Protecting Parental Rights: Why It Should Be a Priority
By Michael P. Farris
(Chairman’s Address delivered by Michael P. Farris, Home School Legal Defense Association National Conference for Christian Homeschool Leaders, Nashville, Tennessee, September 28, 2006)
Tonight I want to talk to you about the most important thing that HSLDA or any of us will ever be involved in in the political, legal sense. And that’s something I talked to you about—those of you who were at the Summit this spring—I talked to you about a potential amendment to the Constitution of the United States on parental rights.1 And I want to go into that again in a little more depth tonight and update you with information that I was handed at about six forty-five tonight by Scott Somerville—a decision of the European Court of Human Rights that I’m going to talk about here in just a few minutes.
But ladies and gentlemen, I want us to understand what we’re in is in the battle of our lifetimes. You saw me saying on this screen2—and boy, did I need makeup. I looked old and red and bloodshot and ugh. But in any event, maybe I am old and red and bloodshot. I have to recognize that. I found out last night also that the ninth grandchild's on the way . . . so we're taking over America one grandchild at a time.
But this issue is not a small issue. It’s the biggest fight we’ve ever been in in our lives. And I want you to just kind of sit back and breathe for a minute and rise up out of the day-to-day. In homeschooling, there’s a day-to-day of homeschooling your own kids, and you’ve all seen that in your own lives, where you homeschool for 10 or 15 years, and then a child graduates, and then you get a little distance, and your child goes off and comes back, and you get to see it from a distance. And when you see it from a distance, you see how important those years invested in homeschooling were. But you didn’t see it that much day-to-day-day-to-day is a lot different than that long-range view.
In running homeschool organizations, there’s a day-to-day as well. And sometimes getting immersed in the day-to-day, you won’t see the long-range; we won’t see the perspective that we need to see by rising up above it and getting out of the details, and getting up at a higher percentage.
What I’m going to suggest to you tonight, and the case I’m going to try to build to you tonight, is that there’s a tsunami coming. The earthquake’s already happened and the wave is headed toward the United States. Now, there’s still time to build the tsunami wall. But the question is, are we going to get up high enough so that we see the tsunami and we build the wall? That’s the issue, and let’s see what I can do in making this case to you tonight.
Parental rights in danger
There was a girl named Sheila Marie Sumey, who was 13 years old, who lived in Pierce County, Washington, in the early 1980s. Sheila was not a model of good behavior at the time—she was involved in illegal drug activity and highly improper sexual activity. Her parents found out what Sheila was doing and instituted some discipline. They grounded her—nothing radical.
Sheila went to her school counselors, who advised her that under Washington State law she did not have to live in her home under these circumstances. She could be liberated from her parents and be moved to foster care based on a Washington State law that allowed Child Protective Services to take custody of a child on the basis of conflict between parent and child. Sheila sought the help of the CPS workers and was removed from her home.
Her parents litigated this removal all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court. That court ruled that even though the parents’ rules were reasonable and were enforced in a reasonable manner, the state law nonetheless mandated the removal of Sheila from her home because the child was in conflict with her parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Sumey came to me—I was still a pretty young lawyer—to ask me to appeal their case to the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the day they arrived in my office was the very last day a U.S. Supreme Court petition could be filed. It was three thirty in the afternoon in Olympia, Washington. It was impossible to prepare, print, and much less file a petition by five o’clock that afternoon, which had already passed in Washington, D.C. In fact, it would have taken me—Mike and I have this running joke about how fast I am. (By the way, what Mike said is very true. Doug Domenech, who worked for us a long, long time and is now the deputy secretary of the interior—Doug said, “The reason HSLDA is a success is because Mike Farris has good ideas, and Mike Smith won’t let him do 90 percent of them.”) Mike says I’m fast at doing things—and in some ways I am fast at doing things—but it would have taken me (as fast as I am) at least a week to prepare the paperwork. It was just impossible to help this family, and their case became final in the Washington State Supreme Court—that the parents’ rights were not violated by this Washington law.
