Missouri Lawmakers Finally Pass Bill to Regulate Abuse-Heavy Christians Schools May 13, 2021

Missouri Lawmakers Finally Pass Bill to Regulate Abuse-Heavy Christians Schools

The (Republican-dominated) Missouri legislature has finally done something sensible to rein in private Christian schools that previously had little to no oversight: The State Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would require faith-based boarding schools to register with the state, conduct federal background checks on staffers and volunteers, and comply with fire/health/safety codes. Failure to meet those requirements could result in the school shutting down.

HB 557 will now return to the State House (where it previously passed unanimously) for approval before it goes to Gov. Mike Parson for his signature.

If the bill feels like the bare minimum for any school, you’d be right. It’s only necessary because faith-based schools have been exempt from any kind of regulations or oversight since 1982. A 2003 effort to change that failed after conservative Christians claimed the oversight violated their religious freedom.

So what happened now to remove those obstacles? The main answer is that we learned the truth about what occurred at the “Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School.” Its founders, Boyd Householder and his wife Stephanie, were arrested in March on 102 criminal charges of abuse after their daughter led the charge against them on TikTok, victims shared their stories publicly, and an attorney general decided to take action.

We learned through reporting — including an excellent series by Laura Bauer and Judy L. Thomas of the Kansas City Star — what occurred at that facility over the years:

… Parents and former residents said they reported that Boyd used physical restraints as punishments, placing girls face down for as long as an hour, while he pressed a knee into their necks and other residents were forced to squeeze the target’s pressure points. Boyd, 71, and his wife, Stephanie, 55, withheld food as punishment or if they thought a girl was overweight, and forced children to stand and stare at a wall for hours at a time for days in a row if they didn’t follow the ever-changing rules, the parents and former residents said.

The Missouri Department of Social Services said there were four reports of misconduct at Circle of Hope since 2006 that the agency substantiated: one of neglect, one of physical abuse and neglect, and two regarding sexual abuse.

Last August, two dozen girls were removed from the ranch by law enforcement officials; the Householders chose not to reopen the place. In September, two former residents sued the couple, making allegations of rape against Boyd and saying his wife knew about it but did nothing. There were also additional allegations about their cruelty. That’s what led Attorney General Eric Schmitt to take action himself, leading to the Householders’ arrest in March.

And now the state is finally on the verge of having some basic rules in place to take action against rogue Christian schools without having to jump over countless obstacles. No one’s interfering with religious freedom; they’re simply forcing schools to take basic precautions in the name of student safety. There’s no reason anyone should oppose this.

But naturally, because we’re talking about Republicans, there was opposition:

“I know that we’re trying to go after the bad actors, and I appreciate that,” said Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg. “But I think sometimes our legislation, though, has unintended consequences. … Many of these facilities operate on shoestring budgets and by putting some additional regulations and paperwork burdens on them then they may not be able to serve as many kids because of some of those extra costs.”

If the people running these schools can’t fill out basic paperwork, conduct background checks, or make sure the buildings are safe, they shouldn’t be operating these schools. Hoskins cares more about potential Christian cruelty than mandatory student safety.

Thank goodness he was outnumbered.

Missouri is one of only two states (along with South Carolina) where faith-based schools are exempt from licensing requirements, allowing them to ignore any regulations. That number could soon be whittled down to one.

The legislation is necessary. As it stands, there’s no way of knowing how many of these schools even exist, much less who works there or how many children live there. Yelling “Jesus” shouldn’t give anyone immunity against basic oversight.

(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)

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