Sparing the Rod in Delaware

On September 12, 2012, Delaware governor Jack Markell signed into law a bill that effectively outlawed corporal punishment in his state. This legislation (Senate Bill 234) is an amendment to the existing Delaware code relating to offenses against children. The new law redefines the term "physical injury" for the state of Delaware to include "any impairment of physical condition or pain." It also defines the term "abuse" to include physical injury (pain) caused to a child by any means other than accident. According to this new law, anyone who deliberately or negligently causes pain to a child under age eighteen will be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and subject to one year in prison. Anyone who does so to a child who is age three or younger will be guilty of a class G felony and subject to two years in prison. Because corporal punishment is a deliberate infliction of pain on a child, parents who spank their children will be in violation of this new law and subject to its penalties.

Before considering this law's impact on parental and religious rights and responsibilities, let it be acknowledged that the spirit of this entire code is mostly good and sadly necessary. Children have rights just as adults have, and they need to be respected and protected under the law. Violence against any innocent person is condemned in the Bible (Ps. 11:5; Prov. 6:16-17), but violence against children is especially heinous because they are defenseless. Jesus acknowledged the inherent evil of doing any harm to a child when He said, "[W]hoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). The Lord was not speaking specifically of child abuse in this verse, but we can infer from His words that child abusers should be severely punished. In our culture today, the abuse done to children is unthinkable. The new Delaware law spells out acts of abuse that are so vile even the words are sickening. Even so, these crimes are being committed, and it is the responsibility of the civil government to severely punish such evil and protect the innocent (Rom. 13:3-4; 1Pet. 2:14).

The problem with this new Delaware law is that it has mistakenly defined responsible, God-fearing parents who spank their children as child abusers. It places the Biblical practice of corporal punishment in a category with injurious physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse. Whether this was done so intentionally is irrelevant, for the effect is the same. It is also irrelevant whether parents who spank their children will be prosecuted under this law, for they are still in violation of it, and their right to discipline their children by corporal punishment has been infringed. With the passage of this law, any administration in Delaware who wishes to stop corporal punishment will now have power to do so with severe penalties. Moreover, any person who wishes to persecute Christian parents may use this new law to bring charges against them.

Let us be clear in our understanding of the Bible's teaching concerning corporal punishment. Most of the Scriptures' instructions about spanking are found in the Proverbs, and these passages do not condone abuse of children in any way. In fact, they speak against the abuse of children by parents who neglect their responsibilities to practice the necessary discipline. Notice a few of these verses:

  • Proverbs 13:24 -- He who withholds    his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
  • Proverbs 19:18 -- Discipline your    son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.
  • Proverbs 22:15 -- Foolishness is    bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far    from him.
  • Proverbs 23:13-14 -- Do not hold    back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he    will not die. You shall strike him    with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.
  • Proverbs 29:15 -- The rod and    reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his    mother.

By these instructions from the word of God, we see that loving parents will carefully discipline their children by various means. In this way, their love is manifested for the benefit of their children, just as God's love is manifested for the benefit of His children (Heb. 12:5-11).

Lawmakers and executives in every level of civil government need to realize that the practice of Christianity should be encouraged rather than discouraged. Faithful Christians and their well-behaved, disciplined children are good for the nation and the culture. The Biblical discipline of children will actually help to solve the problems of our nation, for it will produce responsible, respectful, self-disciplined adults. Such Christians make good citizens, and the practice of their beliefs should never be defined as criminal acts. Certainly, child abuse must be prevented and punished, but the criminalization of spanking is an unnecessary overreaction and a gross overreach of authority by civil government.

Stacey E. Durham


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