Next they’ll come for our Bibles!

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.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • davidct

    These folks have brought this upon themselves. The standards in faith based facilities is inferior to that in secular facilities for one main reason – money. Without the government to check, corners get cut, and the death in Indiana is one of several nationwide. The “faith based” like to claim that they are better people but they cannot be trusted any more than anyone else.

    • Robert B.

      Careful in your phrasing. Remember that the people cutting corners and opposing regulation are adults, whereas the people paying the price are their young children. I don’t think “They brought this upon themselves” was quite what you meant.

      • Makoto

        True enough – the people are trying to impose it on the next generation, which is even worse than bringing it upon themselves.

  • Kenn

    They only seem to care about the children before they’re born. After that, they couldn’t care less.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for pointing out this madness and the entire ‘slippery slope’ fallacy that’s offered all up all the time; if you let the government regulate anything for any reason, we’ll have an atheist totalitarian State overnight, which is laughable, since I recall in public schools I had teachers who did everything they could to use students as a captive audience for their religious beliefs, and I’m not too old and I did not live in the Bible Belt.

    The whole desire for a lack of government regulation is that religious people want to be a law unto themselves accountable to nobody else. I’m sure you’ve read about Hephzibah (sp?) House for girls and the horrible things that go on there in Indiana and how the religious leadership will do anything to prevent anyone from holding them accountable. Another Christian organization that behaves similarly is Teen Challenge, which is happy to get government money to house people with substance abuse problems but is NOT a licensed substance abuse treatment facility and typically has nobody on staff with proper credentials, but so far they’ve escaped accountability by having people sign waivers to the effect that they realize it’s a ‘ministry’ and not a ‘drug treatment program.’

    Another thing is that without State oversight, religious entities don’t have to do background checks on adults who work with kids, and I’ve read about people with histories of child abuse and child sexual abuse being put into positions working with children just since some preacher felt they had repented adequately.

  • Contrarian

    When my wife and I looked at daycares for our daughter, we strongly considered a couple of Catholic daycares. Although I don’t doubt that they’re held to a high internal standard, I didn’t realize that they’re not subject to state regulations. That’s an assurance I falsely assumed, and now I’m just a tad shaken.

  • Judy L.

    The freedom to practice your religion that the U.S. Constitution guarantees does NOT include the right to practice your religion ON other people. ‘Religious Liberty’ is not a ‘get out of being a citizen free card.’

    It’s amazing that ‘faith-based’ service agencies will happily take government funding (public tax dollars) to pay for their prosthelytizing, but religious folk will scream bloody murder if they believe that one penny of public money is going to support something that they don’t approve of. And they don’t even have to respect the facts; GOP politicians and Evangelicals flagrantly make claims that aren’t true, and when they’re called on it, they get away with saying things like ‘my statement that 97% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions wasn’t intended to be factual’ or ‘well, it’s what I believe, and if you question what I believe, you’re trampling on my RELIGIOUS LIBERTY!’ And they get to frame arguments in ways that are dishonest and misleading. A perfect example of this was the Catholic Bishops and others saying that the shouldn’t have to give the female employees of their businesses or the female students who attend their schools ‘free birth control’, when what was at issue was whether the health insurance plans that these women PAY INTO and/or receive as part of their employment compensation package should include one of the most important drugs used by women.

  • kisekileia

    Great post. I don’t understand why people in the U.S. don’t realize that they suffer from far worse problems at the hands of private organizations than they’d suffer due to reasonable and appropriate government regulation of those organizations.

  • Nurse Bee

    Even as a Christian, I am rather disturbed by this. It reminds me of when I was in the nursing home rotation in school. Nursing homes do their best to prevent pressure ulcers (bed sores) in their patients because they get fined by our state for every day a patient has one. The VA is not subject to these fines and so the VA nursing home was known to nursing students as a “good place to see lots of bed sores.”

    I enrolled my oldest child in a Christian preschool/daycare for next school year. In our state, they are subject to state regulations, although the particular one we chose actually maintains a lower ratio than required. And nobody cares that they teach Bible stories and songs….

  • Rilian

    Slippery slopes aren’t always fallacious.

  • Rilian

    My mom’s parents ran an xtian school with some friends of theirs for a while, and then the gubment said they had to put in more doors or something, in case of fire. Sooo, rather than put in more doors, they closed down the school, because “next they’ll take our bibles away,” lol.

  • meg

    Here in Oz, my flatmate works for the government department that regulates childcare, and part of her job is doing unannounced spot checks on centres (to make sure they are adhering to the regs) and investigating complaints and incidents.

    Believe me, the stories she has, you want them all regulated. The worst one was when 4 3 year olds managed to get out of a centre that was in an office tower. They decided to go home, so got in the elevator (cause that’s where they went when mum and dad picked them up), and actually got out in the building car park. Fortunately a worker from another office in the building saw them, and was able to get them back to the centre. They hadn’t even noticed they were missing.

    That’s got nothing to do with religion (and we have plenty of faith-based centres – they often have better reps) but everything to do with how the centre was being run.


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