Government custody goes too far

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A New Jersey couple who gave their three children Nazi-related names have generated considerable ire around the globe. But is that enough for the state to take their children away from them?

The parents of the children -- the oldest, 3, is named for Adolf Hitler -- say they haven't been told why the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services took their children. And, based on supervised visits, the parents claim their children aren't receiving proper attention.

The children were removed from their home after the uproar that ensued in December when a supermarket refused to decorate a cake with their son's name on it. The story generated widespread rebukes aimed at the parents.

This case echoes, in a way, the removal last year of hundreds of children from a religious compound in Texas after authorities received an anonymous tip that an underage girl had been forced into a marriage with one of the group's leaders. The claim wasn't substantiated in the weeks of investigation that followed, and eventually all the children were returned to their parents.

In both cases, government officials claimed to be acting on behalf of the best interests of children, but authorities in Texas and New Jersey have yet to demonstrate that their care and supervision of the children is any better than the parents'. In Texas, a judge ordered the children to be sent home and called the decision to remove them a gross error in judgment.

There are, indeed, far too many cases of parental abuse of children, and in those cases it is appropriate for government to protect the welfare of those children. But when children are put into government custody because of their parents' political or religious beliefs, the government has gone too far.

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