At about the same time—shortly after this—I got another case. I got it in time. A family came to me who had a case in the Superior Court of Island County, Washington. A 13-year-old boy had gone to his school counselors claiming that he didn’t want to go to church with his parents so much. The parents went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and to Wednesday prayer meeting. The counselors called CPS using this same Washington law that I’ve just described to you. The boy was removed from his home and placed in foster care. We litigated the case. The trial judge ruled that he believed that once a week was enough church for a 13-year-old boy. He told the parents that if they wanted their son back, they had to agree to limit their son’s church attendance to the judge’s standard of what was appropriate. I desperately wanted to appeal the case for the parents—for free. But the parents were afraid of losing their son entirely and gave in.
A few months later, a parent in my hometown in Kennewick, Washington, called me about a situation involving their 16-year-old daughter. They didn’t want their daughter to attend the school prom. The family had a conviction in that area. The social workers were threatening the same course of action based on the same law as in the two cases I just described for you. The matter didn’t end up in court, and it has been so long ago that I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I’m pretty sure that my memory’s correct that the parents caved in to their daughter’s demand, to avoid the threat of foster care.
In 1992, I argued two homeschooling cases before the Supreme Court of Michigan on the same day. For the DeJonge family I argued that their religious freedom and parental rights combined together to give a fundamental right to choose homeschooling for their children. By a one-vote margin the Supreme Court of Michigan agreed, ruling the state’s teacher certification law was unconstitutional as applied to religiously motivated parents.
However, in the second case argued the same day, I argued for a different family—who had been represented by different lawyers in the lower courts—that their parental rights standing alone were fundamental rights and should receive the same legal treatment as the DeJonges received. But by a one-vote margin, the Supreme Court of Michigan disagreed, holding that parents’ rights standing alone are not a fundamental right.
The term “fundamental right” has become very important in constitutional litigation because of the Supreme Court’s self-created standards placing all constitutional rights into two basic categories—fundamental and non-fundamental.
How fundamental are parental rights?
If your right is labeled a fundamental right, the legal deck is stacked heavily in your favor. The government must bear the burden of proof. The government’s interest must be of the highest order and not otherwise served. The government’s means of achieving its interest must be the least restrictive means possible.
However, if your right is labeled as non-fundamental, the legal deck is stacked heavily in favor of the government. The citizen must bear the burden of proof. The citizen must show that the infringement of your non-fundamental right lacks any rational or plausible connection to a policy of the government that’s just legitimate. This is a standard that is very difficult for any citizen to meet unless the government program is simply outlandishly stupid in the opinion of the court.
There is a huge difference between fundamental and non-fundamental rights.
So what about parental rights? Are the rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children fundamental or non-fundamental? Well, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, parental rights are a fundamental right. Since the early 1920s the Supreme Court has consistently held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment—which contains not a single word about parents or children—nonetheless should be interpreted to protect the fundamental right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
The right legal standard is in place—according to the Supreme Court at least—despite the fact that it’s not written into the specific text of the Constitution.
Well, if that’s true, what’s the problem?
There are several problems with this—and none of them are minor. But let’s take the least serious of the problems first—that should be self-evident to those of you that were paying attention to the case stories I just told you. Lower courts do not consistently recognize parental rights as deserving the same legal standard as other fundamental rights, such as the freedom of speech and press. And to be fair to these lower courts, there are enough ambiguous statements in Supreme Court decisions that give them cover for what they want to do in the first place—and that is, to adopt a lower standard for parental rights.
This is one of the consequences—we need to take this seriously and focus on this for just a second—this is one of the consequences of having a theory of parental rights that’s not based on the text of the Constitution, but is based upon Supreme Court decisions. If you’re based upon these opinions of the Supreme Court, as are parental rights, you’re subject to all this mush in the decisions of the Supreme Court.
There’s a second problem. The number of votes on the Supreme Court favoring parental rights as fundamental rights is shrinking and it may have already changed into being a minority position.
The most recent decision on a parents’ rights case in the Supreme Court of the United States was in the year 2000. It’s called Troxel v. Granville. In that case, Justice Scalia—generally one of our friends—made it clear that he is a political supporter of the concept of parental rights. He believes that this right is an inalienable human right and was included within the Ninth Amendment’s declaration of reserved rights. However, because parental rights are not explicitly stated in any constitutional language, Scalia voted to deny parental rights the status of an enforceable constitutional right—not even non-fundamental; not a right at all. That’s Justice Scalia’s view.
