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The so-called "right to privacy" is a hot-button issue in many modern societies, and within that discussion, the question of a child's right to privacy is often raised. Christians take positions in the debate, and at least sometimes point to the Bible to make their case. Evangelical author Edward T. Welch writes:

Scripture seems to lean in the direction of rejecting the concept of privacy in the parent-child relationship. (Addictions, 95)

Welch doesn't provide any explicit biblical support for this claim, so my question is: what is the biblical basis against the idea of a child's right to privacy in relation to their parents?

Here I am talking about children who are legal minors living with their parents, and I'm specifically asking about their privacy within the parent-child relationship. The question of a child's privacy within the church or society at large is a separate issue. I'm also focusing on the question of a right to privacy, not whether it is biblical for parents to give their child privacy in certain situations.

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  • Seems to me it follows from the parental responsibility to raise up a child in the way he should go. How could parents parent their children if there were a wall of privacy around them? Not sure if that is too simplistic or if it answers your question.
    – Kevin
    Aug 16 at 19:27
  • I'm not sure that a biblical argument exists for one side or the other. A so-called "right to privacy" is a modern idea, and not one that ancient writers were concerned with.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 23 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

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Arguments against a child's right to privacy

In relation to one's parents, the biblical opposition to a child's right to privacy is indirect. However several scriptural passages support parental authority and imply that a child's right to privacy is invalid if the child's behavior is sinful . The scripture which most dramatically opposes the right to a child's privacy may be the Deut. 21:18-21:

  • If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

Here the idea of a child's right to privacy is negated in the most drastic terms possible. A son who persistently sins through rebellion and drunkenness is not only a shame to his parents; he also infects the community with evil. Exposing his sin and harshly punishing him provides a much needed moral example.

Similarly, the Bible holds that incestuous sexual sins committed by children, even in private, should be punished harshly. In some cases these sins may refer to adult children, but that is not specified. In Leviticus 18 we read:

  • You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, ... Whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people.

Such sins may be committed by children as well as adults, even though committed in private, were thought to compromise the holiness of God's people and must be exposed and purged.

Several other behaviors fall into this category: notably bestiality (Exodus 22:19), homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), and fornication (various verses). However it should be noted that these scriptures specifies how the law applies to children and we know of no example of a child being exposed or punished for the sins described.

In the New Testament, Luke 12:3-4 states:

  • Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

This saying of Jesus apparently pertains to children as well as adults, so it too provides a basis against the right to a child's privacy.

Finally an argument against a child's right to privacy may be gleaned the commandment to "Honor your father and mother," for a child does no honor to his parents by keeping secrets from them.

Arguments in favor of a child's right to privacy

On the other hand, the Bible can also be used to imply a right to privacy from one's parents on some issues. Here are a few references from which one could derive such a right.

  • Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 9:13-14)

One could argue from this that children should not be prevented by their parents from seeking spiritual counsel, especially from a religious leader who may be seen as representing Jesus.

Another verse which might be used to argue for a right to privacy from parents is this:

  • If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

God is the supreme authority, even above parents. So a child is free to search from God without their parents' advice if that advice is perceived to be a hindrance. In adolescence, if one's parents oppose one's religious faith or practice, the parents' authority is superseded by the call to discipleship. One way of dealing with such a conflict may be to keep one's commitment private. In the same vein, one could appeal to Matthew 6:6

  • When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Admittedly, in context this is an admonition to avoid public shows of piety, but the fact that Jesus counseled private prayer could be used in support of a child's right to private prayer regardless of parental preferences.

Finally, we have the general direction to "love God and love our neighbor as ourselves" (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). From this we can derive virtually all moral and legal rights. When we consider issues such as child abuse by parents it is not a stretch to apply this dictum to children. If I were a child who feared abuse by my parent for certain behaviors and beliefs, I would want to keep those behaviors and beliefs secret. Therefore I should also extend a right of privacy to others in the same position, even children.

Thus, the bible contains ample support both for and against a child's right to privacy. In the end, perhaps we should hope for a return (or third coming in Christian tradition?) of the prophet Elijah:

  • Behold, I will send you Eli′jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)
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  • "One could argue from this that children should not be hindered by their parents", but it wasn't the parents that were hindering the children. It was the disciples that were hindering the parents. Aug 18 at 21:13
  • "If anyone comes to me" doesn't refer to a minor. Aug 18 at 21:17
  • It seems you are arguing the wrong side. The OP is asking for the Biblical basis against a child's right to privacy, so indirectly giving the right to the parents to give the child the level of privacy the parents deem appropriate for their own kids. Please edit this to reflect the OP, otherwise it will eventually be deleted per C.SE rules. Aug 23 at 18:18
  • that's what I get for not reading the question carefully! Let me see if I can rescue it... Would it be acceptable if I gave the argument against a child's right to privacy equal time? Aug 23 at 18:21
  • @DanFefferman Yes, opposing points are okay as long as the viewpoint asked for in the OP is covered as well. Also, you don't have to believe it; for example, a non-Catholic can write a Catholic answer. Aug 23 at 18:56
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The Biblical interpretation of the commandment to "honor your father and mother" has an application in the New Testament to the role of positive parenting. A child's right to conditional privacy is presupposed in the context of how they are to be brought up in spiritual formation and discipline:

Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)

The language suggests a faith-infused environment where children are given space to grow. Smothering a child, by not allowing them much privacy, might very well provoke resentment within that child's psyche. 1 Timothy 5:8 speaks of financial support, but it also could be extended to that of providing emotional support that money can't buy:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Something else should be said about the rights of parents to raise their children without interference from others. Does the right to parental privacy trump a child's right to privacy?

For example, it's important to consider wether the question of negating the right of child privacy allows for infanticide in or out of utero. Tacitus (56-118 A.D.) writes about the Jewish faith viewing the privacy rights of children in regard to the right to life (emphasis added):

...the Jews see to it that their numbers increase. It is a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child, note [Infanticide was a common practice among the Greeks and Romans.] and they think that eternal life is granted to those who die in battle or execution - hence their eagerness to have children, and their contempt for death.

However, there is some push back arguing that Evidence Does Not Support ‘Common’ Infanticide in Ancient Rome.

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  • Good points about how a parent should give space and privacy to their children, but it doesn't really answer the question: biblical basis against a child's right to privacy. Aug 23 at 18:20
  • Ephesians 6:4 merely states parents are to bring up Children in the faith and with the use of the word discipline suggest a more intrusive approach. You are reading too much into the verse, consider Dan's exhaustive answer.
    – Glorius
    Aug 24 at 11:39

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