The Friendly Atheist recently posted a story about the rise of unregulated faith-based daycares in Indiana, a state where faith0based daycares are required to register with the state but not be licenced. This means the faith-based daycares don’t have to follow the regulations that regular daycares have to follow, including the rules about adult-child ratios, among others. What caught my eye was the following:
Not surprisingly, many religious organizations and conservative groups strongly oppose legislature that would mandate ALL childcare facilities to be licensed, citing that it would impose on their religious freedoms and “once a child care is licensed by the state, the government can control what goes on inside the walls, including at Sunday school.”
That last bit in quotes is important, because I grew up hearing just this all the time, though not about daycares. Usually it was stated about the regulation of homeschooling. And this sort of thinking is widespread beyond even this.
This way of thinking employs a slippery slope fallacy. If the government regulates adult-child ratios in faith-based daycares, then the government will suddenly start telling faith-based daycares that they can’t teach the children religious songs or read them Bible stories. Any regulation is seen as ultimately leading to complete control and the removal of any shred of autonomy.
This inability to differentiate between needed and completely nonreligious regulations and “they’re taking our religious freedom!” results in people getting hurt: a little boy died last year in a faith-based daycare in Indiana, and the utter lack of homeschool regulation in some states allows children who are being deprived of an education to slip under the radar (I’ve seen it happen).
There is a difference between requiring that a faith-based daycare be adequately staffed and requiring that a faith-based daycare not read children Bible stories, and there is a difference between requiring that homeschool parents teach their children algebra and requiring that that homeschool parents not share their religious beliefs with their children. Requiring adequate staffing to keep children safe and requiring the learning of vital mathematical skills have nothing to do with people’s religious beliefs or religious freedom. Rather, they have to do with protecting and properly treating children.
Until people can successfully differentiate between needed, protective regulation and unconstitutional, totalitarian regulation, we will continue to see opposition to any governmental oversight of things like faith-based daycares and homeschooling. This involves seeing children as people with rights that need protecting – rights to things like physical health and a basic standard of education. It also involves changing the way we view regulations in a country where too many people, having forgotten that is regulations that ensure that the air you breathe is clean and that the milk you buy is safe to drink, see regulations as a big, bad, evil boogeyman.
This isn’t the only place we see this conflation, of course. The recent arguments between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration about new regulations requiring that health insurance plans cover contraceptives is another. What the Catholic Church cannot seem to understand is that there is a difference between basic regulations to protect people and guarantee their rights and a regulation of what a religious body can and cannot teach its followers.