Now, Troxel v. Granville was a plurality decision with six separate opinions. None of these conflicting opinions commanded a clear majority. Two of the justices voting in favor of parental rights have now left the court. They’ve been replaced by John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who are reputed to share many of the same views as Scalia. Now whether Roberts and Alito think like Scalia on this particular issue remains to be seen. But it’s beyond question that many young conservative legal scholars are trained to think just like Scalia on this point. His views are mainstream among groups like the Federalist Society.
In short, Scalia believes that no right is protected unless it’s expressly stated in the text of the Constitution. While most of us like this theory if it’s used to reverse Roe v. Wade, we would be quite alarmed if parental rights were suddenly no longer a protected constitutional right.
The Troxel case dealt with the right of grandparents to demand visitation with their grandchildren over the objection of the children’s parents. Only four justices joined the main opinion of the Court, which held that parental rights were “fundamental,” meriting the highest level of constitutional protection. (Two of these, Rehnquist and O’Connor, are justices who have since left the Court.) Justice Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in this result and emphasizing basically the same legal test.
Justice Souter wrote a separate opinion saying that parents have rights, but not fundamental rights. Yet he voted for the parents in this particular case. This means he holds a lower view of parental rights for the long haul, for the broad legal test.
Now as we already noted, Scalia said that parental rights were not protected by the Constitution because they are not in the exact text.
Justice Stevens held that parents do not have the right to override state legislative decisions of this nature—which is consistent with Stevens’ overall anti-tradition, anti-religious perspective.
Justice Kennedy believed that the modern family was too complicated to be run simply by parents, and he advocated a “balanced” approach, which is consistent with Kennedy’s generally anti-traditional theories.
Accordingly, we only have three current Supreme Court justices (including Thomas) who sided with a strong view of parental rights in this most recent decision. And two of these three are among the most liberal members of the Court—Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Now even if Alito and Roberts are both strong advocates of parental rights, we shouldn’t rest our confidence for the future of this country on a current 5-4 Supreme Court majority.
The threat of international law
And yet, there’s another threat to parental rights. This is the threat to our rights under international law.
The biggest threat to us is in the form of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now I want to consider three specific questions about this Convention.
First, what would change in our law about parental rights if the Convention on the Rights of the Child were adopted in the United States? First, clearly, expressly, with explicit language without any question, spanking of children would be banned. Homeschooling and private schooling would be controlled by an overlay of international law superseding state law whenever there was a conflict. Specifically, a government bureaucrat operating under the standards of the UN would have the authority to determine whether homeschooling was in the best interests of your own children. In theory, that decision could be made as a blanket policy or in a case-by-case manner for individual children and families. But the interests and desires of the child would have to be considered. However, this rule on the consideration of the child’s desires is applicable only if the child desires something different than what the parent wants. If the child’s desires are in conflict with the UN, the child’s desires are irrelevant.
Now any speculation about this was ended by a decision of the European Court of Human Rights that was entered on September 18, 2006. In that case—in a homeschooling case arising out of Germany—the court of human rights for Europe ruled that parents, although they have religious freedom under the European Union’s Constitution (if you will), or Declaration of Human Rights, and they have parental rights under the European rules, nonetheless the government’s rights to educate children for the purposes of government socialization were superior.
Let me read you just a couple of sentences. It’s talking about a particular article, Article 2, Protocol No. 1, of this declaration:
It aims safeguarding pluralism in education which is essential for the preservation of the “democratic society” as conceived by the Convention . . . In view of the power of the modern State, it is above all through State teaching that this aim must be realised . . . It is on to this fundamental right that is grafted the rights of parents to respect for their religious and philosophical convictions . . . Therefore, respect is only due to convictions on the part of the parents which do not conflict with the right of the child to education . . . This means that parents may not refuse the right to education of a child on the basis of their convictions. (italics added)3
Parents have no right to opt their children out of the government education program, which is aimed at the pluralization of society and the democratic process—the socialization, if you will—to make us all one, homogeneous whole.
That is the rule of international law coming from the European Court of Human Rights about 10 days ago. So, no speculation, folks. I’ve been saying that they’d do this for years. But now I am proven a prophet—that there it is, in black and white.
