “Darwin”. Many would argue that it’s different, but I see it as the same concept which needs defending. Would I name a child of mine “Adolf Hitler”? Hell, no! But I’ll fight tooth-and-nail for the parent’s right to name their children what they wish. (Projecting a bit of Old Man Waterfall from Futurama there.)

    I see naming your children what you wish to be a basic right, and the concept of taking children away for their names extremely alarming and offensive, just as much as I would be appalled at children being taken away from atheist parents. This has already happened in New Zealand and it is extremely alarming to me that this may happen in the States as well.

    Having a list of names you’re not allowed to name your kids seems a lot more nazi to me than a name of Adolf or Hitler, as both names are still common, or at least not uncommon in german speaking countries.

    Incidentally, if my kids hate their names when they’re a bit older I’ll happily change it to whatever they want.

    Neil Gaiman laid out a good argument for defending “icky speech”, and while this might not legally fall under free speech, the concept is still applicable:

    Talula Does The Hula In Hawaii taken from her parents:

    P.S. My apologies for linking. I fear I may have come off as a kook, though I did my best to format it well.

  34. Reading additional comments posted since I wrote my long one (sorry about the length of the last one!), I’m shocked and disgusted at the amount of people here who advocate taking children away from people who’s ideology is different from their own. It’s rather like Christians saying that Jewish and Muslim children should be taken away because the Jews killed Jesus and eat babies, and Muslims are going to raise their kids to blow up buildings.

    Yes, one can easily conjecture that they at least have nazi leanings from their children’s names, but other than the names there is no evidence to suggest it.

    Assuming they ARE neo-nazis, they are still covered by the same rights which protect atheists from Christians, and rightly so.

  35. According to the white pages there is an Adolph Hitler living in florida. The 2 are in fact common for German/ Austrian descent. They are just names. There are also 39 Charles Mansons’ listed in the US. The fact that the parents are morons is irrelevant. It would be wrong to take the children based on the names. However I suspect that whether their individual names were meant to honor the third reich, or simply as a ploy to gain their 15 minutes of fame. It has apparently backfired. If you intend to draw attention to yourself, you should be careful about what others will find.

    IE: Don’t name your kids anything that will get you on the news if your running a meth lab in the basement.

  36. Re: Dawkins, Indoctrination and Child Abuse.

    James Fox: “unwarranted… intrusion in families leaves me quite concerned that personal and family privacy is an important ‘right’”

    I’m sure that you don’t want to push this too far. If parents want to have sex with their children, should the state interfere? I hope you say yes. If parents want to break the skin of their children with whips and scourges should the state interfere? I hope you say yes. If parents want to prevent their children learning to read, write and know about the world they live in should the state interfere? I also hope you would say yes. It isn’t indoctination that Dawkins says is abuse it is the psychologically mutilating indoctrination of ideas like Hellfire, the prevention of real education and the socially pernicious identity labelling that he calls abuse. Specifically labelling that goes with doctrine. It is not abusive to tell your children that Keynsian economics is correct and give reasons for this. It is abuse to tell them that they are Keynsian and that if they don’t accept these ideas then they don’t belong in the family, they don’t belong in the culture, they don’t belong. That is the child abuse that Dawkins talks of.

    Tellingly, if anyone has read the God Delusion the relevant chapter starts with a history of how a child was taken away from his parents because of a religious label and that the parents were complicit because they would not abandon their label. He ends the chapter demanding that children are taught about religious texts and ideas.

    The question then is this: Who here thinks that it should not be a criminal offence to prevent children getting an education?

  37. @michaels: “I’m sure that you don’t want to push this too far.”

    Considering I’ve been conducting child abuse and neglect investigations and doing mental health assessments involving abused and neglected children for twenty six years I hardly think so.

    With regards to education all states require parents to educate their children. However this can include home school, private, public, religious and secular schools or a combination. Parents are still allowed (in the US) to make this choice.

    And Dawkins use of hyperbole and inflammatory (pun intended) language often renders his arguments considerably less effective. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to have the impression that Dawkins is advocating his own form of intellectual brave new world tyranny. Though he would clearly deny this.

