SELECTED LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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The Spectator, 7 September 2002, p. 28 (in response to a cover story by Griffin Stone)

 

    Fathers and children

From Dr Stephen Baskerville

Sir: Griffin Stone’s excellent piece (‘When your wife kidnaps your child’, 24 August) on child-stealing from fathers implies that it is a British problem. In fact, it is rampant throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Countries with such traditional family morality as Japan and India are experiencing epidemics of maternal child- snatching, which is invariably rewarded by courts.

How American lawyers could be shocked at the actions of British courts is perplexing. In virtually every American jurisdiction, fathers are losing not only their children but their homes, their life savings, future earnings, and freedom through divorces for which they gave neither consent nor grounds. The US attorney-general recently announced mass arrests of fathers. In Canada, special domestic-violence courts remove fathers from their homes, confiscate their property and jail them with no semblance of due process. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US now have sky-rocketing suicide rates among divorced fathers, as does Britain.

Mr Stone also tends to downplay his plight by attributing it to judicial ‘inertia and defeatism’. In fact, it reveals perhaps one of the most dangerous trends in politics today: the use of children as political weapons. It often seems as if family courts, operating in unaccountable secrecy, reward child-stealing because it extends the power and reach of the state and the earnings of its operatives. It allows the state to achieve one of its most coveted and dangerous ambitions: to control the private lives of its citizens. Once the father is eliminated, state officials administer the family and the personal life of every member. Family courts recognize no private sphere of life.

Involuntary divorce is not a phenomenon; it is a regime – a marvellously self-perpetuating political machine that allows for the infinite expansion of government power. By removing fathers, the state creates a host of problems for itself to solve – the problems now brutally familiar as the products of father absence: child poverty, child abuse, juvenile crime, drug abuse, and much more.

There is nothing baffling about Mr Stone’s ordeal. It represents a direct assault, ideologically driven and bureaucratically enforced, on the family and the social foundation of civilization itself.

Stephen Baskerville
Howard University,
Washington, DC


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The American Spectator, vol. 33, no. 7 (September 2000), p. 10 (in response to Cathy Young's cover article in June 2000):
 
Cathy Young’s groundbreaking article describes vividly the cultural quandary faced by today’s conscientious father. More urgent from a public policy standpoint, however, are the violations of basic constitutional rights he faces when hauled into what is without question the most intrusive and authoritarian arm of government today: family court. In divorce court the no-win predicament Young describes becomes a Kafkaesque inquisition into private life where everything a father does in his own home is not only wrong but subject to criminal penalties. Time earning a living or caring for his children, for example, serve equally well as derelictions of paternal duty available as justifications to a judge determined to separate him from his children and keep him away on pain of incarceration.

Family courts expand their power by removing children from fathers (and sometimes mothers) who have done nothing legally wrong and who have given no agreement to a divorce. Once the court has taken control of the children (usually at the mere request of the parent expecting custody), the way is open for a virtual feeding frenzy in which everything the non-custodial parent possesses is doled out not only to the custodial parent, but also to an entourage of lawyers, psychotherapists, and other judicial courtiers. These professionals then have a strong voice in the reappointment and promotion of the accommodating judge. Children are thus turned into not only emotional but financial trophies, prizes carrying a rich cash reward. The private life of the non-custodial parent – his movements, finances, even his conversations, and above all his relationship with his children – is then subject to scrutiny and control by the court with virtually no regard for constitutional protections of privacy and due process of law. Family courts and the entire divorce-custody industry constitute a highly dangerous sector of unaccountable government power in urgent need of review and reform.

By focusing exclusively on the cultural dimension and "attitudes" to the neglect of constitutional rights, we may leave the impression that the remedy lies in the kind of social engineering and government programs to "promote" fatherhood into which legislatures are now rushing with headlong abandon. These programs are fraught with civil liberties dangers of their own, because they presuppose and perpetuate precisely the myths Young exposes and use them to justify coercive state intervention against parents. Both the safest and most effective remedy to the crisis of fatherhood is not more state intrusion into the family and the private sphere of life but the old-fashioned one of enforcing the Constitution.
 
Stephen Baskerville
Department of Political Science
Howard University
Washington, DC 20059
 
 
 
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Playboy, September 2000, p. 52:
 
Jed H. Abraham's description of the inquisition routinely conducted against fathers in family court was chilling ("The Interrogation," The Playboy Forum, May). With the exception of convicted criminals, no one today has fewer rights than fathers. A mother can decide one day to move out with the kids, or to change the locks after helping her boyfriend move in, leaving the father deprived of his children and his home. In defending himself he risks his life savings and, depending on the reckless charges she levels against him, his freedom.