Spanking, homeschooling, other kinds of choices are specific changes that would happen if the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes applicable in the United States. But you need to understand the legal theory, because the legal theory is so much more important than the particulars.
The legal theory that has been in place for over 400 years in Anglo-American jurisprudence, is the government may intervene and make decisions for the best interests of the child, but only after there has been a judicial decision that the parent-child relationship has been broken. The brokenness of the parent-child relationship comes in one of two ways. Either, the parent is convicted of child abuse or neglect and thus forfeits at least some rights relative to the decision making of the children-certainly forfeits the exclusive right of decision making of the child-and the court can intervene and make decisions in the best interests of the child; or, if the family is broken in divorce, and the divorce is in process (been filed and entered) and the family is broken, then the court can intervene and make decisions in the best interests of the child, basically to allocate decision-making between the two parents. And then the court can come back in and supervise that over the course of time when the parents remain in conflict over the years. But in order for the government to intervene and decide what’s best for children, the family has to be broken.
What the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does is change the legal standard. It says the government may make a decision on the best interests of the child in every family, in every case, in every circumstance. So in other words, the legal standard would be, you have the same rights as a parent convicted of child abuse. The government may at its option intervene whenever it thinks that it’s in the best interests of the child to override one of your decisions.
This brings us to the second question. What’s the likelihood that this treaty’s going to be ratified in the United States? Well, in 2002, I wrote a novel based on the idea that a character named Hillary Rodman (I just kind of made that up) was elected president and the first action she pushed through the Senate was the ratification of the treaty. 4
Now, we’ve been able to stall this treaty for some time. But the political winds are changing. I may be proven, unfortunately, a prophet in this regard.
However, there’s an even greater threat that this treaty will become binding on the United States.
The federal courts are already poised to rule—in fact, this is where the earthquake’s already happened and the tsunami’s on its way—they’re poised to rule that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is binding on the United States despite the fact that it’s not ratified under the doctrine of customary international law. A federal district judge in New York has already in two separate cases ruled that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is already binding on the United States because of this doctrine.5 The Supreme Court, in a recent juvenile death penalty case, stopped just short of reaching this same point, but clearly stated that its interpretation of the U.S. Constitution was and should be influenced by the fact that every nation in the world except the U.S. and Somalia has adopted this treaty from the UN.6
Thus, whether it’s ratified or imposed by the Supreme Court of the United States, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is looming and is a serious threat to parental rights.
The third question is this: How can a treaty override a constitutional right? Parents’ rights are already a constitutional right. How can a treaty override that? The short answer is a treaty cannot override a right that is explicitly stated in the text of the Constitution. However, in a case called Missouri v. Holland around 1950, the Supreme Court ruled that a treaty does override implied and reserved rights. We must remember that parental rights are in a category of implied rights, and thus, a treaty could clearly override our rights based on this decision and other related cases from the Supreme Court.
So, what do we do in response to these threats?
Solution: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Now while I support all sorts of parental rights activity, including state laws, state constitutional provisions, only a federal constitutional amendment answers all threats. A state constitutional provision cannot override a treaty or customary international law. Only an explicit federal constitutional provision can trump treaties and international law.
If we want to preserve parental rights, we must secure an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Such an amendment cannot attempt to solve every particular case. It just won’t work. You don’t write the Constitution that way in the first place. Instead it’s got to declare a broad legal principle that’s applicable for all parental rights cases.
Realistically, we cannot expect anything more than a constitutional provision that puts current Supreme Court parental rights standards into the explicit text of the Constitution, which is fine because the current standard is parents’ rights should be treated on the same level as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That’s exactly what we want—to be treated at the level of the highest rights known in this country. No more, no less.
Our basic argument to public officials is this:
The Supreme Court has held that parental rights are a fundamental constitutional right. However, support for this principle is eroding. It is time that we take the current Supreme Court doctrine and make parents’ rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children a part of the explicit text of the Constitution.
That argument can win.
But my next question for you is this: Why should this be our priority?
There are abundant problems that could be addressed by any political movement.
Our tax system—both state and federal—has drifted so far from the principles of freedom as to be immoral and, at least under the principles of original intent, unconstitutional.
