As illegitimacy rates soar, so do costs

EMORY (US)—Since the stigma of illegitimacy has largely disappeared, rates of children born out of wedlock and the cost to American taxpayers has skyrocketed, says Emory law professor John Witte Jr.

“Sex may be free,” Witte says. “But children are not.”

In his new book, The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered, Witte argues that government should enforce a “much firmer imposition of ongoing civil responsibility for the care and support of an innocent child born of such conduct.”

This includes aggressive paternity and maternity suits and laws that compel payments of child support for noncustodial parents.

According to the Institute for American Values, 38 percent of all American children are born illegitimate, and illegitimacy rates have doubled since 1975. The cost to taxpayers is $112 billion annually for anti-poverty, criminal justice, education programs, and lost tax revenue.

Witte is the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law, Alonzo L. McDonald Distinguished Professor, and director of Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. The book is a product of the Center’s “Christian Jurisprudence” research project sponsored by the Alonzo L. McDonald Agape Foundation and the Lilly Endowment.

“If the historical doctrine of illegitimacy was a Christian theology of sin run amuck, this new form of illegitimacy is a constitutional theory of sexual liberty run wild,” says Witte.

This doctrine of illegitimacy doesn’t fit the nation’s democratic principles of equality, dignity and justice for all, especially for the innocents, Witte argues. “All persons are created equal,” regardless of their birth status. They are equally entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“No child in a nation with our wealth and values should be left uninsured, undernourished, or poorly educated,” Witte adds.

The United States needs a better organized and advertised state and federal system of holding parents financially accountable for their children, Witte says. “That will do much to deter irresponsible sex and to promote responsible childbearing within marriage.”

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