Under the guise of pursuing deadbeat parents, we are seeing mass incarcerations without trial or counsel while the media and civil libertarians look the other way. A father can be forced by a court to undergo a "mental examination," ordered to pay the fees of lawyers and psychotherapists he did not hire, and be jailed without trial, charge or counsel. His home can be entered and his children can be used as informers. In some cases, fathers who contact their confiscated children or separated spouses have been arrested for harassment or stalking, an offense that has been defined as narrowly as an unwelcome conversation. Others have been arrested for attending public events such as musical recitals or sport competitions. We've even seen "lifetime" restraining orders.

As a spokesman for Men, Fathers and Children International, a coalition of 12 fatherhood organizations from nine countries, I have seen family courts in action. I believe they're the most dangerous institution posing a threat to constitutional rights in our society. They will probably follow the High Commission, the Star Chamber, the Chancery and other infamous "prerogative" and "equity" courts into the dustbin of history.

Stephen Baskerville
Professor of Political Science
Howard University
Washington, D.C.

 
 
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American Enterprise magazine, vol. 10, no. 6 (November/December 1999), pp. 94-95 (in response to a special issue on fatherhood):
 
It is telling that a respected public policy magazine can devote an issue to fatherhood (September/October)  with no mention of how the divorce industry is forcibly ripping children from fathers who have neither consented to norgiven grounds for divorce.  The principal dynamic driving fatherlessness in this country is not the flight of men from families and their children; it is a power grab by courts and bureaucracies posing as the true champions of children over the heads of their evil parents.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe ("Defining Dady Down") seem to know this, yet they insist on excoriating fathers' groups who alone are trying to do something about it.  They claim the groups' agenda ispro-divorced dads.  Actually father's groups do not exclude married men; most vehemently oppose forced divorce.

The only people who can rescue children from the clutches of this machine are their fathers, who are now organizing politically to do so.  These fathers are not asking for special privileges but simply demanding enforcement of the Constitution, which would put this judicial kidnapping racket out of business.  The divorce machine knows the only threat to its power as surrogate father is true fathers, which is why it is incarcerating huge numbers of them without trial, without charge, and without counsel.

Instead of talking about the divorce machine, however, you served up sentimental schmaltz.  I am genuinely pleased the fathers who wrote for you love their children; so, no doubt, do the politicians who trot their children out on stage as political props.  But this is not the business of public policy.  TAE would do children a greater service by exposing the violations of the constitutional rights of those whose love for their children is proven daily not by advertising it to the world, but by quiet sacrifice and struggle to protect their children from the ravages of predatory government.

Stephen Baskerville
Howard University
 
 
 
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The Weekly Standard, 8 February 1999, p. 7.


John A. Barnes’ otherwise fine article on child abuse in the homes of single mothers contains one questionable statement and a serious omission. ("The Boyfriend Problem," Dec. 14). While "in absolute numbers, far more children are abused by their parents than by anyone else," this too takes place overwhelmingly in single parent homes. The natural parents who abuse children are mostly single mothers. According to a major study recently released by the Department of Health and Human Services for 1996, women aged 20 to 49 were almost twice as likely as men to be perpetrators of child maltreatment. "It is estimated that…almost two-thirds [of child abusers] were females," the report states.

As Barnes rightly suggests, "male" perpetrators are not likely to be fathers but rather boyfriends and stepfathers. So fathers emerge as the least likely child abusers. Mothers accounted for 55 percent of child murders according to a Heritage Foundation study two years ago (1,100 out of 2,000 child murders, with fathers committing 130). Maggie Gallagher summarizes the reality most accurately in her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage: "The person most likely to abuse a child physically is a single mother. The person most likely to abuse a child sexually is the mother's boyfriend or second husband.... Divorce, though usually portrayed as a protection against domestic violence, is far more frequently a contributing cause." The hard, politically incorrect truth is that a child’s natural protector is his or her father, and not only from "men who are not their fathers."

The serious question then emerges of where the father is throughout this horror. The all-too-easy assumption that he has skipped out on the family does not bear scrutiny. Throughout this country many thousands, possibly millions of fathers sit by helpless and anguished as their children are abused by Mom and her boyfriend, and they are under court orders to stay away on pain of incarceration. Insofar as family courts and other agents of the state are the creators of single parent homes, they are also the leading causes of child abuse. From the standpoint of the father, it might appear that the abusers have thrown him out of the family so they can abuse his children with impunity. The bottom line is that this is an urgent civil rights issue that might well be remedied not by elaborate social engineering but by the old-fashioned formula of enforcing the constitutional rights of fathers and children not to be ripped apart.

STEPHEN BASKERVILLE
WASHINGTON, DC

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