The government’s misuse of two particular phrases in the Constitution—the Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause—are responsible for our multi-trillion-dollar debt, which in itself is a moral abuse of the rights of the generations to come. Fix these two clauses and a whole lot gets right about the federal government. And as an added bonus, traffic in the Washington, D.C. Beltway would practically disappear.
Medical costs continue to rise beyond the capacity of either families or insurers to keep up with the pace. And this is caused either in whole or in part by the government. Two particular government policies place a huge amount of pressure on medical costs. Our taxpayer systems favor medical insurance programs that artificially depress the patient’s concern about medical costs. All we care about is our deductible or our co-pay-after that we don’t care what it costs. There are tax law fixes to this problem, because the tax law causes it in the first place. A secondary problem is the scandal of medical malpractice law, which is but one example of the injustice perpetrated by our justice system. When people can sue other people, have their lawsuits kicked out of court summarily, and yet not be required to pay the costs of the defense, lawsuits are little more than legalized blackmail.
And what about the invasion of property rights in so many ways in this nation? The Kelo decision is just the tip of the iceberg. 7 This is the decision that allows cities to condemn your property under the justification of public use—not for the purpose of building roads or schools or parks—but to build more expensive privately owned property. The public use is nothing more than increased taxation. This is a scandal that would make Founders repent of ever having called George III a tyrant.
And what of the murder of millions of unborn babies? I was in China this summer in meetings with the Communist Party. I had lunch with the vice minister of population services. We talked about their one-child policy. I made a private visit—just me and the Communist officials—to one of their children’s clinics (their birth clinics . . . and abortion clinics), and saw the ultrasound machines that they use to help implement the one-child policy. Yet I found out the abortion rate in China is only a fraction of our own. In China, 1-2 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. And we comfort ourselves with the thought that even though our abortion rate is more than 10 times as much as the Chinese abortion rate, at least we do not practice coercive abortions. While I was standing in that room with the ultrasound, I realized that I was comforting myself with a half-truth. From the child’s perspective, every abortion is coercive.
And now we face the growing threat of homosexual marriage. It will take a miracle to revive the Federal Marriage Amendment. There is simply no political fervor behind this movement, and I think there’s good reason, because the leaders have made a morally unacceptable compromise on the issue of civil unions. But we cannot take any comfort in being right on that nuance on homosexual marriage because it has already received tacit approval from the Supreme Court of the United States.
In light of all of these issues that I’ve just outlined for you, why would I have the audacity to claim that securing the constitutional right for the protection of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children should become our highest priority?
Well, there are several reasons I make this bold claim.
First, I believe this issue is winnable. If we frame the issue the way I did just a minute ago—of just putting current Supreme Court doctrine into the black and white text of the Constitution to prevent future erosions—I think we can sell that to the politicians and to the American public. That is an easy sell. If you poll that question that way today, the approval rating would be something like 75-80 percent. If you poll that question 10 or 20 years from now, that support is going to diminish. If we wait long enough until the problem is acute, we will have waited too long because it is only possible to get the problem on parental rights to be acute when the societal consensus for parental rights has been sufficiently eroded for the forces of social engineering to take even more dramatic steps than they dare to attempt today. It requires two-thirds of Congress and 75 percent of the state legislatures to propose and ratify a constitutional amendment. It really is a pretty good judge of the American public—unless about two-thirds to three-fourths of the American public agree with you on an issue, you’re just not going to get it passed.
And that’s one of the reasons that we’re really up against it on the issue of same-sex marriage. It’s because we waited so long to work on this that our support base is really a little below that three-fourths or two-thirds margin. Parents’ rights still is at the high level, if we frame the issue correctly and we act now. We wait until the problem gets acute, we’re dead in the water because you can’t amend the Constitution of the United States when the societal support is simply not there. That’s the way it was intended to work, and that’s the way we’ve got to understand and analyze the political situation that we find ourselves in. We can—I am absolutely convinced—we can win this issue today. I have utterly no confidence we can win it tomorrow.
Now, there is no other issue that I outlined in my parade of possible priorities—taxes, Commerce Clause, property rights, abortion, homosexual issues—there is no other issue that has the same level of political viability as the protection of parental rights.
