Father's Love, Child's Rights

The federal raid to rescue Elian Gonzalez was an unfortunate but necessary action to show where the United States stands on the supreme social importance of nurturing parental love.

With Elian now returned to his only parent, it's helpful to consider the significance of this national drama with these time-measure comparisons:

*For 41 years, dictator Fidel Castro has ruled so harshly that many Cubans have felt forced to flee to Florida on rickety boats.

*For five months, a little Cuban boy, who reached the US and was put under temporary guardianship of relatives, was caught in a political and legal tug of war, driven by Cuban-American hatred of Castro.

*For nine days, the boy was held as a political hostage by relatives in Miami who defied clear US law on parental rights by not handing him over.

*In three minutes, US agents took the boy, after being denied access to the relatives' house and needing to brandish guns for fear of armed resistance.

*In seconds, Elian rebonded with his loving father - as a six-year-old would - and can now rebuild a family.

That last point, the one with the shortest time, was the whole point.

A parent-child relationship is paramount. It's a reflection of spiritually based love everyone has a right to. Laws are written to support a social consensus that this primal bond not be broken.

In Elian's case, if father and son had not been reunited, any US parent might have had cause to fear the government could take a child.

It's especially worrisome that Vice-President Al Gore, who may be the next president, thought there was a choice about where Elian should go even after his own government found the father to be a loving parent. Fortunately, his boss thought otherwise.

With the father's backing, Attorney General Janet Reno made the correct legal call to prevent the relatives from using the boy for their own interests and to order a rescue.

The imminent threat of a forceful retaking was made clear to the relatives, but still they kept the boy, hiding him in a closet while supporters attacked US agents.

Those who wanted Elian to stay with the Miami relatives put "the best interests of the child" ahead of basic parental rights. Their line of reasoning has become more prevalent in recent decades as the US has adopted well-meaning causes - from racial integration to government-mandated medical care to, in this case, anti-communism - that appear to justify state intervention in families.

Even the cause of granting asylum now ensnares Elian's father. The relatives had Elian sign an asylum request. A federal appeals court took that sentiment of a six-year-old seriously - once again, in the child's best interests - and ordered him to stay in the US for a hearing rather than follow his father home to Cuba.

We hope the court sees a parent's love for a child as the supreme law.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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