Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A columnist flunks his own challenge

A columnist for The Wall Street Journal issued a challenge Sunday to those of us who are outraged by the failure of a Florida court to send Rifqa Bary back to Ohio. William McGurn says we should be equally outraged by what is happening to Amanda Kurowski, a ten-year-old girl in New Hampshire.

If the facts are as McGurn states, and other news accounts suggest that they are, he's got a point.

Child Protective Services isn't involved in this one. It's a custody case. Mom has custody and Dad didn't like the way Mom was educating the child – she was homeschooling her. There is no evidence that this has harmed Amanda – on the contrary, the court concluded that "the evidence supports a finding that Amanda is generally likeable and well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising, and intellectually at or superior to grade level."

So, what's the problem? According to McGurn:

The father has had long-standing complaints about the effect of home-schooling on his daughter's "socialization," even though Amanda has already taken classes at the school and participated in extracurricular activities. But the order appears to be based on the guardian ad litem's worry about Amanda's "rigidity on faith." The order also accepts the same guardian's conclusion that Amanda belongs in a public school because she "would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior and cooperation in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs."

Now, as it happens, that view of how children should be educated precisely matches my own. But just as I wouldn't want, say, Antonin Scalia giving me orders about how to educate my child, I don't want some judge I happen to agree with telling Amanda Kurowski's mother how to educate hers – not even if it was the non-custodial parent who asked the judge to make that decision.

So, Mr. McGurn, on behalf of "the family values left" I gladly accept your challenge. But you seem to have flunked it.

Having suggested that we on the left would be hypocrites to not see these cases as the same, McGurn then says the Rifqa Bary case is different because she said she'd be killed if she returned home. So, McGurn says, the judge should "take his time" because "the fear of an honor killing—even in the United States—is not irrational." His evidence: A grand total of three alleged cases of such killings. With those odds, Rifqa Bary is at far greater risk of being struck by lightning – every time she goes to and from the courthouse in Florida – than she is of facing an honor killing in her own home.

If a child can be torn from Muslim parents because there have been three alleged honor killings in the United States, then every Christian should be suspect because, very, very rarely, one of them blows up a clinic where abortions are performed or kills a doctor who performs them. And if a child can be kept from her parents based on evidence so absurdly – so irrationally - slim as in Rifqa Bary's case, after the parents are cleared by law enforcement in two states, then any family in any disfavored group, including homeschoolers, is at that much greater risk.

As is explained at the end of an earlier post to this Blog, it is the very fact that Rifqa soon will turn 18 that makes action so urgent, and makes leaving her in Florida the greater risk to her future happiness and well-being.

A footnote: The New Hampshire and Florida cases have something else in common: Both are afflicted with clueless "guardians ad litem" (GALs). Sometimes they're lawyers, sometimes they're volunteers, but either way they're often a huge problem. That's because their job is not to speak up for what the child wants but for whatever the guardian, in her or his infinite wisdom, happens to think is best. In an assessment of the Kurowski case, New Hampshire columnist Lily Robertson writes that after seeing GAL's in action in a number of cases, "I've become convinced that GAL actually stands for "Going Against Logic." I think she's on to something.