That’s not to say we should not work on these other issues—especially on abortion and the marriage issue. Of course we should work on those issues. But these issues have been with us for some time and the opportunity for success in the short run seems implausible.
Secondly, I am not saying that the protection of parental rights should be the number one priority for every political group in America. I am talking to this audience. The homeschooling movement relies more heavily on a robust theory of parental rights than any other group in the nation. We have the most at stake. This is our core. This is not peripheral in any way to our mission. Our reason for existence as a movement is to protect the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
When I present this issue to other groups, usually I am not going to try to convince them that this should be their number one issue. If they conclude that it is a priority, that is good enough. We want their help.
But this is our baby—literally. If we do not take the lead in protecting the right of parents to raise godly children—who will?
Third, the reason I think this must be our priority is this is an issue that has received the blessing of God.
There is a limitless supply of needs and important projects that we can consider. Take missions, for example. People can make a case for taking the Gospel literally to every single person in the world. But if I am asked to choose between supporting a missionary candidate who wants to minister to college students in a secular American university and a candidate who wants to minister to university students in Africa, I would need to ask a whole bunch of questions to figure out which one to support. One of the most important questions to ask would be, what is the evidence that God is blessing your particular approach to ministry?
Now if we turn that question of “What is God blessing?” to analyze what should be our own priority, the question would be asked like this: What is the evidence that God has been blessing the issue protecting the right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children? What’s our evidence?
Well, people have been working on tax reform for years. No progress.
Judicial reform. No progress.
Abortion. No substantial progress.
Homosexuality. We’re going in the wrong direction.
But when we look at homeschooling, we see incredible blessing. Twenty-five years ago, homeschooling was for all intents and purposes illegal. Today, for all intents and purposes homeschooling is legal. Ten years ago, for all intents and purposes social workers were never required to obey the Fourth Amendment. That has radically shifted and we’re on the path to total victory on that particular issue.
God is protecting the rights of parents to raise and educate children.
I know for a fact that there are going to be some in Washington, D.C. who complain that a parents’ rights constitutional amendment will distract from their efforts to win a marriage amendment. And maybe there is a little truth in that. I think it is possible to win them both if you handle it correctly, but that is a discussion for another day. Let’s assume they are right.
But now let’s play out the scenario of what happens if we lose.
If we lose on homosexual marriage, evil would be released in greater measure in our nation. The definition of the family would be eroded and immoral living arrangements would proliferate. Evil that is present today would get worse.
However, if we lose on parental rights, we lose the ability to raise our own children in righteousness. We lose the ability to do good.
In the one case, evil will grow. In the other case, good will be curtailed.
I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to choose, I will choose my ability to train my children in the truth as the most important priority in my life. I do not want any more evil. But if I’ve got to choose between stopping a stranger from doing evil, and the ability to raise my own children in righteousness, I will never abandon my chance to do good with my own children.
Now, I happen to believe that if we build the political team to win a parents’ rights amendment, we can turn that around to address other additional matters, including marriage, abortion, and a lot more.
Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because there were too many evil people. They were destroyed because there were not 10 righteous. Now where are you going to find 10 righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah? Well, you’ve got Lot, you’ve got Mrs. Lot (who’s a pillar in her community), you’ve got their two daughters. Each of the two daughters was engaged, so you’ve got sons-in-law. The sons-in-law presumptively have parents. If Lot had trained his own family in righteousness, Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved. God didn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because Lot was the only righteous one there; God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because Lot didn’t reach his family.
Now, I happen to believe that this is also analogous to God’s judgment pronounced in the Garden of Eden. Satan has ever since been bent on the destruction of a godly seed. The protection of the right to raise godly children, I would submit, lies at the very center of the eternal battle between good and evil. More than any other issue, whoever controls the destiny of children controls the destiny of a culture.
We may be able to survive a generation with an impure definition of marriage and make a comeback if we train up a generation of leaders who stand for God’s truth. But if we eradicate the ability to raise godly children, all restraint will ultimately be cast off.
We’ve got to save the foundation for doing good first—the ability of families to communicate God’s truth to their children.
So what are our steps of action?
HSLDA is going to create a separate organization for the advancement of parental rights. It’s going to have a special relationship with HSLDA and the homeschooling movement, but it is imperative that we enlist as many people as possible to support this amendment.
