Thursday, August 5, 2010

Adolf Hitler Campbell

A New Jersey couple have lost custody of their three children.  The parents named their children Adolf Hitler, Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Himler. The authorities became aware of the couple when they asked a supermarket to inscribe a birthday cake with best wishes for their son, named above.

In its ruling the Court of Appeals did not reference the birthday cake, but did find that the couple had significant physical and psychological problems. The Court found that both parents had been victims of childhood abuse and neither "have received adequate treatment for their serious psychological conditions."

The father, age 37, cannot read.  The mother only finished the 10th grade.  The Court considered a letter the mother admitted to have written.   The letter stated, in part, "Hes thrend to have me killed or kill me himself hes alread tried it a few times.  I'm afread that he might hurt my children if they are keeped in his care."

It seems undisputed that the birthday cake incident is how the authorities, New Jersey's version of DFCS, learned of the Campbells.  That the couple would saddle their three children with Nazi names is easily beyond  what reasonable parents would do.  But is that the issue?  If DFCS disagrees with your political persuasion, no matter how reprehensible, is that grounds for seizing your children?

I have a distant cousin named Reagan.  I have friends who've named their child Barak.  Are we sliding down a slippery slope when DFCS becomes a political police?

I deal with this issue in my family law practice.  For example, I represented a couple who lost their five children to DFCS a year before they hired me.  Their little boy had been playing doctor with an older, little girl.  Another family whose son had played the same game with the girl complained to the police.  DFCS spoke to my clients in developing a case against the little girl.  What DFCS found was that my clients had very odd familial behaviors which I won't go into here.  Long story short, when DFCS learned of the family's behaviors, they seized the children and would not let them come home.

After a year of begging, pleading and following every single DFCS instruction, the children were still being kept away from their parents, a year of the children's lives, lost forever.  Then the parents hired me.  I realized that the parents' peculiar conduct was entirely cultural.  Though it was not behavior that middle class white folks engage in, it was my culture's perjorative interpretation that determined that the conduct was harmful to the children.  There was no universal condemnation of this conduct.  Under a different value system, there was nothing harmful about it.

I immediately scheduled a meeting with the case officer, the DFCS supervisor and the Cassa. I would like to believe that I showed these folks the error of their cultural blinders and they became enlightened from my impassioned narrative, but I think the fact that my clients were Native Americans and that the treaty between the U.S. Government and their tribe required that all children seized had to be immediately returned to the tribal elders for determiniation and placement and that DFCS was therefore in violation of international law, probably had a lot more to do with DFCS surrendering the children back to the parents that very afternoon.

Our cultural and political norms define much of our comfort level.  I find naming a child Adolf Hitler personally repulsive.  I can probably correctly guess much about the stunted upbringing that child would have in his parent's care.  But taking a child is a huge step.  Our nation once took children just because they were Native American and wouldn't receive a proper Christian upbringing in their tribe.  I'm not so sure that telling Nazi's that they can't raise their children isn't somewhat the same thing.

Obviously the letter from the mother takes today's case in a different direction, but discovery of the letter came later.  Remember, what started it all was Adolf Hitler's name on a birthday cake.

Each case is wholly dependent on its facts.  Maybe these parents are really wacked out.  Maybe if anyone met them you'd get cold chills and agree with the Court that these parents were in no condition to raise their children.  I'm not saying the New Jersey Court of Appeals is wrong.  I don't know.

I'm just saying go slow.  Be careful.  Respect diversity.  After all, I don't think diversity fits in the Nazi playbook anyway.

Michael Manely

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