PARENTAL RIGHTS

Richard Mouw is resigned to losing the cultural wars, but hopes to at least be able to practice his religion in peace:

Obviously, when it comes to matters of public policy we must also ask others to respect our convictions as well–especially our right to raise our children in the fear of the Lord without having the deck stacked against us by educators and the shapers of popular culture.

Matthew Yglesias isn’t so sure:

For reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people — of all political persuasions — feel that what comes after the “obviously” here has a lot of pull. But I don’t get it? Obviously, folks should be permitted to hold whatever religious beliefs they like. Moreover, they should be allowed to act in accordance with these beliefs insofar as doing so does not cause harm to others. You can’t, for example, engage in human sacrifice, but all non-harming forms of worship are permitted and the public sector should make reasonable accommodations for the various sorts of funny hats folks of different persuasions feel compelled to wear.

And yet, you can’t engage in human sacrifice or ritual pickpocketing or celebrate the winter solstace by burning my house down. Your freedom of religion extends to you, not to your ability to exercize your will over others. So why is it so commonly thought that parents should have some kind of “right” to indoctrinate their children in the way they see fit? Why is that preferable to state coersion?

Given that he puts this in the context of human sacrifice, I presume Matt is really getting at a more serious question: Where do we draw the line in balancing parental rights with the beliefs of the society in matters of religious practice?

Surely, parents should be allowed to teach their kids whatever they want, whether motivated by religion or not. And they should have a reasonable expectation that the public schools don’t work against them. Schools shouldn’t, for example, undermine parental teaching that sex should wait until marriage, regardless of how silly most of us think that is in practice.

But, again, where to draw the line? If the parents literally believe that God created the world three thousand years ago out of nothing, that the entire process took six days, and that woman was created from a rib, to what extent should school protect that belief system? Or, if parents want to raise their kids as if it were still the 1600s and make them quit school at the age of 12 so they don’t get overly modernized, should society permit that? How about snake handling? Religions who teach that getting medical care is wrong?

Many parents are solving this problem by putting their children into private schools that reinforce their religious indoctrination. And an increasing number are simply home schooling the kids, sheltering them from the world even more substantially. Both of these trends disturb me on some level. The early evidence, however, seems to indicate that my fears are unwarranted. Home-schooled kids are doing quite well on standardized tests as compared to their public-schooled cohort, for example.

On the main, parents should be trusted to raise their children. Surely, they have a much greater interest in how the kids turn out than does the school board or the state legislature. But what to do with the whackos? And who gets to say who is a whacko?

Update (1051): John Lemon demands answers. Sigh.

In chronological order:

  • Literal Creationism – Schools should teach the origins of man and the universe based on the scientific state of the art, or as close to that as people who teach high school science can understand. The evidence should be presented as it exists, with a nod to the limitations of our knowledge. Our knowledge is sufficiently limited that we can’t falsify the broader teachings of the Creationist view, but to the extent it contradicts the most fundamentalist reading of scripture, tough cookies.
  • Amish and such – Sorry, I disagree with the Supremes on this one. Society has an interest in raising viable adults who can thrive in modern society. If they want to live a pre-industrial existence once they reach majority, they should have every right. But they deserve to be educated enough to make that decision when the time comes.
  • Snakes and Medicine- Sorry again. The state has an overriding interest in protecting the life of the child.
  • Whackos – Ultimately, the elected representatives of the people make this call, constrained by the whims of an out-of-control judiciary. I don’t like it, but I know who else will do it. They’ll get it wrong sometimes.

    Update (1108): Matthew has deemed my reply “fairminded.” Now I’ll never get my own talk show!

  • FILED UNDER: Religion
    James Joyner
    About James Joyner
    James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

    Comments

    1. John Lemon says:

      I’m expecting a resolution to this new set of questions when I return to your blog in a few hours.

    2. Meezer says:

      What possible difference does it make if a person, with a job, paying taxes, breaking no laws, believes that the world was created in six days? There is no way a child could grow to majority without hearing that there is a different view out there and that it is shared by most people. At that point they make up their own mind. The Amish fit one of the categories you mention. I have known several of them personally through business, etc. They are very productive members of society.

      I am amazed at the number of conservatives who complain about the nanny state yet still seem to hanker after a literal nanny state for children. When I was young I rode horses! Bareback! I should have been protected for my own sake, surely. Or what about spashing about in small ponds (full of disease causing organisms) hunting tadpoles? My childhood was heaven on earth compared to what kids endure today. Of course, I was indoctrinated in all sorts of terrible, false ideas: People are responsible for their own actions; respect for elders; kindness to animals without anthromorphism; your word is your bond; etc.
      I am in a teacher ed. course at this very moment. There are plenty of people there who think I should have been saved from such “rigid” indoctrination. They are training the next batch of teachers.

      p.s. I do not believe the world was created in six days. Incredibly, I figured that out on my own.

    3. James Joyner says:

      Meezer:

      Did you read the post?

      I argue that schools should teach science because it’s a good thing for kids to grow up to know things about the world. How would kids “figure it out on their own” without education?

      And who’s arguing for a nanny state to protect children from the normal dangers of society? That’s a far cry from not allowing their parents to make them play with rattlesnakes or deny them surgery.

    4. j Swift says:

      “I am amazed at the number of conservatives who complain about the nanny state yet still seem to hanker after a literal nanny state for children.”

      Some of the Religous Right (is it un-PC to call that amorphous group that still?) are not really upset that there is a nanny state, just that it is not theirs’. It has less to do with parental rights and more to do with saving us heathens and apostates. That they are being victimized by the secular world is an excuse to preach for a “return” to good old days, to proselytize where ever they can.

