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© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002
I have a confession to make.
I was once part of a gang of arsonists.
We set fire to a vacant field beside a railroad track. Actually we didn't mean to set the fire, but our little club campfire got away from us.
The fire department arrived in a blaze of sirens and pulled out water hoses to extinguish the burning field.
No houses were endangered, and the fire was quickly doused.
Everything was hunky dory until my mother came home from work. She used a hairbrush and left a lasting impression on me.
It was the last time she ever spanked me. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time. I abandoned fires and grew up to be a law-abiding citizen. (Okay, I sometimes have trouble with speed zones and radar, but I accept the punishment and move on.)
Today, the way some people feel about spankings, my mother would be in custody somewhere. And I would have been in far more trouble.
Jerry Regier, the new director of the Department of Children and Families, is under fire from critics who don't like his personal view of spanking.
Yes, he spanked his four children, and he believes a whack on the behind of a 2-year-old is not child abuse. And he believes parental discipline is an essential part of raising a child.
But he doesn't support whacking a child hard enough to leave welts and bruises behind, he insists.
"Some people have abused children and said, 'God told me to do it,' " Regier said Friday. "That is absolutely wrong. But to characterize as abusers those who believe young children occasionally need a swat . . ."
It would be ludicrous if Florida were to start rounding up every parent who swatted a 2-year-old, Regier says. To say corporal punishment can't be used to an extreme is appropriate, he adds.
"That's why we have a Department of Children and Families," Regier says. "We are dealing with dysfunctional families that aren't applying any principle in a healthy relationship."
There are some settings where corporal punishment is not acceptable, he suggests. Like foster homes.
"I would be very leery about letting foster families use corporal punishment; it's a whole different dynamic," he says.
Some of his critics see Regier's views as extreme. He insists he is not the wild-eyed, right-wing extremist they suggest. He is a Christian who has based his life on certain principles.
He believes in spanking children. He does not believe in beating them until they are black and blue. And he doesn't see his personal beliefs as state policy.
He has shared his life for the past 34 years with a wife who is a nurse working with AIDS patients in Oklahoma City. Yes, she stayed at home when their four children were young but went back to work when the last one entered elementary school.
This does not sound like a radical idea. I suspect a few Democrats have done the same.
Regier believes in the Bible, including those sections on the man being the head of the household. But he notes that the Bible is referring to a relationship in which husband and wife are serving one another.
He believes a strong relationship includes shared decisions. This is not a radical concept. I suspect most marriages work best when decisions are shared. Few of us like dictators.
Many of his views are shared by other public officials, Democrats and Republicans.
To paint Jerry Regier as some sort of weird extremist based on religious essays written years ago is nuts.
Are we going to establish a litmus test of beliefs for everyone who is in public office?
If the average employer asked potential employees about their religious beliefs, lawsuits would be flying everywhere.
I don't really care if Regier thinks the blue sky is green.
If he can take over a deeply troubled department and fix it, he can believe what he likes.