  38. Parents can be crap and the kids can still grow up and be good people. I know so many that have. Being a crappy parent isn’t being abusive. We have to be sure that children aren’t being taken away from the parents just because we don’t like the parent’s philosophy. Where would all the children go? We don’t have places for all of the children who are abused now.

  39. Some states actually do have laws governing what anyone, not only children, can be named, but most only cover obscenity. So, no F&*k You Smith.

    Many of those laws are reactionary, meaning someone did it, then it was outlawed.

    Even without laws saying that children can be taken because of someone’s ideology, it still happens. People will manufacture accusations to get children removed, or they may honestly believe them. I’ve seen people absolutely convinced that because a parent was Wiccan, that they MUST be sexually abusing that child.

    They weren’t, but CPS still had to investigate, and figure it out, and waste a whole lot of everyone’s time and money based on the accusations of a some crackpot fundie who had her knickers in a wad over someone’s “Satanism.”

    So, yeah, enough of that goes on already without legislating it.

  40. @GeekGirlsRule: That’s the problem with an allegation. If the allegation (regardless of the source) meets the screening standard/criteria for investigation then an investigation happens. Problems always arise when it’s people investigating people about what one person said another person did. Ascertaining the facts and putting them together to arrive somewhere reasonably close to the truth is often quite challenging. Not to mention all the emotions involved.

    And some people do get their Wiccan and Satan worshiping child raping, virgin sacrificing, types confused.

  41. @James Fox: I know.

    And in a lot of ways I’m glad they investigate even if it’s completely false, because I know how insidious the “Oh, he/she COULDN’T have done that” syndrome is, especially in regards to sexual abuse no matter what the age of the victim.

    In other ways, it really screws with people because of other people’s stupid prejudices and ignorance.

    I’m just glad we don’t have any official reasons for these idiots to mess with people, and unfortunately, that’s where declarling ideologies as child abuse would head. Quickly. With sirens blaring, leaving wreckage in it’s path.

  42. @James Fox:

    If states require parents to educate their children and there is a free choice of how this is done that is great. However, for this to be in anyway a meaningful law there must be some legislation as to what the content of said “education” is. If this content is not given to the children what are the legal consequences? What is the label of the crime parents have committed?

    To be honest I don’t care about the labels, if children do not get a reasonable education, if some aspect of their personhood is subject to psychological assault, you will agree that this is abuse and parents should be required to behave appropriately or face legal consequences. The bizarre and stupid reactionary leap to the consequence that their children should be taken away rather than fines or training programs etc shows a lack of thought on the matter. For example, if parents demonstrate that they are unfit to home-school then the children must be educated in another way e.g. state school, this is not the same as taking their children away.

    I don’t normally comment on these sites but I have her because there is a reactionary thread here that runs along the line that Dawkins position is extreme when in my reading he only argues for moving the label child abuse to include the neglect and psychological damage that religions regularly mete out on children. The mainstream indoctrination of ideas such as hellfire is clearly damaging (again, I stress that this does not lead to taking children away from parents, merely that parents should face legal consequences for psychologically damaging their children, even if only through ignorance).

    I also get incensed that child abuse seems to be used to euphemise child rape as if raping a child is not quite as bad as raping an adult, so we can just call it ‘abuse’. I find this a disgusting and reprehensible misuse of language and perhaps it is the real source of reaction against Dawkins usage.

  43. @James Fox:

    P.S. if as you say

    “I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to have the impression that Dawkins is advocating his own form of intellectual brave new world tyranny.”

    Then I find it bizarre that you can also hold the view that:

    “Though he would clearly deny this.”

    If he clearly denies something how can it be reasonable to think that he holds that view unless you are accusing him of lying?

  44. @michaels: Psychological and emotional harm is typically not part of most states legal definitions of abuse. Also educational neglect is generally a different statute than child abuse and neglect laws and allow school districts, local courts or the state to impose civil punishments on the parents or require them to take their children to school or prove to the court an education is taking place.

    Emotional abuse and psychological harm are nearly impossible to prove in court and the assertion or finding is almost always lost on legal appeal. Often the most emotionally and psychologically damaging event for many children is when their parents get a divorce. This is a whole lot more damaging to children than telling them they need ot believe in Jesus or they will go to hell. Sorry, neither is all that great for kids but asking the government to parse out all the emotionally troubling events of child’s life and intervene if something is not to the particular agencies liking is absurd.