      Americans have unprecedented religious freedom and can be free of secular world to a large degree because of it.

      No one is forced to have a T.V. or purchase secular books.

      As noted in the post there are alternatives to public schools.

      There is a substantial body of non-secular media available to Christians in the country.

      The cry from the Christian Right that there is hostility is disingenuous.

      It is obvious that there is going to be hostility toward them. It has been made obvious by the history of Christianity and is laid out for them in the Bible. It should come as no surprise to Christians.

    5. raj says:

      >And an increasing number are simply home schooling the kids, sheltering them from the world even more substantially. Both of these trends disturb me on some level. The early evidence, however, seems to indicate that my fears are unwarranted. Home-schooled kids are doing quite well on standardized tests as compared to their public-schooled cohort, for example.

      Um, any idiot would tell you that, to the extent to which this is correct–something that is highly questionable–this (i) may very well depend on what is on the “standardized test” and (ii) may also reflect an (assumed) fact that people who are currently engaged in “home schooling” are more engaged in their childrens’ education than a larger group of people whose children are in public schools. The latter might not scale very well.

      BTW, I thought this post was serious until I ran across

      >constrained by the whims of an out-of-control judiciary

      Given the fact, which should be obvious to any idiot, that the judiciary is not “out of control,” it’s fairly clear that this site isn’t serious at all. I guess the proprietor of the site has never heard of legislation, much less constitutional amendments.

      Go talk amongst yourselves, dears. But don’t take yourselves too seriously.

    6. James Joyner says:

      raj,

      Have you spent even, oh, ten minutes studying constitutional law? Court decisions based on their interpretation of the Constitution–which most parental rights cases turn out to be, mainly on 1st Amendment grounds–are not overturnable by simple legislation. And formal amendment to the Constitution is phenomenally difficult, requiring a 2/3 vote in both Houses of Congress and approval by 3/4 of the states, either by their legislatures or by conventions. This is so difficult that it’s only happened 27 times in the 215 year history of the Constitution–and 10 of the 27 were passed as a package called the Bill of Rights.

    7. raj says:

      James Joyner at January 1, 2004 09:45 AM

      >Have you spent even, oh, ten minutes studying constitutional law?

      Well, yes, of course, given that I’m a lawyer. Constitutional law is a first year law school subject.

      I’ve also spent more than ten minutes reading the kvetches on silly web sites about the supposed “out of control judiciary.”

      As I said, go talk amongst yourselves. But don’t take yourselves too seriously.

    8. James Joyner says:

      Wow, how impressive for you! Did they actually teach you about the Constitution, or just have you memorize judicial opinions?

      Did they, for example, actually have you read Article III?

    9. raj says:

      Not only have I read Article III, I have also read the Federalist Papers regarding the Judicial branch.

      If you have a particular kvetch regarding this supposed “out of control judiciary”, perhaps you might want to consider posting it. Generalized kvetching isn’t helpful for much of anyone.

    10. raj says:

      BTW, it apparently has escaped your attention, but the fact is that the various states also have constitutions, and the fact is also that the requirements for amendments vary among those various states. CA’s constitution appears to be relatively easy to amend. MA’s a little less so.

      The federal constitution isn’t the only one around.

    11. James Joyner says:

      Good to hear; I’m under the impression many law school con-law classes are devoted almost entirely to rulings from the bench.

      I’ve got an entire archive category on Law and The Courts and have posted at length on the topic; I don’t detail the arguments every time I write a post.

    12. James Joyner says:

      And, yes, there are state constitutions interpreted by state judges. But creative interpretations of the 14th Amendment often trump those. There was enough judicial overreach just in the Florida recount fiasco to frustrate both the Left and the Right.

    13. raj says:

      “I’ve got an entire archive category on Law and The Courts and have posted at length on the topic; I don’t detail the arguments every time I write a post.”

      Well, you know, that’s what links are for.

    14. raj says:

      It’s getting a little late here in Munich.

      I’ll check in here in the morning. But I haven’t seen much other than the usual kvetching that I see in the “blogosphere.”

    15. raj says:

      It’s getting a little late here in Munich.

      I’ll check in here in the morning. But I haven’t seen much other than the usual kvetching that I see in the “blogosphere.”

    16. raj says:

      It’s getting a little late here in Munich.

      I’ll check in here in the morning. But I haven’t seen much other than the usual kvetching that I see in the “blogosphere.”

    17. Randy McDonald says:

      Question: How far should this freedom extend? Should parents, for instance, be able to teach their female children that they’re inferior because of Eve and Adam’s rib and all that, or their non-heterosexual children that any sexual or romantic interests of theirs which aren’t perfectly heterosexual are evil?

    18. James Joyner says:

      Randy: Sure, why not?

    19. raj says:

      Given Mr. Joyner’s last response, I guess I would be correct in assuming that he would agree that parents should be permitted to withhold accepted medical care for their children based on their religious indoctrination.

      Um, even if that withholding might cause problems for the greater society.

    20. raj says:

      Given Mr. Joyner’s last response, I guess I would be correct in assuming that he would agree that parents should be permitted to withhold accepted medical care for their children based on their religious indoctrination.

      Um, even if that withholding might cause problems for the greater society.

    21. raj says:

      Given Mr. Joyner’s last response, I guess I would be correct in assuming that he would agree that parents should be permitted to withhold accepted medical care for their children based on their religious indoctrination.

      Um, even if that withholding might cause problems for the greater society.