Home schoolers across the nation have united to draft and lobby for recognition of parental rights. Few Americans are more aware of the importance of parental rights, or of the callous disregard that courts and state agencies show parents. Nineteen ninety-six is seeing a dramatic change as well-organized home school groups across the country push parental rights legislation forward.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long held parental rights to be primary in American law. "This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition." Wisconson v. Yoder, 406 U. S. 205 (1972). But home schoolers, who have fought for the right to direct the education of their children in state courts, have seen how often courts have ruled against parents while the U.S. Supreme Court stood by and did nothing. The Court that was willing to protect "important" constitutional rights, like the free exercise of religion, found it unnecessary to support parents. When parents relied on the free exercise of religion, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Michigan had no power to force them to use a state certified teacher for their children, since the state had been unable to prove that this was necessary to achieve a compelling state goal. People v. DeJonge, 501 N.W.2d 127 (Mich. 1993). When another family challenged the same laws of violation of parental rights, however, the Court rejected the challenge, holding that mere parental rights could be infringed by any rule that was rationally directed toward a legitimate state purpose. People v. Bennett, 501 N.W.2d 106 (Mich. 1993).
Parents with children in public schools were shocked when they found how little courts cared about parental rights. In Texas, public school parents sued the state to be permitted to see the questions on the TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) test. Plaintiffs argued that the TAAS test inappropriately pries into the value system of children. A Texas federal district court ruled in favor of the parents, holding that the parents had a right to direct the education of their children which guaranteed them access to these tests. The Texas Attorney General filed an appeals brief, attacking this decision. Dan Morales, the Attorney General, argued, "Virtually every court that has specifically considered the issue has found the right to direct the education and upbringing of your child is not a 'fundamental' right within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Appellant's Brief, TEA v. Maxwell, No. 14-95-00474-CV (Fifth Circuit, 1995).
Parents in Indiana challenged the same kind of state testing, with even worse results. When Ramona Mays demanded the right to see the questions in the IPASS test, the state court ruled that parents had no right to direct the education of their children. Irate Indiana parents drafted legislation to fix this miscarriage of justice, including Indiana House Bill No. 1346. This 14-page bill includes a final article on parental rights which is taken word-for-word from the federal Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act drafted by Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Indiana's parental rights legislation is not alone. Nineteen other states have filed parental rights statutes for proposed constitutional amendments. HSLDA's own Mike Farris is chairman of Virginia's parental rights amendment committee, which is working with a national organization called "Of the People." But Indiana is the first house to see dramatic forward progress in parental rights legislation.
On Thursday, February 1, Indiana's house held its third reading of House Bill 1346. The final vote in the lower chamber was 70-30. This marks the first dramatic evidence of the power of parental rights legislation in the political sphere. (The bill now moves to the Indiana Senate and the hearing is tentatively scheduled for mid-February.)
But Indiana's legislators are not the only ones to realize how important parental rights legislation is politically. One hundred and twenty-four U.S. Representatives have signed on to H.R. 1946, the federal Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act. Virginia's Governor George Allen made a major splash in the New York Times by endorsing parental rights legislation. Senator Bob Dole is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 984—the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act.
Broad recognition of parental rights is not a political given, however. A number of well-organized groups fiercely oppose enforceable rights for parents. Chief among these are the Child Protective Services workers and teachers' unions. CPS workers fear that express recognition of parental rights will make it more difficult to investigate child abuse. Clear protection of parental rights will make it more difficult to destroy families, but should not impede any constitutionally conducted investigation of criminal activity. Teachers' unions appear to be afraid that parents will try to have a greater say in their children's public school experience. It is ironic that the same groups who complain about the lack of parental involvement should actively oppose legislation designed to increase parental involvement.
The organized opposition to parental rights, however, is no match for the increasingly well-organized forces that support it. Home schoolers lead the charge, to a unique degree. Never before in American history has there been such a large, well-organized group of politically organized parents. Home schoolers know that democracy works.
Indiana's parental rights legislation now moves to the Senate and home schoolers and their friends across America will be watching the fate of this bill with great interest.
[CAPTION] The Kafoure Family at the Indiana capitol: (left-right) Solomon, Esther, Elizabeth, Doug, Jonathan, Donna, Sarah, and Abraham.