    @michaels: You seem to be defending Dawkins as though his statements and opinions were some form of elevated prescription for proper thinking, proper living and proper governance. Smart guy with some good ideas, sure. The other stuff, not.

    And I have no idea what you are talking about when you say “this is a reactionary thread” and “…child abuse seems to be used to euphemise (sic) child rape as if raping a child is not quite as bad as raping an adult…”.

    @ Michaels “Then I find it bizarre that you can also hold the view that:…”

    I was trying to express how someone else might view Dawkins stated position. My statement was not MY position it was illustrative. Perhaps a more careful reading of my post could have prevented this misunderstanding.

  45. @ no matter how stupid and brain numbing the parental “indoctrination” can be, I think Richard Dawkins is very very wrong on this point.

    I’m relieved to hear so many commenters here state the obvious. I really like Dawkins as a writer of popular science but as a spokesman for atheistic philosophy he’s been a disaster.
    When he equated child abuse with religious up bringing he stepped into Falwell / Robertson territory.

    I agree with the majority opinion here. Parental rights trump those of the state. The burden on the state to remove children from their homes should be extra-ordinary.

    And of course, anyone who names their kid Adolf Hitler as some kind of act of political grandstanding is a scum bag.

  46. These people live not even fifteen minutes away from me. For all of us here (Hunterdon County being a relatively small community ((yes, I know, hard to believe in NJ))) it is actually amazing how little we know about these folks. Gossip spreads fast around here and if this family was really abusive, the chances are good that there would be numerous reports. DYFS also has a pretty miserable track record of only acting when PR is at stake, and everyone I know is pretty convinced that this is only happening because of the recent media outrage. I think that these people are creepy and disgusting, but that their children should be returned immediately unless they have real suspicions of physical/sexual/emotional abuse. My guess is that this will all blow over about as quickly as it blew up. Also, check out the dates on those birth certificates. The Cambell’s changed all three of their children’s names in July ’08. Scuttlebutt also says that the father has another child living a few miles away and the mother up and left a few years ago because of the Nazism, but don’t take my word for it on that count.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that it is really fucking bizarre to have this happening out here in bumblefuck, NJ (population: cows and horses) where nothing ever goes down. I’m also saying that I know their address if anyone has any Star of David paraphernalia and some free time.

  47. @James Fox:

    I’m sorry that I appear to be an apologist for Dawkins, I’m not. I don’t agree with much of his manner. While some of the comments here appear to be against his manner they are put up as being against the content of what he has said and this is annoying. The original article said:

    “Some within the atheist and skeptic community (most notably Richard Dawkins) are trying to further the idea that indoctrination should be considered child abuse.”

    Why is it obvious that this is not abuse? I take your advice that educational neglect etc may not come under the legal rubric of ‘child abuse’ and that there are civil penalties in place for such things. Then great, we’re only arguing about semantics. We agree that where parents abuse the minds and educational opportunities of their children their behaviour should be considered legally wrong and they should face legal consequences. Dawkins minor point is that this is the case when parents indoctrinate their children with ideas like hellfire and when society labels children as ‘Jew’, ‘Moslem’ or ‘Christian’.

    I have not read a single comment here that argues with this point. Every comment has either reacted with ‘Parents’ Rights’ or with shock that one can’t ‘take away their children’ and no one has responded with argument against Dawkins real points.

    With regard to the main article, I wonder how much more reaction the Right Wing in the US would have if someone named their child Jahweh or Jehovah or maybe Satan. Would that be abuse?

  48. Too many people have been emphasizing how lonely we are those who question the hypothetical parents’ right to indoctrinate their children in extremism. By saying so, they somewhat suggested that sheer numbers made their points stronger. I would like to observe that arguments based on the number of advocates of some belief are the well-known ad populum fallacy. Even if you only say that to feel better, that’s an illogical behavior.

