Delaware the First State to Outlaw Spanking?

Delaware just passed a law that looks to be problematic for parents that spank their children. Here’s what the law says:

“Abuse” means causing any physical injury to a child. . . “Physical injury” to a child shall mean any impairment of physical condition or pain.

Because the law defines “physical injury” as anything that causes “pain,” it appears that Delaware has effectively become the first state in the Union to outlaw spanking. The law goes on to say that anyone causing “pain” to a child under the age of 3 years could be charged with a felony. Here are the specifics from the Home School Legal Defense Association:

Under the new law, a parent causing “physical injury” (e.g., pain) to a child under age 18 would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and subject to one year in prison. A parent causing pain to a child who was 3 years of age or younger would be guilty of a class G felony and subject to two years in prison.

Some supporters of the bill claim that the law doesn’t actually prohibit spanking. But is this really true? Unless these supporters are talking about a form a spanking that doesn’t cause pain, that claim is certainly incorrect. Spanking (when done correctly) causes pain, and pain is precisely what this law aims to prohibit.

Why should Christians care about this? Unless this law is clarified or amended, then parents in Delaware who spank could be charged with a felony and put into prison for the loving discipline of their children. Christian parents could be incarcerated for doing what the Bible commands them to do. That would be a first in our country, and I’m surprised that more prominent news outlets haven’t covered this story. Perhaps we have to wait for the first parent to be prosecuted before we see any coverage.

Prov 13:24  24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Prov 22:15   15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Prov 23:13-14   13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. 14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

Prov 29:15   15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

34 Responses to Delaware the First State to Outlaw Spanking?

  1. Scott September 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    You are such an alarmist. Good grief…

    And, to the point of the post, I would hope that any responsible human being with even a hint of childhood development wouldn’t seek to punish a child under 3 by inflicting pain. Do that, and you deserve to be in jail.

    And, can evangelicals please make at least a good hearted effort to interpret Proverbs responsibly? You guys twist and bend that book all over the place.

    • Tim Carson September 27, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Scott, you are such a laid back person – good grief. How then should a christian respond to changes in the laws that govern? Also, how should we then ‘interpret’ these passages of scripture?

    • Melissa Affolter (@affoltermel) September 27, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      This is far from being alarmist. It is clear that more and more Christians will be very limited in what we are permitted to do when it comes to how we raise a family and we will be prosecuted for handling marriage, manhood/womanhood and child-rearing in a way that honors God. It is wise and helpful for us to be aware of legislation so that we can pray for God’s help in how we continue pursuing such issues, and so that we will not be surprised by them. Thank you, Denny Burk, for being proactive about teaching us how to remain faithful to God’s Word!

    • Denny Burk September 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

      Scott,

      This is not being alarmist. This is simply drawing attention to the fact that a state has just outlawed what the Bible commands Christians to do.

      If you’re not familiar with serious evangelical literature on the interpretation of Proverbs, I could suggest some titles if you’d like. You should probably start with this: “DISCIPLINE IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: ‘TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK?'” by Paul Wegner. The point is that the view that I represent here is well-established in the literature.

      Just a reminder. Is Dunedain your last name? In order to comment, you must use first and last name and no pseudonyms.

      Thanks,
      Denny

  2. Amanda S Mimbs September 27, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Delaware passes a law that regulates “a parent causing “physical injury” (i.e. pain)” to their children, and yet the state of Delaware has the highest rate of recorded abortions in the U.S.

  3. Patrick O'Keefe September 27, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Check Delaware § 468(1)(c) linked here: http://delcode.delaware.gov/title11/c004/index.shtml#468. States often have laws defining child abuse, and and at the same time have Justification provisions for parents. Delaware’s provision is the link I provided above. The Senate Bill you linked to even references § 468(1)(c) as definitive of what is “unjustified” in Delaware law.

    In Wisconsin (where I live), the state law defines the parent’s right to spank as a privilege- a “defense to prosecution.” https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/939.45 It’s not uncommon for a state to define what child abuse is and then carve out a legal exception for parents. As far as the Senate Bill you referenced goes, Delaware does not seem to be revoking any legal rights to parental corporal punishment.

    • Denny Burk September 27, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Section §468(1)(c) says that force is unjustifiable if it causes “physical injury,” which the new law defines as any kind of “pain.” Again, it’s the redefinition of “physical injury” that exposes parents to prosecution if they use corporal punishment. So that section is now problematic as well.

      • Brandon September 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

        The “new” definition of “physical injury” only applies to “this subchapter” (e.g. Subchapter V. Offenses Relating to Children and Incompetents). The definition does not apply to §468, which is in an entirely different title (11).

        • Denny Burk September 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

          That is not at all how this is being interpreted by some: http://www.hslda.org/hs/state/de/201209210.asp.

          • Brandon September 28, 2012 at 9:57 am #

            As someone who was home schooled for 10 years, the “interpretation” by HSLDA is wrong. Clearly wrong. Not even close wrong. They have an agenda and unfortunately sometimes those who raise the most absurd claims get the most attention.

