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  Sunday, August 01, 2004
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Mandatory mental screenings are a bad idea

Times Columnist

This story ran on on Sunday, August 1, 2004 12:04 AM CDT

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The state of Illinois has completed a round of public forums discussing mandatory mental health screening for pregnant women and children through age 18. It's a program that would take control of the mental state of most Illinois residents. It also may be subverted to the whims of Illinois' corrupt political machine and crush the state's already bloated budget.

The Illinois Legislature must be considering a mandatory mental health screening program because the state's budget is balanced so well. We must have such a huge cash surplus that we need to add yet another social program that will involve so many, but benefit so few.

Illinois' state budget for fiscal year 2004 only increased by $300 million. This was an improvement over last year's $2 billion increase. At least we have state expenses under control.

Despite facing a $1 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2003, Gov. Rod Blagojevich distributed millions of dollars during a spending spree in February of this year. He dropped millions of dollars of pork throughout Illinois. This included $6.5 million for a gay community center on Chicago's North Side. It's OK, though, because Blago was just honoring former Gov. George Ryan's commitment. It's not like he has a gay activist sister-in-law that may have influenced his decision.

Chicago's gay cultural center will provide a safe haven for homosexuals in the Chicago area. Tom Tunney, the only openly gay Chicago alderman, said it would provide the safety he didn't have as a gay youth. Apparently the age of consent in Chicago is lower than the rest of the state.

While financially laughable, compulsory mental health screening poses serious threats to our Constitutional rights.

Program parameters are currently vague because regulations are waiting to be written. I discussed the issue with a well-published Constitutional law scholar, Brannon Denning, associate professor, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University.

"Apparently, the schools are just required to develop tools for identifying and handling children with mental health problems and the state has appropriated money to provide testing for children through 18," Denning said. "The devil, of course, is in the details and one might wonder who within the Board of Education is charged with 'incorporat[ing] social and emotional standards as part of the Illinois Learning Standards' and what criteria are to be used.

"There is, of course, a separate question about the medicalization of behavioral disorders, the medicating of children, and whether children aren't really learning because there's an epidemic of undiagnosed mental illness plaguing the population, but those are somewhat apart from the substance of the bill itself."

Consider who will determine the requirements for mandatory universal psychological evaluation. I have five children. Three ran the public school gauntlet, and my two youngest are enrolled in a parochial school. Based on these experiences, there seems to be a preponderance of liberals in control of public education. They have no problem espousing leftist or anti-American viewpoints, while slanting curriculum against conservative politicians or ideals. Falling test scores and overly inflated education budgets seem to be the most notable results of our public school system. Now we will trust our children's mental health to them as well.

Government entities will assume the authority of establishing its own criteria of "healthy" norms, regardless of individual religious, ethnic, racial or cultural backgrounds. Leftists designing mental health parameters can easily institute the worst forms of politically correct junk-science-induced cultural re-engineering programs. Children will be subjected to the whims of petty, small-minded school district administrators with a newly acquired God-like control of their future.

The proposed program will require schools to collect and report information about student social and emotional development and the social climate of the school. Who will control the value system that judges this climate? Public school officials already dislike Christian ideals and feel conservatives are filled with hate. Social engineers will have the ability to knock down every individualistic aspect of a child's personality to create a system of automatons ready for programming.

Maybe I'm being too cynical about this proposed mental health screening program. I'm sure it would be run at least as well as the Department of Children and Family Services. It's not like the department has ever returned children to abusive homes where they were eventually murdered. State mental health experts and case workers have done such fine work in the past.

Mental health records are the most sensitive of all medical records. Medical privacy will disappear. Since this is a state-mandated program, school administrators, case workers and a host of state bureaucrats will all have access to the most private thoughts and feelings expressed by our wives, daughters and children. It will be impossible to ensure confidentiality because none will exist.

Mandatory mental evaluation does have its political advantages. What better way to attack your opponents than through their wives and children? They could even send in their cultural re-engineering shock troops to twist what small children say into reprehensible allegations of vice and abuse.

As an extreme point, the Soviet Union regularly declared dissidents to be insane and could legally justify sending them to re-education camps. I don't think this would happen in the United States immediately, but it would give incumbents some pretty good political leverage over challengers. Maybe that's why this has been proposed by a Democratically proposed Illinois government.

The proposed program requires psychological screening for 18-year-olds and adult pregnant women. What about their right to determine what happens to their bodies? Or minds? This requirement is contrary to every abortion-supporting liberal argument. Since when were liberal programs based on logic?

This program will ultimately strike at our Constitutional guarantees of free speech, free expression and independent thought. At least you can pick any political flavor you want -- as long as it's vanilla.

Lee Enokian's column solely represents the opinion of the writer and not necessarily that of The Times. His columns appear each Sunday. Enokian welcomes comments by email at


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Mandatory mental screenings are a bad idea



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