On November 5th, Colorado voters surprisingly defeated a proposed parental rights amendment (PRA) to their state constitution by a margin of 42% for, 58% against. The exact language would have asserted that parents have the natural, essential, and inalienable right to direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children.
The effort to pass a PRA began in early 1995 when state representative Mark Paschall of Arvada aligned with the Virginia-based parental rights advocacy group, Of The People. The initial plan was to pass a resolution in the General Assembly to place the question on the November 1996 ballot. Paschall soon realized that this approach was unlikely to succeed. Therefore, several conservative, Colorado-based, pro-family groups met with Paschall and Of The People executive director, Greg Erken, in June of 1995 to formulate a strategy for an initiative petition drive and campaign.
After this initial meeting, however, local organization and leadership to support the PRA developed much slower than expected. And once final ballot language was agreed upon and submitted to the Secretary of State, opposing groups pulled out every trick to stop the effort.
In one attempt to derail the petition drive, the ACLU charged that the PRA petition violated Colorado's single subject rule because it addressed four issues: upbringing, education, values, and discipline. No petitions could be circulated until this issue and several similar complaints were resolved by the Colorado Supreme Court. (The Court ruled that the petition addressed only one subject-parental rights.) That green light wasn't received until late May of 1996, leaving only three months to collect signatures.
Once the ballot question was certified in September, both proponents and opponents shifted into high gear. There wasn't a lot of time left to educate the electorate and solidify votes. Initial tracking polls showed popular support in excess of 75% with only 11% opposed.
The proponent's campaign strategy was to preserve this lead by affirming voters' gut instincts. They produced their initial commercial according to this "feel right" theme.
The opposition, however, hit hard and late in the race with emotionally-charged, high impact ads attacking the amendment as being a shield of protection for child abusers. Raising their battle cry that "the PRA goes too far," they also managed to secure major mileage in the free press, stirring a flurry of other reasons (disruption of public schools, disruption of adoption laws and procedures, reproductive freedom for minors, etc.) the amendment was not a good idea.
Former U.S. Senator from Colorado, Bill Armstrong seemingly added credibility to the opposition's concerns. Armstrong, a staunch conservative icon, was not convinced that a constitutional amendment was the answer. However, in a post-election day letter, Armstrong surmised that, "rejection of the amendment does not mean we are complacent about protecting prerogatives parents must have to fulfill their proper family role … [It] only emphasizes the responsibility of Congress and the Colorado Legislature to investigate and stop [the abuse of power by social welfare agencies and schools] where it may exist."
His closing remarks actually applauded the Colorado PRA effort: "I appreciate and admire those who put this measure on the ballot. Their efforts are not wasted. Indeed, they have performed a worthy service by focusing public attention on this important matter. Now it is up to the rest of us-especially those like me who opposed Amendment 17-to take the next step … contacting [our lawmakers] … to urge priority consideration of allegations that parental rights are being abused."
The Effort to Pass the PRA was led by home schooling parents. Realizing this, HSLDA President Mike Farris sent a letter on October 29 to Colorado home schooling families, outlining actions they could take to promote the PRA. Families were also provided with a flyer to distribute. Below is one family's account of their work to promote parental rights in Colorado.
Many thanks for the flyer sent to our family urging us to do more than vote yes on Amendment 17. God had placed it on our hearts to get involved but we weren't sure how or what to do, so we were encouraged when we received your letter.
We received permission from our pastor to put the flyers on cars in the parking lot, but he preferred us to pass them out to the congregation after church, so we set them on a table for anyone who was interested. Then my 15 month old and I went around our neighborhood with the flyers the day before the election. On election day, my two teenagers and another family went to the polls from 7 am to 8 am and were able to talk to a lot of people; four or five of which were undecided! So we were excited to see that in our county, El Paso, the amendment passed by about 700 votes! A slim but significant margin. Of course, we were extremely disappointed the amendment failed overall, but we saw how a few votes can make a difference.
Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good work!
Yours in the battle,
Mrs. Susan Thurlow
DO YOU SUPPORT PARENTS' RIGHTS
TO RAISE THEIR CHILDREN?
OF COURSE YOU DO.
BUT DO YOU SUPPORT AMENDMENT 17?
Liberal groups that are always clamoring for somebody's new-fangled rights have spent thousands of dollars trying to scare us about Amendment 17.
But Amendment 17 does not give absolute rights to parents. It simply lists parents rights as a clearly protected fundamental right like freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not absolute. You can still be sued and punished for slander.
Likewise, parents' rights under Amendment 17 are not absolute either. A parent who abuses their child could still be taken to court and punished. Fundamental rights are not absolute rights. Liberals groups have tried to scare you by pretending otherwise.
What would Amendment 17 do?
- It would give parents a say when a government clinic wants to give your 12 year old condoms.
- It would give parents a say when a school wants to force your child into a program you don't think is best for your child.
- It would give parents a say whenever a government thinks it knows best about your own child and you have a different reasonable opinion.
Amendment 17 does not interfere with adoption. Parents who abandon or severely abuse their children forfeit their rights.
Amendment 17 does not disrupt public schools. Public schools have to give high protection to the desires of religious parents under existing federal law. Why would giving all parents these same rights hurt the schools?
The liberals who oppose Amendment 17 always want their rights. Isn't it time you stand up for your right to be a good parent?
VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 17
Paid for by the Coalition for Parental Responsibility -
Mike Norton, Chairman