We are going to secure review of our proposed text by a great number of friendly legal experts and policy organizations. We would invite your feedback as a part of this process. Today the proposed text reads as follows:
Section 1. The God-given right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right which may not be abridged by the United States or any state.
Section 2. The balancing test applicable to other fundamental rights may be used to balance a claim of parental rights provided that the government establishes its interest by proper evidence in each case.
Again, our goal is to put parents’ rights on the same constitutional plane as freedom of speech and press—a declaration that it’s a fundamental right. Fundamental rights are not absolute rights. Freedom of speech is not an absolute right—you can’t defame someone and call it freedom of speech. There are limits. You can’t abuse a child and call it parental rights. We don’t expect parental rights to be declared an absolute right—if you thought about it for a little while, you do not want to establish the right that parents can do anything they want with their children.
Now we expect the legal review that I’ve talked about—among friendly organizations, friendly legal experts—to be done by the end of this calendar year. And right after the next election—in January or shortly thereafter—we expect to have this constitutional amendment introduced into both houses of Congress.
Our goal will then be to build enough grassroots pressure on the House and the Senate to get cosponsors enough so that we have a realistic chance of winning a vote on the amendment.
On the marriage amendment, the strategy’s been all wrong, in my judgment. They get a few cosponsors and then they demand the leadership to take a vote, so that we can use it in electoral politics. And it just diminishes your momentum, because you lose—you don’t even get a simple majority, much less a two-thirds majority. In the history of the United States, an amendment’s that’s done that process has never ever passed. I’m not going to ask for a vote on this thing until we’ve got at least 60 percent of each House. And I think on the final vote, we can ask to push for the last 6 or 7 percent, but I’m not going to go asking for a vote until I’m reasonably sure I’m going to win it. I’m not going to ask the leadership of Congress to do our work. We’re going to go build the coalition, we’re going to go get the votes, and when we’re ready, we’re going to ask for the vote.
Now why do I believe that we can do this? It’s going to take the biggest grassroots effort that any of us have ever seen. Those of you who remember the H.R. 6—we’re going to have to sustain H.R. 6 for about four or five years. 8 That’s what we’re going to have to do. It’s possible—we can do it. And I know we must do it. The Bible tells us to whom much is given, much is expected. God has given the homeschooling movement His abundant blessing. We have won more freedom and had more political and legal success than any other comparable movement in our lifetime.
We have organizational ability. We have manpower. We have the need to succeed. And we are standing for what is right. That is a lot of political capital. We have been given much. And much is expected from us.
There is no other group in America with as much at stake as homeschoolers. And there is no other group in America as essential to this historic effort as homeschoolers.
If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
If we wait—as we’ve already said—if we wait until the problem is acute, we will have found out that it’s too late.
I believe that we stand at the absolute crossroads of history. Today you have the right to train your children in godliness. Your greatest wish for your children is to train your grandchildren in godliness. Your vision is not for yourselves alone, but it’s a vision for coming generations.
If your descendants are going to have this right, it will be because you stood up today to preserve this right.
We cannot get so wrapped up in today that we do not understand how to see tomorrow. It is not for ourselves alone that we fight. It is for our children and our grandchildren that we must stand, and, with the grace of God, I believe we will prevail.
God bless you. Thank you very much.
3 Konrad and others v. Germany (2006). Go to www.echr.coe.int and select “Case-Law” to search for the text of the decision.
4 Michael P. Farris, Forbid Them Not (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002).
8 House Resolution 6 was a federal education bill presented to the House of Representatives for a vote in early 1994. Because wording in the bill would have restricted homeschool freedom, HSLDA urged homeschoolers across the country to support an amendment (written by Texas Representative Dick Armey) to the bill that would protect their freedom. Homeschool leaders and Christian school organizations also jumped on board, helping spread the word. In a monumental grassroots effort headed by HSLDA and publicized by the national media as well as conservative radio programs, homeschoolers and other supporters of the Armey amendment flooded Congress with tens of thousands of calls over an eight-day span! Thanks to their swift action, the House passed the Armey amendment in late February 1994, thereby preserving homeschool freedom. For further details, go to www.hslda.org.