Have you ever wondered what the term ‘parental rights’ really means?
Then stay tuned to Homeschool Heartbeat, as guest host Joel Grewe and HSLDA
chairman Mike Farris discuss five things about parental rights that you won’t
want to miss.
Joel Grewe: Hi there! I’m Joel Grewe, the director of
HSLDA’s Generation Joshua, and I’ll be your guest host this week. With me
in the studio is HSLDA’s Chairman Mike Farris. Mike, welcome to the show!
Mike Farris: Hi Joel!
Treat them right [0:27]
Joel: Mike, here at HSLDA we talk a lot about parental rights and
why they’re so important. But there are parts of that topic that sometimes go
unspoken. One of those parts is parental responsibility—the idea that parents
have a duty to treat their children right. Can you tell us about that?
Mike: Sure, Joel. In international law, there’s the idea of
positive rights and negative rights. Positive rights are what the government has to
do for you; negative rights are what the government can’t do to you.
In the United States, we don’t recognize that. We believe that positive
rights, what must be done for children—parents are supposed to do those things.
Parents are supposed to make sure their children have food, clothing, shelter,
medical care, education, and all the other attributes of life that are necessary for
children. There is a duty—a legal duty—on the part of parents to furnish
those things for their children. If they fail to do those things—fail to live
up to their duties—there are legal consequences for that. There are gradations
of consequences that ultimately can result in criminal charges if you seriously fail
to do your duty.
But our system is built on a system of duties owed by the parent to their child to
love, clothe, feed. Now, the government can’t sue you about the loving part.
But they can enforce the feeding, clothing, sheltering, and taking good care of your
child. And that’s the way it should be in the abstract.
A free society will punish people if they don’t live up to their duties, but
they won’t regulate them on the front end—make parents get licenses and
so on, to be approved by the government before you have the duty to feed, clothe,
shelter, educate your child.
Joel: I don’t really want to have to get a permit from the
government to have a family. But, you know, that is a great reminder that, as
parents, we are given authority with the expectation that we will use it well. Or, to
put it another way, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
What about the children? [2:13]
Joel: Mike, when we talk about parental rights, some of our
listeners think, “Well, what about the children? Don’t they have rights
too?” So tell us about the relationship between parental rights and
children’s rights. Are they antithetical to each other?
Mike: To get oriented in a correct answer to this question, we
have to know what rights are. The term “rights” describe the relationship
between a government and a citizen or an individual. In a family situation, you have
duties, you have responsibilities. And rights, in a legally enforceable sense, are
really not the correct orientation. There’s duties that can be breached, and
there’s legal consequences for the breach of duties, but a
duties-and-responsibility system is much different than a rights-responsibility. The
reason that the children’s rights movement wants to use the term
“children’s rights” and move away from the responsibility of
parents is because then it moves the child away from the orientation of the family
into the zone of government regulation.
So vis-a-vis the government, children—yeah, they do have rights. If
they get arrested for shoplifting, they have the right to a fair trial. They have all
kinds of rights: they have the right to a parent that the government can’t take
The problem that we see is that the children’s rights movement isn’t
interested in protecting children from the overreach of government—that’s
where rights would come in. Instead, the children’s rights movement wants to
move into the zone, and invade the legitimate sphere, of the family. That’s
what we’ve got to watch out against.
So it’s the rights of the parents and the children together to stand free
from the government until such time as there’s a breach of those duties. And
then the parents can be held responsible for failing to live up to what God and the
law expect them to do.
Where’s the line? [3:50]
Joel: Mike, we believe that the right of parents to direct their
children’s education is a fundamental right. But even fundamental rights are
not absolute—they have a limit somewhere. Can you explain what the limits of
parental rights are?
Mike: The current prevailing test, although it’s a little
bit in dispute, is called the compelling interest test. And I’ll just say it in
more plain language than the normal legalese. Parents have the right to direct and
make decisions for their children until they violate some policy that the government
has created that’s really, really important—so-called compelling interest
test—and there’s no other way to accomplish the government’s
objective other than invading the parents’ decision-making authority.
That’s called the least restrictive means test.
