1984 and the End of Freedom

George Orwell’s 1948 dystopian novel 1984 portrays a civilization pervaded by thought police with a populace under constant surveillance, a totalitarian world where ordinary citizens are expected to report anyone who expresses ideas or thoughts that run contrary to the accepted way of thinking as set forth by the Ministry of Truth.  Any miscreants are ruthlessly punished for their “thought crimes,” and no effort is spared to root out and destroy the underground resistance movement.

A bill introduced into the Illinois General Assembly might have been taken straight from the pages of 1984.  After laying out a long list of virtually every conceivable profession that involves human interaction—from school e          mployees to public health workers to homemakers— an astounding list of over 80 professions – the bill demands that any possible infraction be reported to the “Department of State Police.”

If the proposed legislation was only about reporting serious crimes, it would have the sympathy of most Americans.  However, throughout the bill the ambiguous term “neglect” appears again and again, a term which can mean virtually the slightest deprivation of anything a child is deemed to “need.”  And apparently, under this legislation parents no longer decide what is right or wrong for their children.

Even more alarming, the legislation constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  Under the guise of “openness” and “transparency,” the bill threatens to put an end to a cherished tradition that is a vital ministry of American churches: the privileged confidentiality between pastors and congregants who seek them out for counseling.   It essentially destroys the ability of pastors, religious counselors, psychologists, and church-based ministries to perform their duties while protecting the privacy of their parishioners.

The legislation is very clear about this: “Under no circumstances shall any person in charge of such institution, school, facility or agency, or church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or other religious institution, or his designated agent to whom such notification has been made, exercise any control, restraint, modification or other change in the report or the forwarding of such report to the Department (of State Police).”  A provision that a member of the clergy may claim the privilege of confidentially was deliberately struck from the legislation.

But this 1984 house of horrors has one final attack to make upon people of faith.  It then addresses prayer, notably parents who seek Divine help in the healing of illness: “A child whose parent, guardian or custodian in good faith selects and depends upon spiritual means through prayer alone for the treatment or cure of disease or remedial care may be considered neglected or abused.”  Thus, praying for the healing of one’s child is “abuse,” especially if one does not immediately rush the child to the doctor or hospital.

It is hoped that the good people of Illinois – those of a plethora of faiths, as well as all who cherish religious freedom – will put a quick end to this blatant attack upon religion.  1984, in fact, served as a brilliantly depicted warning against just what the Illinois legislator is attempting to do.