Florida governor cites 'bigotry' after criticism of agency head

Sunday, August 25, 2002

MIAMI -- Gov. Jeb Bush defended his choice to lead Florida's beleaguered child welfare agency after an article surfaced in which he condoned "manly" discipline of children and asserted that men have authority over their wives.

Bush told reporters Friday that he questioned whether Jerry Regier was being pilloried because of his conservative religious views, and condemned a "soft bigotry that is emerging against people of faith."

"It really doesn't matter if Jerry has a deep and abiding faith and it certainly doesn't disqualify him for public service," Bush said as Regier stood nearby. "I think there's bigotry here and it troubles me."

The latest revelation came just a week after the new Department of Children & Families head tried to distance himself from a similar 1989 article, saying he had no control over its contents and was merely the co-chairman of a committee that sponsored the report.

Those authors went further, condoning spanking even when it produces bruises or welts.

'Biblical norms'

In the article the year before, of which Regier was sole author, the former Oklahoma cabinet secretary argued for the restoration of family values based on "biblical norms."

"Most men have been so intimidated by theories on child rearing that they discipline tentatively and often only as a last resort," Regier wrote. "The Bible is not at all uncertain about the value of discipline. 'Although you smite him with the rod, he will not die. Smite him with the rod ... save the soul."'

Regier wrote that women should be helpmates to their husbands and "our aim, within the church and outside it, should be to encourage and facilitate mothers working at home."

The article, which appeared in the Pastoral Renewal, a no-longer published religious journal, was first reported Friday by The Miami Herald.

Regier defended himself on Friday, noting that his wife works full-time as a nurse and saying they properly disciplined their children.

"I spanked my kids, yes. And I think that probably parents who give a swat to a 2-year-old would agree with that. I think disciplining children is fine," he said.

Bush discounted criticism over views on spanking.

"Moms and dads ought to have the ability to discipline their children. If moms and dads don't want to do it, that's fine too. But to suggest somehow that ... corporal punishment is inappropriate, you're not going to get my support for that."

The articles have been strongly criticized by Democrats and some child advocates, who say such stances are inappropriate from the man brought in to improve Florida's troubled child welfare system.

"Kids don't count, women don't count with Jeb Bush," said Barbara DeVane, a Tallahassee activist heading up an organization called We All Count.

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