And so if, for example, a parent is a member of some occult religion that believe
in child sexual sacrifice or something, does the government have a really, really
important reason for stopping that kind of behavior? The answer is yes. Absolutely
yes. And so the parents don’t have a right to such activity.
Parents don’t have a right to make decisions for their child that would deny
their child the basics of life—food, clothing, shelter, basic medical care,
education. So if a parent wants to make educational decisions for their child,
that’s within their rights. A parent who wants to deny education to their
child—that’s not within their rights.
Joel: Alright, and then—when those decisions are made, the
least restrictive means for the government coming in is that they have to minimize
the amount of disruption they create there, is that the idea?
Mike: Well, is there another way to accomplish the
government’s objective? That’s another way of saying it.
And so, for example, it used to be that you had to be a certified teacher to be
able to homeschool your kids. And that kept 99 percent of the families out of the
homeschooling world. And we found that, you know what, if the goal of the state was
to make sure that children were literate and self-sufficient, there’s a lot of
other ways that you can make sure of that without requiring the parent to be a
certified teacher. So you’ve got to find those alternative
ways—there’s nothing wrong with requiring literacy and self-sufficiency.
What’s wrong is requiring this particular path to achieve literacy and
self-sufficiency. And so if there’s another path to achieve the child’s
safety, if there’s another path to achieve the child’s well-being, and
food, clothing, medicine, then the government has to allow the parent to choose that
other path that accomplishes the objective.
Joel: Sounds like parental rights are rooted in a culture of
freedom—the idea of choices being a good thing.
Parental rights in the 18th century [6:11]
Joel: Mike, some of our listeners might be surprised to learn
that the phrase “parental rights” never appears in the Constitution or in
the Bill of Rights. If the concept of parental rights is so important, why
didn’t our Founders mention it?
Mike: Well, they understood that the purpose of government was to
protect life, liberty, and property, and to punish those who do evil. If you have a
very limited purpose of government—they couldn’t imagine a government
with a federal social services policy. They couldn’t imagine a federal
government with any kinds of the policies that, day-to-day, interfere with parental
rights. And so it just simply didn’t occur to them that they were creating this
kind of monster, and so they didn’t put it into the Constitution.
But the 9th Amendment implicitly mentions the issue that we’re talking
about. They wrote down, “Just because we wrote down other rights, doesn’t
mean we’re not preserving our other recognized rights in the law.” And if
you will go to the common law rights that were recognized in 1791, when the Bill of
Rights was adopted, there is utterly no doubt that the rights of parents to direct
the upbringing and education of their children was overwhelmingly recognized as a
basic right of life, a right of parents to do. And the government could not
legitimately interfere with that.
So the Founders—everything in the Constitution was in response to something
that they experienced. They had not experienced a government that was so draconian,
and they couldn’t imagine that we were creating a government so aggressive as
to get between a parent and his child.
Raising good parents [7:37]
Joel: Mike, tell us about the purpose of parental rights. When
parents use their rights rightly and wisely, what are they aiming for? What’s
the end goal?
Mike: Really, Joel, another way to phrase it [is],
“What’s the purpose of parenting?” Because the right of parents is
just the right to be able to make good parenting choices. And so what I have tried to
do in my own life, and what I’ve encouraged other families to do, is we like to
think of developing spiritual fruit in our children, and, you know, reproducing
But the goal is not really to have good children. The goal is not to have good
grown children or good adults. The goal is to have good parents. And so, if we want
to use the spiritual fruit analogy, we’re not interested in baskets of apples;
we’re interested in orchards. And so I think that raising children who will be
responsible parents, and who will be really good in raising their own
children—that’s the ultimate goal.
And good parenting, parenting done well—your kids will embrace the way
you’ve raised them, and they will carry it on the next generation. If
you’re too harsh, or you’re strange, or you do things that are really
contrary to the loving best that you can do for your kids, your kids are going to
reject that. And what they do with their own kids will not resemble anything that you
did with them.
So my advice is: parent well, and then you’ll see your grandchildren being
raised in a way that raises them truly in the nurture and the admonition of the
Joel: Mike, it’s so important to have a clear understanding
of what parental rights are and why they exist. Thanks for taking the time to speak
with us this week, and thanks for letting me host your show! Until next time,
I’m Joel Grewe.