    I think the only problem here is the bias: we are asking parents. Should ask children and see what happens. What do you prefer, son? To be raised by an ignorant or by the state, with ignorants just paying for your good education? Any doubts on this one? Even if you were to defend the parents’ personal rights at the expense of the competences of the state (which I would see as unfortunate), I’m sure nobody would approve parents’ personal rights eroding children’s personal rights. And I think that the right to a meaningful education clearly surpasses any personal “parenthood” blood-based instinct wrongly taken to be a personal right. There can be nothing “personal” about educating somebody else, we’re talking about two different persons. As in science, in education there can only be one single standard: that of evidence, critical thinking, skepticism, etc. If Education is too important to be left in hands of uneducated people. That’s why parents send their children to school or university in the first place. They want OTHERS to teach them WELL. Are parents giving up a fundamental right when they send their children to school or to college? Impossible. And whenever it is showed that parents can be interfering with their children’s education, then they must be prevented from doing that any longer.

  49. Everyone should be relieved about this statement from DYFS spokeswoman Kate Bernyk:

    “I can say we become involved when there is an allegation of abuse or neglect, and remove a child only if there is an imminent risk to the safety of child, we would never remove a child simply based on their name.”

  50. @Skepthink: I want to agree with your idea to ask the kids but don’t think it quite works because they tend to love their family unconditionally and react to separation with extreme anxiety. Your answer will tend to be “I’ll stay with dad thanks, when he beats me at least I know it’s him that’s beating me, when he tells me those old familiar bigoted stories about stuff I feel comforted… and I like the one about Adam and his dinosaur pet…”

    However you cut it, other people have rights on our children. Society has a duty to protect my children from me. The question will always be where we draw the lines and the children are not able to draw them, if they were able they would not need protection.

  51. @michaels:
    Children are named Jesus every day in this country and no one cares.

    Dawkins “real point” is that raising children within a religious context which includes education about the dogma and tenants of said religion is not just tantamount to child abuse; it is in fact child abuse.

    When it comes to child abuse semantics are quite important and are in fact essential when trying to delineate between marginal parenting and abuse. I have no interest in what one person or another thinks is abuse or not. These are standards established by communities through a legislative process that includes mostly religious people. I believe certain fundamental privacy rights among with the public right of free speech, are essential within the modern liberal democratic state. History has shown that preserving these fundamental rights ensures many other freedoms and prevents different forms of tyranny. Based on this it seems to me Dawkins is short sighted, pejorative, authoritarian and frankly condescending regardless of weather there is any significant merit to his views,


    There are many rights children do not have until they become adults. Choosing who will parent them is certainly one they do not and should not have.

    And anyone who thinks the government can do a better job parenting than the average somewhat marginal woo filled religious type is not only damn ignorant they likely have a delusion filled memory of their own childhood.

  52. @tkingdoll: oh, i agree, teek…i didn’t mean to imply that i thought the store was somehow at fault for the decision they made. i was trying to call up the story without getting into too much detail, (which i may have done a bit clumsily) so i could get on to what i wanted to say about the new developments.

  53. I see that, of all my statements, the one which drew more attention is actually the one which I intended to be merely illustrative. I apologize if somebody understood I was claiming that children should be legally allowed to choose their parents. That was NOT my point. I merely wanted to introduce, somehow informally, the children’s point of view as opposite to that of the parents.

  54. Fellows,

    I agree with James Fox that “there are many rights children do not have until they become adults”. One they do have, however, is that of being educated. If somebody violates that right, then the state must act. It’s the same as drunken drivers: neither I nor the state give a damn about the life of somebody who drunk-drives a car (it’s okay if he kills himself); the problem is when that person kills some innocent people on the road because of that. To prevent it, you have the law, which doesn’t mean you’re going to prohibit everybody from driving, but only that you will prevent unsuitable people from driving. Problems? Zero. Agreement? Total. Difference? None. So, by the same token, it is okay if a parent decides to be a neo-nazi, he’ll go to jail and game over; the point is, if he intends his children to be neo-nazis as well, then he must equally go to jail but he must also have his children taken away, since they can’t go to jail with him.

