Christian Teen-Torture Camps And Republican’s Reality-Denying Bubble

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A new 20/20 report has put the issue of Christian teen-torture camps back in the news, but this has been going on for decades. From the Mother Jones report:

When another girl snitched, Roxy said, McNamara locked some girls in makeshift isolation cells, tiled closets without furniture or windows. Roxy got “the redshirt treatment”: For a solid week, 10 hours a day, she had to stand facing a wall, with breaks only for worship or twice-daily bathroom trips.

She was monitored day and night by two “buddies,” girls who’d been there awhile and knew the drill. They accompanied her to the shower and toilet, and introduced her to a life of communal isolation and rigid discipline. Girls were not allowed to converse except from 6 to 9 p.m. each Friday. They were not allowed contact with their families during their first month, or with anyone else for six months.

And that’s far from the most shocking treatment teens have received.

Although the people who run these camps are extremists, the reason the problem continues is that mainstream Republicans politicians protect the torture camps, and mainstream Republican voters do not object or pressure their politicians to change.

Congress has tried, and so far failed, to rein in the schools. In 2007, a spate of deaths at teen residential programs prompted a nationwide investigation by the Government Accountability Office. Its findings—which detailed the use of extended stress positions, days of seclusion, strenuous labor, denial of bathroom access, and deaths—came out in a series of dramatic congressional hearings over two years. The result was House Resolution 911 (PDF), which proposed giving residents access to child-abuse hotlines and creating a national database of programs that would document reports of abuse and keep tabs on abusive staff members.

Hephzibah House’s Ron Williams and Reclamation Ranch’s Jack Patterson urged supporters to fight the bill. In an open letter, Williams argued that it would “effectively close all Christian ministries helping troubled youth because of its onerous provisions.” They were joined by a group called the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, which opposed HR 911 on the grounds that states—despite all evidence to the contrary—are best situated to oversee the homes. The bill passed in the House, but stalled in a Senate committee.*

In March 2010, the House passed the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill that would have banned the use of seclusion and physical or chemical restraints by any school that benefits from federal education money. (It, too, died in the Senate.) Andy Kopsa, who covers abusive homes in her blog, Off the Record, noted that GOP members whose districts host tough-love schools rallied against the act.

House Resolution 911 passed with the votes of 231 Democrats and 64 Republicans. 1 Democrat and 101 Republicans voted against the bill. The Keeping All Students Safe Act was voted for by 238 Democrats and only 24 Republicans; 8 Democrats and 145 Republicans voted against the bill.

I think the problem here isn’t that ordinary conservatives favor torturing teens. Rather, it’s that the conservative leadership and media has spent decades teaching conservatives to assume that all criticism of conservatives are lies told by mainstream media, and that all evidence, no matter how strong, is a conspiracy used by liberal elites to keep down the poor oppressed Christians. The people who run these torture camps move from state to state, seeking out states like Texas and Mississippi, where Christians control the legislature and make sure that no regulations intended to protect teens from being tortured by Christians ever passes.

“It’s hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo for regulation,” says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state’s homes in the mid-2000s. “It took decades of work to get just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care centers,” he adds. “I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand up to say, ‘We have a concern about how this affects faith-based institutions,’ the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican legislature—or it would immediately die. That’s still true.” (Missouri isn’t alone. In April, Montana state Rep. Christy Clark, who campaigned on a “faith and family” platform, joined 11 other Republicans in scuttling a bill that would have regulated religious teen homes; a mother of three, she cast the homes’ residents as unreliable witnesses who “struggle with truthfulness.”)

This is the same anti-truth impulse that convinces conservatives that global warming is a myth, that Obama is a secret Muslim, and that elections are being stolen by undetectable illegal voters. They live inside a paranoid bubble that tells them that no evidence, no expert, no contrary worldview is ever to be trusted.

Things may be about to get worse. Briarwood Presbyterian Church is working with Alabama’s compliant conservative legislature to pass a law allowing them to create the country’s first Church-owned police force. If they succeed and other churches follow suit – I would think it’s unconstitutional, but with Trump selecting justices, who knows? – then Christian torture camps may face an even lower risk of interference by authorities.

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4 Responses to Christian Teen-Torture Camps And Republican’s Reality-Denying Bubble

  1. 1
    Jake Squid says:

    They seem to have a lot in common with all the various kinds of “teen boot camps.” Every last one should be shut down and all involved prosecuted.

  2. 2
    Sebastian H says:

    This is the terrible side of slippery slope arguments. Otherwise rational people get too sucked into the speculative long term politics of something rather than take small steps in the ‘wrong’ direction.

  3. 3
    David Simon says:

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Sebastian H.

  4. 4
    Sebastian H says:

    The article says: ““It’s hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo for regulation,” says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state’s homes in the mid-2000s. “It took decades of work to get just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care centers,” he adds. “I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand up to say, ‘We have a concern about how this affects faith-based institutions,’ the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican legislature—or it would immediately die. That’s still true.””

    They look at making even very clear changes that are well in tune with public opinion as being the thin edge of a slippery slope against faith based institutions. Ultimately I think they are wrong to worry about it in that way. The further you get from public opinion the more likely that sudden shifts can go against you. So if you refuse to regulate these camps because of a slippery slope argument, my view is that you are storing up resentment for a sudden shift against you later.

    While if you make common sense regulations (something like you have to let the kids meet with, off-site, people who can make sure they are ok) you are settling into something that is in tune with public opinion (i.e. we want to let people try to deal with troubled kids but not be abusive) then it won’t be a slippery slope at all because people won’t code it is “regulating religious camps” but rather “keeping kids safe”.

    You see similar dynamics in the abortion debate, where any movement toward the center is thought of us rolling down toward an “every sperm is sacred” point of view. But I don’t think it is an actual slippery slope in either case. It is more like a valley. When you are firmly with public opinion, your opponents can’t get traction for their crazy ideas because they have to push up the hill. When you are pretty far from public opinion with the law, you have trouble because the center will tend to gravitate toward your opponents which can fuel scary whiplashes as things roll down the hill and have momentum to go up the other side.

    This isn’t an argument about never changing things. But it is an argument about how trying to enshrine a much more radical vision into law than the public is comfortable with can end up causing a damaging political dynamic.

    So back to the original topic. Faith based communities (who don’t like these kind of camps–obviously the ones who like them won’t want to stop them) are scared that this is an early wedge against THEMSELVES.

    I think that is wrong. I think if you correct abuses, it will be harder to act against non-abusive faith based communities. But I can see how they think that in the current political climate.

    I can see how both sides think that in the current political climate.

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