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)