    As for the miscellanea, trying to compare the name “Jesus” to “Adolf Hitler” is just a bad joke. Even though, it is not nearly as bad as what you try later, namely, discredit the whole government because you feel like it (conspiranoic theory number 1,541). Do you think most people teach Math to their children? Physics? Language? Sexuality? About iPods? Children know far more than their parents can possibly understand, not just teach. Parents teach their children quite little, and the school barely more, but schools have at least some method, an institutional setting, trained teachers and a curriculum, which I suppose makes some difference (at least if you’re to believe to some extent in the current education system). And even if you’re to doubt the capabilities of all those people, I will still ask you whether the parents’ capabilities are much better, which are not. The only advantage parents have is power (punishing misbehavior, not giving money, prohibiting TV, etc.), which amounts to something the state can do far better: use its authority.

    You say “anyone who thinks the government can do a better job parenting than the average somewhat marginal woo filled religious type is not only damn ignorant they likely have a delusion filled memory of their own childhood”. As regards the last statement, please let’s not go personal, alright? At least, don’t intend to judge me like that because of my words, because you are almost as likely to be oversimplifying as you are to be impolite. Second, I don’t think you can really say that a neo-nazi proud enough of it so as to name his son “Adolf Hitler” is a “marginal woo filled religious type”. You really think a neo-nazi is like my neighbor who thinks he feels better after an acupuncture session? You MUST be joking. Third, if you think that the state as a whole, including you as a voter, is no better than an alienated guy, that’s only because you don’t have any clue as to what a state is.

    99% families already trust the government for educating their children. And, those who really care about their children, don’t only trust the government, but also academies, specialists, tutors and whatever it takes. They hardly ever rely on themselves because they know they don’t know everything. The time when all the knowledge you need was provided to you by your parents passed long ago. The bulk of information in any developed civilization is so big that the family is no longer the unit of education. I repeat: that’s why you have schools.

    The only reason why parents take care of their children is because it’s cheaper for the state, not because it’s better. And remember, the government is not evil. Maybe tax collectors are, but the government is not.

  55. @Kimbo Jones: In general, yes, but in this specific case I doubt they lost any business except the one cake. If the parents had gone to the media with the iced cake, then the store may even have had negative publicity for creating a cake with Hitler’s name on it. All things in balance, I think it was a neutral business decision bordering on sensible, although if it were my shop I’d have iced the name on the cake.

  56. @James Fox: So you were saying:

    “Dawkins “real point” is that raising children within a religious context which includes education about the dogma and tenants of said religion is not just tantamount to child abuse; it is in fact child abuse. When it comes to child abuse semantics are quite important and are in fact essential when trying to delineate between marginal parenting and abuse. I have no interest in what one person or another thinks is abuse or not.”

    Yes, I realise that you have no interest in others’ opinions and that you recognise the current legal definition of what counts as ‘abuse’ to be the absolute, god-given correct definition of the term. That’s apparently why you don’t need to construct an argument in favour of a particular sematics about ‘child abuse’ not consider anyone else’s argument about the reference of the term. I do wonder how you imagine a community arrives at a legal definition?

    “These are standards established by communities through a legislative process that includes mostly religious people. I believe certain fundamental privacy rights among with the public right of free speech, are essential within the modern liberal democratic state.”

    Yes, this is where I thought you would go. Are you really saying that it is correct that religious ideas are more important than damage that might be done to children? Absolutely, adults should have rights to believe any moronic nonsense they want but where this damages the minds of kids, there is a problem. We might want to worship democracy but we don’t believe that democracy is more important than ethics. If a community votes for child rape, that would be a democratic choice but it would not make child rape an acceptable practice. The legal definition of child abuse you describe may have made pragmatic sense at the time but in no way is useful in validating that definition.

    “History has shown that preserving these fundamental rights ensures many other freedoms and prevents different forms of tyranny. Based on this it seems to me Dawkins is short sighted, pejorative, authoritarian and frankly condescending regardless of weather there is any significant merit to his views”

    Your point is that we might have to sacrifice the odd child for the longer view? really? (I’ll ignore the arrogant condenscention in your description of Dawkins manner although it is amusing.)

    So, I guess I give up trying to reason too much so I’ll just point out that ‘euphemise’ is a legitimate spelling and that ‘weather’ is about the atmosphere, you meant ‘whether’ but then I guess the whole basis of your argument against Dawkins position is that education isn’t so important as ‘parental rights.’

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