Does God endorse spanking, slapping, striking, and paddling of kids – and should misbehaving disabled students be on the receiving end?
That's a heated topic of debate in Oklahoma, where activists are continuing a campaign to ban the physical punishment of disabled children in classrooms.
However, the movement has been met with strong pushback from one group in particular: evangelical Christians.
Christian lawmakers argue that scripture endorses striking children for discipline – even the mentally and physically disabled. And they've got receipts, they say.
Don’t Spare the Rod
When Oklahoma state Rep. John Talley brought forward a bill to ban corporal punishment for disabled students last year, he thought it would be a slam dunk. Oklahoma is one of only a handful of states where corporal punishment against disabled students is still legal, and he thought this would be an easy, bipartisan win all his colleagues could get on board with.
That was not entirely accurate.
To the surprise of many, certain lawmakers rallied against the bill.
Among them was Oklahoma Rep. Jim Olsen, who cited scripture to back up his claim that the rod should not be spared.
"God’s word is higher than all the so-called experts,” Olsen proclaimed. “Several scriptures could be read here. Let me read just one, Proverbs 29: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame,’” he offered. “So that would seem to endorse the use of corporal punishment.”
Despite some religious opposition, the bill eventually passed in the Oklahoma House, but failed to make it to the Senate because it was pushed during a week when numerous legislators were out of town.
Now, nearly a year later, a child advocacy group wants to give it another shot.
Within Striking Distance
"We've gotta find a way to make sure that corporal punishment is not used on these kids, certainly the ones that don't understand why they're being punished," explains Joe Dorman, CEO of The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Dorman says that legislators are concerned that too many children might be spared the rod.
"Some of the legislative leadership were worried that students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, too many kids would qualify. One concern was children with dyslexia. Well, I might argue with that, that children shouldn't receive corporal punishment if they're dyslexic,” he says.
Still, the crux of the issue largely remains a religious one. On that front, people of faith in the legislature are divided on whether corporal punishment is biblical.
The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. John Talley, is himself a minister. Talley fought back against the notion that every Old Testament law must be adhered to.
“Why don’t we follow all the other Old Testament laws? There’s about 4,000 of them, and one of them is to not allow wives to wear jewelry, or stone your child if they’re disobedient. Why don’t we do that? Because we pick and choose what we want to follow,” Talley insists.
The Literal Bible Belt
What do you think? Per the Department of Education, which actually tracks reports of physical discipline of students, nearly 70,000 children were struck in school during the 2017-2018 school year (the last time they reported data).
Do tens of thousands of children – including disabled children – deserve to be struck by teachers and school staff?
Is there a biblical basis for corporal punishment? And if so, would that justify its use – or does it constitute child abuse, as critics allege?