This Week’s Trenton Musings….
Trenton Musings: Making Sense of the Canning Lawsuit
This week, all eyes are on Lincoln Park in one of the weirdest family news stories in memory. 18-year-old Rachel Canning has left home and is suing her parents for outstanding private high school tuition and money to go to college. Her parents say she moved out when she turned 18; she says she was kicked out. But both parties agree that the point of conflict was her parents’ 1:30 a.m. curfew, chores, and their disapproval of her boyfriend. She is currently living in the household of former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, whose daughter is her friend, and who is paying for her lawsuit (the lawsuit also demands that the Cannings pay his legal fees if the case succeeds).
The comment sections in news articles have been nearly unanimous in condemning Rachel’s ingratitude—after all, fights over chores, curfew, and boyfriends are often (unfortunately) considered the stuff of teen parenting. It does seem that she has no awareness that money is never free; parents attach strings in love, and it just goes downhill from there. Her claims against her parents are vague, and do not appear to hold up against her parents’ version of the story.
Judge Peter Bogaard denied Rachel’s emergency request for child support on Tuesday, postponing any ruling until their next court date. Her father was quoted as saying at the trial, “No matter what she says, no matter what she says, we want everybody to know, we still love our daughter. We are embarrassed by the choices she’s making. We wish she wasn’t making the choices she’s making, but she is making them, but we still love our daughter.”
Judge Bogaard should tread very carefully in his next ruling. The growing argument for parental rights contends that parents’ rights do not primarily override children’s rights, although they may conflict with children’s desires; parents’ rights primarily override interference by the state, except in extreme cases, such as abuse and neglect. Neither abuse nor neglect are apparent in this case, and opening family disputes for state interference for other reasons could gravely threaten the cohesion and stability of the family unit, and the primacy of a parent’s right to determine the best interests of their child.
On the same principle, the Cannings could consider taking legal action against Mr. Inglesino for his role in escalating a private dispute. Although we have no indication that anything sinister is taking place, his involvement in the case is grossly improper by itself. One does not simply wade into family conflicts and separate a girl from her parents.
If you were to take all of our policy positions at the Family Policy Council and boil them down to one statement, it would be as follows: The logic of individualism has got to stop somewhere. And we think it should stop long before it gets to this kind of pass. The human person is made for love—not simply for a materialistic concept of “rights” that may be counted out like currency. Just as we are not designed to be ruled by large clans, we are not intended to live as a law unto ourselves. We are born with freedom and obligations, and the family is the only natural place where we learn to manage both in love.
At the root of it, this case is astonishing. We side with the parents, who have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their child. Their hard work to send their child to a private high school and then to provide tuition for a college education is not a right, it is a privilege. Privileges can be taken away for bad behavior…try driving while intoxicated and you’ll probably lose your driver’s license. We rest our case!