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New DCF chief faces conflicting priorities

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 27, 2002

The first thing you notice about the manifesto co-authored by Florida's new chief of the Department of Children and Families is that it doesn't waffle. You are not left wondering where the group whose philosophy it enumerates, the Coalition of Revival, stands.

It is in that spirit that I do not waffle when I categorically refer to Jerry Regier as co-author, despite his recent denial.

Regier, Gov. Jeb Bush's new DCF secretary, is the second name under the title, and he is listed as co-chairman. The report was copyrighted in 1989 and 1999, which means that Regier had plenty of time and opportunity to get his name removed from the document if he disagreed strongly enough with its content.

Apparently, however, his objections were not strong enough simply as a matter of principle for him to insist his name not be associated with beliefs he did not share. His need for disavowal gained sufficient strength only after Bush appointed him and somebody discovered the "world view" document and noticed that much of its philosophy is inconsistent with the duties of the office to which he was appointed.

Some of it is also inconsistent with the law of the land, but then, what would be the point of having a manifesto that's nothing more than a restatement of the constitution?

So after roughly 13 years of taking credit for co-authorship -- which could have been a plus on his resume when he worked in conservative Oklahoma and for the Reagan and Bush administrations -- Regier is trying to deny his role now that co-authorship is garnering him blame.

Too late.

"Having recognized some of the more extreme interpretations of the Bible that were held by the organization, I severed my relationship approximately one year after the release of this paper," Regier said in a statement issued days after his appointment.

Too little.

That explanation might hold up for someone who heard about the organization, say from a friend, and joined it to get mailings and learn more about it. Perhaps in a case like that it would take a year to learn enough about the "extreme interpretations" to recognize disagreement.

Regier was no curious novice; he was co-chairman.

And it took him a year to learn what his organization stood for?

Is that the swiftness the state needs in the person charged with overseeing the welfare of its children?

Perhaps so under the old standards for gubernatorial appointees, such as Katherine Harris, the chief election official who hadn't bothered to read the statutes on elections. Is it little wonder DCF hasn't been able to get it right?

DCF has been rocked by scandals, largely caused by a lack of accountability and supervision from the chief down to caseworker. Can a man who co-chaired an organization he knew nothing about be trusted to fix that? Perhaps a more relevant question is, should he be allowed to try?

An introductory statement says the document was prepared after "an intensive three-year period of dialogue, critique, editing and finally a consensus conviction." There is little solace in believing Regier was out of the loop on all of that: That defines much of the problem of his predecessors at DCF.

Much in the controversial document, "The Christian World View of the Family," has great potential to interfere with the duties of a DCF chief, all of which the introduction calls "non-negotiable Biblical truths":

For instance, the Coalition affirms that "the husband has the final say in any family dispute, insofar as he does not violate Biblical principles." Can someone who holds, or once held, that view award equal weight to conflicting accounts between husbands and wives? Can a DCF head encourage fair treatment of men and women when the core of his beliefs is that "a man's authority as head of his wife is delegated to him by God; that this means that his legitimate authority over his wife is limited by what God's Word allows him."

The edict does leave women one point to applaud: A husband can't "command his wife to sin."

Additionally, the document does not preach categorically against women working, as has been popularly reported. The wife "may augment the family's income ... by home business" or, in a financial crisis, "may accept temporary outside employment," with the husband's permission, of course.

The 18-page document says the state (acting primarily through agencies such as the one Regier now heads) does not have the right to take parental authority from parents who have not been "convicted of physical child abuse or neglect." Would a DCF chief adhering to that philosophy leave many more children in dangerous homes merely because the creator of that danger is not yet convicted?

The manifesto says Christians should not marry non-Christians, that "no-fault" divorces should not be allowed, that adultery should be the only accepted grounds for divorce, other than desertion, which is considered to be often just another form of adultery.

The organization believes the state should follow no standards beyond those set forth by the Bible for disciplining and teaching children. It also does not accept "the so-called offenses of "emotional neglect,' "emotional abuse,' "educational neglect,' etc." as crimes against children and believes the state should not interfere in neglect cases unless the child's life or health is obviously endangered.

Although the document is full of unpopular, controversial and, some might argue, antiquated views, many seemingly in contradiction of the mission of DCF, I saw nothing in the treatise that indicated conclusively that Regier can't head the agency, even if he believes every word of it.

Adhering steadfastly to those beliefs as head of DCF might make for a shaky, unproductive tenure, but the state has survived such tenures before. People who hold extreme religious views are scattered throughout government and the union still stands.

What casts doubts for me about this man's ability to head the agency effectively is his lack of forthrightness in explaining how he became so deeply aligned with the organization that he became its co-chairman and co-author of its bible. What casts doubts for me is the lack of moral courage to own up to sharing the group's core beliefs -- as reflected by an article solely authored by him and published a year before the coalition's report -- but not perhaps their extreme views.

A blanket denial that claims ignorance does not inspire confidence.

Regier's character and integrity raised more questions than did the Coalition for Revival.

Until I came to the end to a section called "Specific Actions."

Among a list of 12 specific actions to which coalition members are asked to commit themselves, No. 4 seemed particularly relevant: "Urging all Christians to unite at city, state and national levels in opposition to any ungodly attempt by civil government to take over God-ordained parental rights over their own children."

No. 5 urges "taking whatever actions we can, within our Biblical and Constitutional limits, to realign county, state and federal legislation regarding family issues in order to make it conform to the Bible's view of reality and morality..."

The worrisome thought is that Regier may still be an adherent of the group's philosophies, carrying out actions mandated by items Nos. 4 and 5.

The scary thought, though, is that he may become confused about which appointment he's filling.

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