            • Patrick O'Keefe September 28, 2012 at 10:20 am #

              Brandon you are absolutely correct. It’s sad to me that instead of praising a good policy by the state of Delaware in further criminalizing abhorrent conduct, the organization decided to politicize the issue. Even more disheartening- it is all based on a very misguided interpretation of the bill.

              • Denny Burk September 28, 2012 at 10:29 am #

                Patrick,

                I actually hope that you are correct. Having said that, I think the law is at best vague. It needs to be amended, and this should not wait until some court decides the proper interpretation on appeal.

                Denny

                • Brandon September 28, 2012 at 11:30 am #

                  Patrick is correct. Congrats on a lot of blog hits though.

        • Denny Burk September 28, 2012 at 10:27 am #

          Actually, they are both under Title 11. Justification for use of force is under chapter 4 of Title 11, and the new law is under chapter 5 of Title 11.

          The anti-spanking group StopSpanking.org interprets the law as a ban on spanking. Their website says:

          “Delaware is the first state to legislate against hitting children in an effort to stop child abuse. Senate Bill #234 effectively bans hitting of children, including in the home.”

          • Brandon September 28, 2012 at 11:28 am #

            Actually, I corrected it last night but you didn’t allow my previous comment correcting my original post. As you now say, the defense provided in §468 is in subchapter 4 of Title 11. It is a defense to any conviction under §1103 which is in subchapter 5. The new definition of physical pain does not apply to the defense. So, the defense is valid so long as the parent/guardian’s use of force is “reasonable” and “moderate” and in the “best interest of the child”.

            StopSpanking also has an agenda. And. Their. Interpretation. Is. Wrong.

            • Patrick O'Keefe September 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

              Again, Brandon is right. This is now the second political organization that clearly has a PR agenda for the new law, applying a random zig-zag legal interpretation targeted against the legislative intent of Senate Bill No. 234, and established case law in the state of Delaware. There’s not much more I can say, it seems that people simply don’t want to believe that the legal defense provided by §468(1) actually exists.

              I posted a more lengthy response to all this on the Gospel Coalition’s website here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/28/did-delaware-outlaw-spanking/ which included the case law that guided the legal protection for parents under §468(1) and the published synopsis of Senate Bill No. 234, which, of course, says nothing about corporal punishment. My reasoning for writing is that I wished to calm the fears that may be growing surrounding this issue, especially those of Delawarean residents. While it’s always true that a judge can write an opinion interpreting the law contrary to what it says, that risk was just as alive prior to the passage of Senate Bill No. 234 as it was after. The bill just simply does not do away with corporal punishment. It only speaks to the issue in the sense that it retains the right of corporal punishment by referencing §468(1) as defining justified conduct.

              Last thing I wish to say here- I hope that I have been respectful through this mini debate. I’ve typed, deleted, and rephrased many times in an effort to be respectful and avoid unnecessary attitude or hostility. Hopefully I’ve accomplished that. If not, please know it was my intent to be respectful, in order to keep the unity of the Spirit, which is far more important than agreeing on interpretation of complex legal concepts.

      • Stephen Beck September 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

        What is defined as pain? It seems they just made the law more subjective than it was. Does there have to be a red sore that lasts overnight? For 5 minutes? Does the child have to testify in court saying “yes, daddy made me hurt. real bad!”

  4. MarieP September 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Not only spanking, but anything that hurts- like insulin shots, shampoo in the eyes, antiseptic on a scrape, and eating Brussels sprouts!

    • Dan Phillips September 28, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      I’d be in favor of outlawing Brussels sprouts, if they’d throw in squash as well.

  5. Don Johnson September 27, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    I lived in Sweden for a year where they have had a no spanking law for a long time. The way it is implemented in practice is to get the abusers so that there is no doubt that they are guilty. This is the way a lot of laws work, they sound strong but the police have a large leeway to interpret.

    Also William Webb’s book on Corporal Punishment is very insightful, it shows how the supposed “Biblical disciplinarians” deviate from Scripture in seven ways, so it is a book that provides some balance to the “pro-spanking” position. Webb’s point if that if one is going to modify Scripture with mercy in 7 ways, one can also just modify it with mercy another way and simply decline to spank at all in faith; that is, it can be a faithful choice for parents to decide to not spank at all. FWIIW, I did spank my kids, but it was very rare.

    • Michael Beck September 27, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

      Webb’s hermeneutic is what we might call “messed up.” Just the title of his previous book on homosexuality should tell you that. But for a critique of his Corporal Punishment, see here:

      http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/corporal_punishment_in_the_bible

      • Don Johnson September 28, 2012 at 11:03 am #

        Webb tries to be methodical about something that EVERYONE needs to do, which is assess which injunctions in the Bible are cultural and which are trans-cultural. I assess his efforts as blazing a trail in a jungle where very few have gone before, in the sense of trying to be methodical about it. Instead of that, what we have is a bewildering array of differing methods, while leads to pervasive interpretive pluralism, where people form groups that agree inside the group what the Bible “clearly teaches” but then each group does not agree with other groups on many things.

