Alecia Faith Pennington (Faith) did not officially exist until she was nineteen. Faith’s conservative, religious parents, Lisa and James, raised their nine children on the family farm just outside Kerrville, Texas, and kept their family as self-sufficient and separate from the rest of the world as possible.
The family was very insular; the parents home schooled all of the children, and the family rarely left their home, with the rare exception of going to church. Lisa and James also prohibited their children from using the Internet until they were eighteen, at which point they were only allowed limited access to websites their parents deemed safe and appropriate. According to Faith, her parents created this closed-off world for their children because they wanted to keep “sinful” things away from their kids. The children were not allowed to argue with their parents, and they grew up dutifully obeying this rule.
Faith, the fourth-born child describes herself as more “stubborn” and “free-spirited” than her siblings. When she was eighteen, she decided she and her siblings had “no future” and that she needed to get away. She used her WiFi compatible iPod to text her grandparents and ask them to take her home with them the next time they came to visit the farm. A week later, Faith became the first Pennington child to disobey her parents and leave home. Faith said she found the strength to leave because she “knew it was the right thing to do” and because she needed to take control of her own life. Once she gained exposure to life outside the Pennington farm, Faith wanted to assimilate. However, her upbringing had affected not only her social ability to blend in with her peers but also her legal ability to do so. Lisa Pennington gave birth to all of her children at home, and she and James intentionally chose midwives who agreed not to file records of the children’s births. As a result, Faith and her siblings did not have birth certificates or Social Security numbers. The Pennington children had never been to a hospital, seen a doctor, or been enrolled in formal school, so there was no public record of their existence. Faith’s parents’ decision not to report their children’s births left Faith and her eight siblings without any legal identity and invisible to local, state, and federal governments.
This lack of legal identity left them unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, attend college, or vote. Although Faith’s case is unique, it raises broader state and federal law questions because procedures do not exist to resolve similar issues in which parents’ right to make choices for their children directly conflicts with those children’s current and future interests.
This Note seeks to explore and analyze the balance between children’s rights and parental autonomy and to propose a plan for Georgia courts to provide clarity on this issue of parental decisions infringing upon children’s liberties. Part I of this Note provides an overview of the legal issues in Faith’s case, current law relating to children’s rights, the broader philosophical concept of parents’ obligation to preserve an “open future” for their children, and issues of family privacy. Part II examines cases and examples of clashes between family autonomy and children’s rights, as well as state legislation passed in an attempt to provide guidance in solving this problem. Finally, Part III contains a proposal for Georgia courts to address the imbalance between parental and child autonomy.
Big Brother Is Watching: When Should Georgia Get Involved In Issues of Family Privacy to Protect Children’s Liberties?,
Ga. St. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/gsulr/vol34/iss3/7