Owning Them

By Res Peters

Meet the Johnsons. John and Kathy live in Washington. Their thirteen year old daughter, Kim, attends public school. When they discover that Kim is involved in drugs and other illegal activities, the Johnsons ground her.

Kim doesn't like being grounded. Her school counselor informs her that she does not legally have to live at home. Under Washington law, her counselor explains, she can choose to live in a foster home on the basis of conflict with her parents. It is up to 13 year old Kim, not her parents. Kim chooses foster care. Against her parent's wishes, Child Protective Services (CPS) removes Kim from her home.

Steve and Carol Graham also live in Washington. They have a thirteen year old son, Ryan, who is in public school. As a family, they attend church services Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.

Ryan doesn't want to go to church that often. His school counselor informs him that he doesn't have to live at home. He can also choose to live in a foster home on the basis of conflict with his parents. It is up to Ryan, not his parents. Ryan chooses foster care. Against the Graham's wishes, CPS removes Ryan from his home.

For the Johnsons, the court rules that the parents are reasonable in their discipline of Kim and its enforcement. For the Grahams, the court rules that church once per week is sufficient, limiting their family's religious exercise to the judge's standard. In both cases, the court determines that under Washington law, because the child desires removal from the home, the mere existence of disagreement or conflict between the parents and child is a sufficient basis for removal.

Children's wishes are upheld. Parental rights are dismissed according to Washington law.

But if Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has his way, parental rights concerning the education of children will be dismissed in every state in the nation. The Illinois democrat, along with 35 cosponsors, has introduced an amendment to the federal Constitution that would guarantee "the right to a public school education" for all persons. This would not be a parent's right to choose the education of his child. It would be a child's right to determine his own preferred education. If enacted and ratified, this would override all state law to the contrary.

Idaho's current law places the responsibility with the parent to determine the method of education for his child. That right is vested not with the state, nor with the child. But under this proposed amendment, Idaho's parental rights would become ineffective.

Should the child decide that he would prefer to jump on the big yellow bus, the freedom to home or privately educate would be lost. Children, not parents, would be empowered to determine the venue for their education.

This proposed amendment has remained dormant in the House Judiciary Committee under Republican leadership. However, under Democrat leadership, it is expected to be reintroduced and rapidly pushed forward.

Congressman Jackson's proposal is not novel. It echoes the language of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which has already been signed by every member nation except Somalia and the United States.

Now meet the Garcias. Juan and Maria home school their children in Brazil, a signatory of UNCRC. The Garcias have already lost custody of their eight year old son whose grandparents wanted to enroll him in public school. The Garcia's refusal to permit prenatal screening for Maria, and vaccinations for their two year old may cost them imprisonment and further loss of custody. The reason? Because Brazil adopted UNCRC, it is obligated to carry out the provisions of the treaty.

And what must nations who have adopted the treaty ensure for all children?

  1. Government registration and tracking from birth
  2. Right to a public education including federal curriculum prescribing state values
  3. No spanking
  4. Freedom to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds via all media
  5. Freedom of association, thought, conscience, and religion
  6. Right of privacy including abortion

In short, the state becomes legally obligated to resist any effort by the parents to interfere with the child's choices, rights, and freedoms.

Yet, even though our nation has not ratified this treaty, one federal district court has already ruled twice that the treaty is binding on the United States. And although not rising to the level of binding authority by our U.S. Supreme Court, it has been referred to as one factor to be considered in a decision prohibiting states from imposing the death penalty on juveniles.

Children's rights are upheld. Parental rights are dismissed under the UN treaty.

With the popularity of children's rights in our neighboring state, in the halls of Congress, in our federal courts, and now in our U.S. Supreme Court, the aggressive movement toward Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Idaho should be no surprise. But it should be even more alarming. The philosophical roots of the five bills which were narrowly defeated last session can be seen in the provisions of UNCRC. The most far-reaching of last year's bills advocated for state-funded education beginning at birth. The leading expert's testimony in support of the bills detailed at length why children at the youngest ages were much better off in these programs than with their own parents. When asked, "What, then, is the purpose of parents?" this expert could think of no purpose. And yet, this bill was defeated by only one vote.

Why is defeat important? Because in education, the most powerful union in the nation is determined to make what is initially voluntary, ultimately mandatory. With a revamped and comprehensive ECE bill promised for January, and our newly elected legislators inexperienced in assessing the teacher's union, further defeat will be an uphill battle.

The reach of governmental education programs into ever-younger realms, coupled with parallel efforts to give children control over their own destiny, produces a formidable threat to parental rights.

What is the only cure to the creeping demise of parental rights that will trump the power of the legislatures, the Congress, the courts, and the United Nations treaty? An express Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Our federal Constitution provides that treaties which our nation signs and ratifies become an enforceable and binding part of the "highest law of the land." A treaty automatically overrides state constitutions and state statutes, including those which protect home education. It even overrides reserved or implied rights in our federal Constitution. However, it does not override express constitutional rights.

Because parental rights are currently only reserved rights in our Constitution, they will not be protected. The only protection from all such attacks on parental rights would be an express constitutional amendment giving parents the fundamental right to control the upbringing and education of their children. Home School Legal Defense Association intends to introduce precisely such an amendment in Congress early next year. And it will take the sustained efforts of every home schooling family in the nation to gain its passage.

The issue of parental rights extends far beyond who will decide if our children will climb onto the yellow bus. It defines the very core of our existence as families, the right to pass our values and our faith to our children. For the Johnsons it's too late. But for our children the time is now to seize the moment, to declare for all time that the state does not own the children.

Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.

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