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