HR 911 – moving in the right direction to end Christian school abuse

Note:  this is legislation that was passed in the 2009 congress.  It is currently referred to Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.  I will be calling the committee tomorrow to confirm.

An ancient by awesome pic of Rep. George Miller

H.R. 911, the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act could be key to shutting down unregulated, unaccredited and abusive Christian boarding schools in the United States.

HR 911, sponsored by California Representative George Miller (D),  passed the House on February 23 (2009) and has been handed over to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension commission for hearings.  A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.   (Check their website for calendar updates here).

One of the main concerns in regulating private and specifically Christian schools is that they are exempt from receiving federal funding and therefore are free from government oversight.  However, HR 911 could pull some notorious Christian schools under the federal government’s regulatory wing by design.

The bill is careful to lay out what programs fall under their purview.  The definition of a “program” that is covered under this legislation is any residential program operated by a public or private entity.

The specific residential programs HR 911 targets are:

  • Programs with wilderness or outdoor experience;
  • A boot cam experience or other experience designed to simulate characteristics of basic military training or correctional regimes;
  • Therapeutic boarding school;
  • A behavioral modification program

Operating with a focus on serving children with emotional, behavioral, or mental problems or disorders, in addition to problems with alcohol or drugs. (HR911 Sec. 2 a i,ii)

As private entities, abusive Christian Schools should be on notice.  They will no longer be able to wrap themselves in of religious freedom afforded to all of us by the First Amendment.   Fortunately, the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has never been applied to protect brutality in the name of God.

I posted recently on Jack Patterson, the founder of Christian boarding School Reclamation Ranch in Alabama, and the recent charges of aggravated child abuse against him.  Patterson managed a plea agreement – from a felony abuse charge to a misdemeanor harassment charge – and skipped town.  He is now on the hunt for a more accommodating state to reopen his abusive school.

This is a tactic that comes out of the playbook of all fundamentalist Christian schools who use corporal punishment as a matter of course.  Patterson’s Reclamation Ranch has relocated from Indiana to Washington to Alabama.  According to a conversation I had with Blount County Alabama District Attorney, Tommy Rountree who was charged with prosecuting Patterson, each of  Reclamation Ranch’s prior moves were necessitated by similar charges of abuse.

Fundamentalists who move abusive schools from state to state have cause to worry as they would be placed under federal oversight.  The ease of running away from legal problems and allegations of abuse by fleeing a state may no longer offer these people shelter.  This is from Jack Patterson’s own web page:

Please pray about Bill 911. If it passes in the House of Representatives, Bill 911 will destroy the opportunity to help the 13 to 17 young people.

There is nothing in this bill that would keep a Christian school from forming or disrupt reputable Christian schools from functioning – unless your institution requires systematic abuse as part of the curriculum.

The ability for abusive Christian “educators”like Jack Patterson to move on after serious charges – and in some cases convictions  – would be significantly curtailed if HR 911 is passed in the Senate.  I don’t go so far as to say eradicated as the system of regulation would have to be developed.  But this is a major leap forward in getting these people shut down.

One of the places this legislation falls short is in outlining Standards and Enforcement, specifically regarding staffing.  From Sec. 3 (a) Minimum Standards (J):

Each staff member, including volunteers, shall be required, as a condition of employment to submit to a criminal history check, including….the National Sex Offender Registry…a search of the State criminal registry or repository in the state which the covered program [school] is operating.

So far so good, however, this clause goes on to excluded misdemeanors against minors by omission, allowing only felonies to be a roadblock to employment.  In Alabama, where Jack Patterson plead down to harassment – a class C misdemeanor – the state code definition of this charge can include physical abuse such as shoving and kicking (Alabama Code 13a 11-8).

I wanted clarity.  I called Rep. George Miller’s office, the California congressman who sponsored the successful  House bill.   A nice young woman named Calla was able to address my concerns.  First, I wanted to make sure that “private” entity in the definition was applicable to religious organizations.  She assured me that it was covered under “private” program and was subject to the oversight and requirements of this bill.

I then asked her about the omission of a “misdemeanor” disqualifier for hires and volunteers teen homes.  She said that even though misdemeanor is not called out specifically it is inherent in the “criminal history check” language.

To be more specific, I told her about the case of Jack Patterson, briefly.  She assured me his misdemeanor would be cause to disallow him from opening, operating or working at any facility covered by this bill.

I say, better safe than sorry,throw the language in.  Obviously, if some one got a non-violent misdemeanor for say, jay-walking, we wouldn’t want to keep them from being hired.  But what is the harm in qualifying the language to say “violent misdemeanor” or some such thing?   This is a question I plan on asking – somebody – when I find out who the right person is on the Senate side.

Sources, info, etc:

8 thoughts on “HR 911 – moving in the right direction to end Christian school abuse

  1. Wow. This is fantastic news! I will be watching here for developments. This bill should have been done years ago. I can only hope that the bill is strenghtened further as you suggested. I am also concerned about how long the bill will take to pass and implement. Not quick enough for those still suffering. Should I write to my state senators about some of the history of these places, to make sure they have all of the information they need to make the right choice? Is it too early in the process for that? I’m so excited about this. I can only imagine how the survivors must feel at this important news.

  2. Great post and great news, though I just want to jump on my typical soap box briefly to the effect that this is far from just a “Christian” residential program problem. A friend just had a first reading of his play script about his own horrific experiences at a secular residential “treatment” program as a teenager: both physical and emotional abuse, isolation, total lack of legitimate treatment for mental health issues, and a system of intimidation and ridicule that practically required resident kids to lie about what was happening on a regular basis.

    But regardless, thanks, this is wonderful news.

    • Agreed. Secular facilities need to be stopped from abusing children also. The real road block this bill removes is being able to federally regulate religious organizations. That is great news. More needs to be done to any child abuse everywhere, and particularly in these environments where they are supposedly safe.

  3. Does anyone have a good form letter for contacting politicians about this issue? As I am not a victim, I want to be sure to say the right things and point them to the right information. My email address is: bkilner1010@hotmail.com. Please feel free to contact me with any ways in which I can help.

  4. Actually, BelinaK, I have found that alot of politicians already HAVE forms of some sort on their websites for communication with their offices.

  5. if you go to cafety.org they have info on this bill as well, along with video testimony during the house hearings, and much other info. There is also a contact senators page….
    Put the petition up on their page!!!!!!

  6. I would like to be of help with this, I am a victim of the Reclamation Ranch, my father abducted me and sent me there in 2004, the staff all knew exactly how illegal it was to take me, my mother spent 3 weeks in court before she could even find out where I was, it took an additional 2 weeks to have me released. During the time, my mother’s rights where violated, even court ordered rights, my rights were violated, and I endured severe psychological abuse during my 5 weeks there, I was only 14 years old then, I’m nearly 20 now, and it has taken the better part of 6 years just to heal from the pain, I want nothing more, than to see this place, and places like this shut down. If I can be of any help with anything at all, please contact me at Amanda_61590@yahoo.com

    • Hi Amanda – thank you so much for reaching out – I have sent you an email – please feel free to call or email me at the address/number indicated in the email. And, if you haven’t received the email – let me know and I will resend. Best, Ak

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