The Legacy of the Stubborn and Rebellious Son

In twentieth century America, as in Biblical ,times, parents unable to subdue their disobedient children are authorized to invoke the coercive power of the state. As recently as 1971, for example, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejected constitutional challenges to the state’s “stubborn child” law, which at the time of its original enactment in 1646 was patterned after the above-quoted verse from Deuteronomy. The court upheld an adjudication that an adolescent girl who refused to submit to a medical examination, used vulgar language, slammed doors, and stayed outside the home “probably talking with the boys,” was a “stubborn child” within the meaning of the statute.