When the Government Takes Your Children

Many people who have followed the Justina Pelletier case—largely ignored by the mainstream media, by the way—have thought that there has to be more to it, or that it’s an outrageous out-of-the-ordinary affair. This is the case where the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families forcibly took custody from her parents over a year ago of a teenager who had been treated for years for mitochondrial disease (a genetic disorder), when they brought her to Boston Children’s Hospital for consultation about a related gastrointestinal problem and resisted a quickly-made diagnosis by a medical resident and a psychologist there that she instead had a mental problem. Justina has been confined to Children’s Hospital for over a year and then DCF assigned her to a group home and then foster care and a juvenile judge awarded the agency custody of her until she turns eighteen. Justina has written that she feels like a prisoner and she has been denied both schooling and the opportunity to attend Mass or receive Holy Communion—all this, while the hospital and DCF claim they’re “helping” her. Her parents’ have engaged in a protracted legal battle with DCF and now their attorneys have filed a habeas corpus action.

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The Supreme Court: Activism and Abdication

Serious Catholics and political conservatives since the 1950s have strongly criticized the Supreme Court for making public policy and acting as a kind of “super-legislature” to further a leftist socio-political agenda, instead of interpreting the law and judging. We have seen such judicial lawmaking on pornography, abortion, legislative reapportionment, sodomy laws, and the list could go on. While this has certainly been a valid and much-deserved ongoing criticism of the Court, cases in each of its last three terms indicate a new, contrary problem: over-deference to the political branches on both the federal and state levels.

In 2011, the Court decided the companion cases of Camreta v. Greene and Alford v. Greene, which concerned whether a child protective system (CPS) operative and a law enforcement official who backed him up could be sued under federal civil rights laws for an aggressive interrogation of a nine-year-old girl—which under international norms possibly constituted psychological torture—to get her to say that her father abused her. Along with many other organizations, the Society of Catholic Social Scientists filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the girl’s claim (I drafted the brief), mostly because we wanted to focus the Court’s attention—as we tried to do over a decade before in the important parental rights case of Troxel v. Granville—on the CPS’s systemic misconduct that in one article I called “a grave threat to the family.”

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