Scottish Christians opposed to guardian plans for under-18s

Published 18 February 2014  |  
(PA)

Plans for an official guardian for every child in Scotland have come under fire from Christians across the country.

Professor Donald Macleod, former Principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, said the plans in the Children and Young People Scotland Bill would turn the state into a "Parent Superior".

The Scottish Government has said that the state appointed guardian would at first be a health visitor, and then later would likely be a senior teacher or head teacher.

Scotland's Children's Minister Aileen Campbell, was quoted on the BBC as saying that the plans will help to "provide a safety net for those who need one".

While the intent is to prevent against child abuse, many see these plans as a form of intrusion.

The named guardian is able to be pro-active in their judgements, and there is no provision in the law for consent of the child or parent in dealing with the guardian.

Professor Macleod said: "Health visitors, trained to guide families through the early months of parenting, are one thing; mentors who represent a meddlesome and snooping state are quite another.

"Things have already reached the state where, if a child accidentally breaks a leg, parents almost hesitate to call an ambulance because they know they'll be tied up in red tape, come under instant suspicion of violence toward the child, and have to endure the agony of being separated from him while he is subject to a minute examination to check for further fractures and bruises.

"If such measures are necessary in the Britain of today, we are a sicker society than even the gloomiest Calvinist ever suggested."

Professor Macleod's objections join a chorus of Christian dissent on the subject of the proposed bill.

The current Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland wrote a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond on the matter, co-signed by seven former Moderators, ahead of Wednesday's final vote in the Scottish Parliament.

The group are quoted in the Scotsman as claiming that the bill represents a "snooper's charter" as well as being a "gross intrusion into family life" and "completely undermining of parental responsibilities".

In the letter, the concern expressed is that the named guardian will have the "legal authority to ensure our young people are raised in a state-approved manner".

"We are fully supportive of the Scottish Government's intention to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable children; this is a most laudable aim.

"However, having read the draft legislation, and given that the vast majority of Scotland's million children do not require any state intervention, we believe these proposals seriously overstep the mark.

"Fundamentally we believe that a child's values, wellbeing and development are primarily the responsibility of his or her parents, not that of state-appointed guardians as these plans suggest."

Former Moderator Reverend James MacIver, minister of Knock Free Church on the Isle of Lewis, said in the Scotsman: "The very concept of 'corporate parents' sets alarm bells ringing and is something becoming of a Big Brother state."

Another former Moderator, Reverend Dr John Ross, who ministers in Drumnadrochit, said: "The Scottish Government now seems intent on hijacking the legitimate rights and duties of parents to bring up their own children free of state interference.

"If this legislation is not amended, the Scottish Government will make itself the judge of every parent in this land.

"Historically, the Free Church of Scotland has always fought to be independent of state interference in all of its spiritual affairs – this does not stop at the church door on a Sunday, it goes right into the heart of the family home."

Speaking about the problems of future applications of the law, Dr Ross said: "It does not take a rocket scientist to foresee the potential for future conflict between Christian parents and the secular political correctness brigade.

"This is the sort of thing we would expect in a fascist or Marxist regime, not in 21st century Scotland."

In the letter, the group say the potential for unnecessary interference would be removed if the legislation made explicit that the 'named person' "had no right to be proactive but was available to be called upon by parents to help them access services and support".

"Given that the vast majority of Scotland's million children do not require any state intervention, we believe these proposals seriously overstep the mark," they said.

The Evangelical Alliance in Scotland has also raised objections, saying the plans are a violation of human rights.

"While we do not doubt the Government's sincere intentions behind this bill these proposals raise serious concerns about the role of the state in modern Scotland, have massive implications for the role of parents and appear to be begging for a fight in the law courts as some parents may wish to challenge it because it is not immediately apparent whether it is lawful under the European Convention on Human Rights," said Fred Drummond, director of Evangelical Alliance Scotland.

Article 8 of the ECHR protects people from arbitrary interference of privacy by public authorities. Areas that are specifically covered include private life, family life, and the home.

The Evangelical Alliance also highlights the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a potential barrier. Article 5 of the CRC says that governments must respect the rights and responsibilities of parents to guide and advise their children.

Article 16 offers protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference of a child's privacy or family and says that all families must have the right of the protection of the law against intrusion.

"As a parent I am horrified and I am sure that parents across Scotland will be horrified to learn that the state can override their wishes," said Mr Drummond.

"At the Evangelical Alliance we fundamentally believe in the positive role of families which is why we are so concerned by the named person provision of this bill.

"There are enormous civil liberties implications raised by these proposals that fundamentally endanger the rights of families in Scotland to a private and family life.

"We are deeply concerned that their approach will undermine the place of family, when the strongest, best and most secure context for the vast majority of Scottish children lies at home with loving parents."

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance UK, said: "At a time when family life is becoming increasingly difficult, these proposals seek to complicate it further by undermining parental authority with state interference."

Speaking to the BBC, Children's Minister Aileen Campbell attempted to allay some of the fears expressed.

She claimed that "misrepresentations and misunderstandings about the named person provisions are misinforming views".

"The proposals are not about treating every child with the same procedures with which we treat vulnerable children, recommending a social worker is appointed for every child, or giving named persons the authority to enter every house," she said.

"The named person's responsibilities are at the lower end of the scale of concern. Their function will almost always be discharged through routine contact with the child either in health or in education. Not social work."

She added: "Those parents who do not want to engage with the named person are under no obligation to do so."

The final vote on this bill will be held in Holyrood on Wednesday.

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