        What TGC does is dodge some differences and not dodge some others and while they may not appear arbitrary to an insider, they appear very arbitrary to an outside, meanwhile it looks like they are adding to the gospel, by what they choose to not dodge, so their actions belie their own chosen name. Does anyone think God is pleased with this?

        I do not agree with Webb on everything he wrote, but I think his ideas are a way forward from the tangled mess we are in right now.

  6. Paula Bolyard (@pbolyard) September 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    Don Johnson wrote, “This is the way a lot of laws work, they sound strong but the police have a large leeway to interpret.

    That’s a VERY bad way to go. Laws need to be clear and easy to interpret, not left up to individual jurisdictions or law enforcement officers to interpret according to their worldviews. I live in Ohio, where our homeschooling regulations are governed by the Ohio Administrative Code. Every school year hs’ers are required to send the superintendent an “outline of the curriculum” and a “list of materials” they plan to use for the upcoming school year. The code doesn’t define a specific format for those two items and leaves the format up to the discretion of the parents. However, every year I have to advise parents who are bullied by overly zealous superintendents who demand all sorts of information that is not required by the code. Some demand copies of tables of contents for all the books. Some want a monthly academic schedule for the year. Some want grade levels for the materials. None of these things are required by law.

    While it’s easy to think it’s not a big deal to make a copy of the table of contents for a textbook, it is actually a very big deal because it sets a precedent for other families (who may struggle with this demand because they choose to use something other than traditional textbooks).

    Murphy’s Law of government regulations states that when a law is not clear and concise and it’s left up to a bureaucrat’s interpretation, it grows bigger and more demanding over time and individual liberty is the big loser.

  7. Jay Ryder September 28, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Delaware’s new law needs to be refined and redefined so as to clarify this matter. But, Denny, you’re conflating Biblical commandments with Christian conscience/ Biblical interpretation. Many fine, Biblical Christians do not practice spanking as a matter of conscience, so while I mostly agree with the terrible trend of liberal law makers, how we frame our communications matters quite a bit. Spanking is not a “commandment”.

  8. Jay Ryder September 28, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    should be: ” I mostly agree with *you about* the terrible trend “

  9. Suzanne McCarthy September 28, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    What is the recommendation regarding stoning a rebellious son? Surely that is the commandment.

  10. Eric Thomas Anderson October 3, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Prov 13:24 24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

    Does a parent who “spares the rod” really hate their child? What if a rod isn’t used and only a hand, does that parent hate their child? Or is this mere hyperbole to show the importance of disciplining a child, with or without a rod or even spanking for that matter?

    Prov 22:15 15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

    Do we really believe that “foolishness” can be struck out of child? At what point is a child/future adult responsible for their own choices and at what point is it the parents fault for not using the “rod of discipline”?

    Prov 23:13-14 13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. 14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

    Can we really believe that is we don’t punish a child with a rod that they will become immortal as inferred by “he will not die”? Or that salvation can be inferred through punishment as inferred by “save his soul.” These ideas are not only non-nonsensical by contrary to orthodox Christian theology.

    Prov 29:15 15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

    Do we really believe that a rod can give wisdom, immortality, salvation? Because it seems to me that these passages are merely using hyperbole to stress exactly how important discipline is in a child’s life. I believe that these passages are not meant to be taken literally inasmuch as you must physically discipline your children and when you do that you must use a rod, instead of a paddle, belt or hand, but rather it is exalting the act of discipline. If that is true, who is to say that discipline must be of a physical nature?

  11. Andrew Savill October 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Denny,

    I would appreciate some good book recommendations if you don’t mind. I would love some that are accessible to the lay parent struggling with this issue.

    Thanks,

    Andrew

    • Denny Burk October 5, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      My comments policy requires commenter to use first and last names. Thanks!

    • Michael Beck October 6, 2012 at 12:22 am #

      Proverbs, Bible, by God through King Solomon

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Did Delaware Outlaw Spanking? – The Gospel Coalition Blog - September 28, 2012

    [...] it could be used against parents who spank their children. "Why should Christians care about this?" asks Denny Burk. "Unless this law is clarified or amended, then parents in Delaware who spank could be charged with [...]

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  3. Wednesday’s Gumbo | Mark Moore - October 3, 2012

    [...]     Has spanking been outlawed?  Denny Burk comments on the new law passed in Delaware: Because the law defines “physical [...]

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    [...] Spanking against the law – Delaware just passed a law that seems to ban spanking. ”Here’s what the law says: “Abuse” means causing any physical injury to a child. . . “Physical injury” to a child shall mean any impairment of physical condition or pain.” [...]

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