This is a disturbing story on several levels.
A Pennsylvania couple have named their children after Nazi figures, including naming their three year old son after Adolf Hitler. The parents wanted Shoprite to inscribe a cake with his full name for his birthday party. The store refused. Now the parents are outraged. The Warren County (NJ) Express-Times went in depth. Here are some excerpts:
HOLLAND TWP. | In a living room decorated with war books, German combat knives and swastikas, a 2-year-old boy, blond and blue-eyed, played with a plastic dinner set.
The boy, asked his name, put down a tiny plate and ran behind his father’s leg. He flashed a shy smile but wouldn’t answer. Heath Campbell, 35, the boy’s father, encouraged him.
“Say Adolf,” said Campbell, a Holocaust denier who has three children named for Nazism.
Again, the boy wouldn’t answer. It wasn’t the first time the name caused hesitation.
Adolf Hitler Campbell — it’s indeed the name on his birth certificate — turns 3 today, and the Campbell family believes the boy has been mistreated. A local supermarket refused to make a birthday cake with “Adolf Hitler” on it.
The ShopRite rationale, while somewhat vague, reserved their right to decide what was appropriate for them to do. Wal-Mart accommodated the request.
Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman, said the grocer tries to meet customer requests but rejects those deemed inappropriate. “We believe the request to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate,” she said.
The grocer offered to make a cake with enough room for the Campbells to write their own inscription. But the Campbells refused, saying they would have a cake made at the Wal-Mart in Lower Nazareth Township. The Campbells say Wal-Mart made cakes for Adolf’s first two birthdays.
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said the store won’t put anything illegal or profane on a cake but thinks it’s important to respect the views of customers and employees.
“Our No. 1 priority in decorating cakes is to serve the customer to the best of our ability,” Anna Taylor, the spokeswoman, said from Bentonville, Ark.
Could the Campbell’s have a discrimination case here?
If the Campbells have a legal case over the refusal, it would be that the family was denied service because of race, ethnicity or religion, said Shannon Powers, of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, a state agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws.
The Campbells, she said, would have to prove ShopRite didn’t make a reasonable attempt to provide service it provides others. She said the offer to make a cake with room for an inscription would probably count as a reasonable attempt.
“It sounds like they (the supermarket) don’t want to offend other patrons or do something offensive to their own sensibilities. If that’s the motivation, that’s totally different from discrimination,” Powers said.
What planet are these people living on?
The Campbells have swastikas in each room of their home, the rented half of a one-story duplex just outside Milford, a borough in Hunterdon County. They say they aren’t racists but believe races shouldn’t mix.
The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn’t expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don’t expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school.
“I just figured that they’re just names,” Deborah Campbell said. “They’re just kids. They’re not going to hurt anybody.”
Heath Campbell said some people like the names but others are shocked to hear them. “They say, ‘He (Hitler) killed all those people.’ I say, ‘You’re living in the wrong decade. That Hitler’s gone,'” he said.
“They’re just names, you know,” he said. “Yeah, they (Nazis) were bad people back then. But my kids are little. They’re not going to grow up like that.”
This is lunacy – or feigned innocence. Of course, this is going to be a problem for the children. A local psychologist weighs in…
Robert M. Gordon, a clinical psychologist in Allentown, said the names would hurt the children.
“Certainly society is going to be hostile towards those kids, especially when they go to school,” Gordon said.
More than that, he said, the children would be harmed by their parents’ views.
“By the time they get to school, they will already have been damaged,” Gordon said. “Any parent that would impose such horrific names on their children is mentally ill, and they would be affecting their children from the day they were born. Only a crazy person would do that.”
I cannot diagnose via a news report but as a former court appointed custody evaluator, I can speculate that one might have to rule out a psychiatric condition in a case like this. The remainder of the article gives a glimpse into the sad emotional state of the family.
We live in a society that values freedom and so we wrestle with situations like this. It is clear that these kids are at risk for social stigma. But parents have rights to raise children in accord with their view of the world. If we intervene here, then where will such interventions stop? However, the state has a role in preventing harm to citizens, and in this case to citizens who cannot protect themselves. Probably, I would advocate some mandated sessions with a counselor or mediator.
I started this post yesterday, and since then it has made the international press with USA Today and the UK’s Guardian picking it up. Not much in the way of analysis in these articles where it seems mostly treated as an oddity.