Civil Liberties

Are Neo-Nazi Nincompoops Automatically Unfit Parents?


Kate Bernyk, a spokeswoman for New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services, wants us to know it was not about the names. Or at least, it wasn't just about the names. When the agency removed 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, almost-2-year-old Joyce-Lynn Aryan Nation Campbell, and 9-month-old Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell from their Holland Township, New Jersey, home last week, it was because of "an imminent danger," Bernyk explained to the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Express-Times, "and that wouldn't include the child's name alone." Which suggests that the children's Nazi-themed names did have something to do with their removal from the custody of their parents, Heath and Deborah Campbell, whom you may remember from last month's media storm over their unsuccessful attempt to have ShopRite inscribe a cake for little Adolf Hitler's birthday.

What other factors might have played a role in the state's decision? Because of confidentiality rules, the state isn't saying. But I'm guessing the Campbells' decorating taste (heavy on the swastikas) did not help their case. Their white supremacist—excuse me, separatist—ideology probably also did not endear them to the social workers. And then there is the Campbells' avowed obliviousness to the consequences of using their children as billboards for their ideology.

But does any of this rise to the level of child abuse? A "forensic psychologist" consulted by Fox News thinks so:

Part of it is the infantile nature of the parents' behavior. You can name your dog something weird, but they think they're making some kind of bold statement with the children, not appreciating that the children will have separate lives and will be looked at in a negative light until they're able to change their name. It is abuse.

That snap judgment is reminiscent of the remote diagnosis rendered by the psychologist who last month assured The Express-Times that "any parent that would impose such horrific names on their children is mentally ill," because "only a crazy person would do that" (a judgment any Jewish mother could make without the benefit of a Ph.D.). The dangers of applying such standards to parents whose odd beliefs may expose their children to ridicule should be clear. Freedom of conscience and freedom of speech demand that we tolerate neo-Nazi nincompoops, even when their teachings and behavior impose a burden on their children. 

Maybe the Campbells did something that put their children in immediate physical danger, and we just don't know about it. But The Express-Times reports that local police "have received no recent reports of abuse, negligence or threats against the family that might have put the children in danger." A police sergeant who accompanied state officials when they took the children away has known Heath Campbell for years and says, "He's always been very good with the kids. His kids seem to mean a lot to him." Furthermore, Bernyk's implication that the children's weird names may have been one of the reasons for their removal suggests the Campbells (and their children) are being punished, at least in part, for their unpopular opinions. 

[Thanks to gmatts for the tip.]