We all remember the story of David and Goliath. Even non-Christians use it as a metaphor to describe the plight of the underdog, or the little guy standing up to the bully. Monday, we’ll compare that metaphor to my grandmother’s saying that you can’t fight city hall, and we’ll see which one wins.
At 8 o’clock, the House Judiciary Committee will hear House Bill 21, a bill to require church affiliated youth treatment programs to come under state control and regulation even if they don’t accept any public dollars. Since there are only a couple of programs in the entire state that qualify, this is truly a David and Goliath moment, and we’ll be there to make sure that Goliath doesn’t win.
The focus of the effort is Pinehaven Christian Children’s ranch in St Ignatius. The ranch began in 1984, and takes troubled kids from across the U.S. In addition to school and the normal treatment programs that one would expect, Pinehaven’s beautiful working ranch setting teaches kids responsibility and a work ethic. They also learn how to appreciate God’s creation under the splendor of the Big Sky.
After an unfortunate series of events including an assault on a student that resulted in a conviction and prison sentence for an employee, and another in which a student ran away in the middle of winter and then froze to death, there were calls to regulate the ranch even though Pinehaven was cleared of wrongdoing. And while the safety of the kids has to be first and foremost, it’s also important to remember that these kids were sent to Pinehaven in the first place because they have some challenges.
The premise behind House Bill 21 is that the state can manage these programs better and more safely than a private entity such as a church. We oppose the bill first because that premise is flawed, but mainly because it’s patently unconstitutional. When the bill was drafted we pulled the records for Pinehills, which is Montana’s state youth correction facility in Miles City, and found that many of the problems that existed at pine haven also existed at Pinehills. The argument can be made that many of these problems are inherent to the nature of the business when you’re dealing with troubled teens. Remember, Pinehaven was cleared of any wrongdoing, but they did make changes to lessen the chances of events like this happening in the future.
The main reason we oppose the bill is that it violates both the establishment clause and the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. If allowed to become law, it would immediately be challenged in court. With regard to the establishment clause, the state is trying to tell Pinehaven what constitutes a true church youth home, saying in effect that if a youth home is owned and operated by a denomination or group of churches, then it’s not quote “churchy” enough, for lack of a better term.
If the church treatment facility is being run in accordance with church doctrine, and the state steps in and says no you have to use our counseling program, then the state runs afoul of the first amendment. We also need to remember the words of the ninth circuit court of appeals in the Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church Case, where the court said that small incursions on freedom are to be resisted, lest they grow greater. Both of these cases involved the First Amendment, both cases involved attempted incursions by the state of Montana, and Pinehaven, just like Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, must resist these incursions lest they grow greater.
It’s one small ranch against the state of Montana, but we know how it tuned out when David fought Goliath.