One of my favorite trials resulted in the acquittal of the Reverend Walter Oliver. He was accused of spanking the children of a member of his church. The boys' mother was raising them alone. She and the minister agreed that progressive discipline was the key. Things progressed to the point of the reverend applying his belt to the boys' rear-ends.
The jury made short work of the case, and acquitted quickly. During closing arguments I got to waive a Bible around and to remind the good jurors that to spare the rod might well spoil the child. I also quipped at some point that if it were against the law to so discipline a child, my mother ought still to be breaking rocks at Leavenworth. I asked whether we really wanted to put an empty chiar at the dinner table so that the state could sit with us at dinner time to tell us how to live.
So I am amused at legislation soon to be introduced in California. State Assemblywoman Sally J. Lieber wants to make it a misdemeanor to spank a child.
I was prepared to heap scorn on the notion when I read the fine print. The bill would criminalize spanking children under the age of three years old. It is hard for me to fathom why a parent would spank a child who can't reason. But need this conduct be criminalized?
The state's appetite for regulation is voracious. If a child has been abused by a parent there are already child-rpotection agencies in each state. A lesser standard of proof and emergency proceedings to remove children abusive homes on an expedited basis are already in place.
The proposed law is well-intentioned but redundant. We don't need more congestion in the criminal courts.