There is a new movement, spearheaded by parentalrights.org, to pass a Parental Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. The proposed amendment states (http://www.parentalrights.org/amendment ):



The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right.


The parental right to direct education includes the right to choose, as an alternative to public education, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one's child.


Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe these rights without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.


The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability.


This article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life.


No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

In your opinion, dear Readers, is such an amendment needed? What are the issues involved? What are the possible consequences if one is passed, or if it is not passed? An introductory FAQs document by parentalrights.org can be found here: http://www.parentalrights.org/parentalrightsorganswers

Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board, SquareTwo Journal (2017) "Readers’ Puzzle for Spring 2017: Does the US Need a Parental Rights Amendment?," SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 1 (Spring 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ReadersPuzzleSpring2017.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 8 Comments

I. Michelle Brignone

I am opposed to a parental rights amendment for four reasons. First, it takes a foundational God given responsibility and transfers it to a government issued right, one that can be taken away if the government so chooses – “…without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served” (§3). A quick perusal of federal court cases will show that almost anything can be rationalized as a compelling government interest. However, there are some cases where the government must step in, which leads me to my second reason.

Second, “[t]his article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life” (§5). There are a lot of incredibly harmful actions and forms of abuse that would ‘not end life,’ but that the child should be protected against including neglect, rape and other forms of sexual assault, severe physical punishment, etc. It’s nice that some perfect parents want to enshrine their right to do whatever they want with their children, but not all parents are perfect. The U.S. has one of the worst child abuse records among industrialized nations. Child protective services gets calls on roughly six and a half million abused children every year (CDC), and that does not count all of the cases of abuse no one bothers to report.

Third, while I think a parent has the right to home school their child (§2), I think there needs to be accountability to make sure the child is actually being homeschooled. There are way too many parents who say they are homeschooling their children, only to ignore their child’s education. When that child turns 18 and cannot read or write or function as a productive member of society, they will end up being supported by the state so I think it is reasonable for the state to take certain measures such as yearly testing or something to ensure the child is actually learning.

Additionally, I believe a parent has the right to send their child to whatever school they want, but once the parent decides to enroll their child in school, they cannot be given a carte blanche to interfere with the administration of that school on an individual, parent by parent basis – “…the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one's child” (§2). Using the term ‘reasonable’ is too vague and therefore could be argued to allow any and all interference by a parent – this would create chaos in the school. There are already proper channels to get involved with how local schools are run, parents should avail themselves of them.

Finally, the amendment is trying to supersede international law; especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure the US can never ratify that treaty (§6). I think this is a mistake. The U.S. insists on holding itself out as a paragon of virtuous human rights defenders, insisting other countries ratify and adhere to international human rights treaties while refusing to do so itself – insisting we don’t need them. This is an incredibly hypocritical and harmful stance. We don’t live in the wild west anymore – we cannot just do whatever we want. We are trying to live in a civilized global society and we must support and adhere to the rules of that society if we expect others to so. This Parental rights amendment is essentially thumbing its nose at the international community.


II. B. Kent Harrison

Such a constitutional amendment sounds tempting; it is based on good principles. However, I worry about it. After all, some parents abuse their children. And if we passed such an amendment, that would be a model for other nations, like the Arab nations that subjugate their children--and it could be twisted by the husbands to legitimize subjugation of wives as well. In the 1980s, the Church opposed the ERA because of possible unseen consequences, and there is the same danger here. Besides, I don't think such an amendment would ever pass Congress or the states.


III. Carl Brinton

While the Parental Rights organization brings up many examples of where parental rights have been curtailed, those various examples do not form sufficient motivation for passing an overly broad amendment on parental rights. As the amendment is written, it would disallow governmental intervention in cases of bodily harm to the child unless that harm "would end life." The amendment would also disallow government intervention on account of parental disability, even if that disability has led or might lead to harm to the child. In other words, while the amendment might solve some of the problems elucidated by the Parental Rights organization, it undoubtedly would create many more problems, potentially more serious than the problems being solved. This is not to say that there are not ways in which parental rights can or should be strengthened, but to say that this overly broad amendment would likely be counterproductive to the very child welfare that Parental Rights reports among its chief goals.


IV. Stephen Cranney

I'm a conservative in the sense that I think we should be as parsimonious as possible with our laws, so no, I don't see how having this extra bit of governmental regulation should matter. The fact is that there's a tension between government responsibilities to make sure that every child has a reasonable education and parental rights for education. On the one hand, I don't want the school system to become an ideological training camp for center-left social policy; on the other hand, I don't think a parent should be able to simply excuse their child from learning how to read like the unschooling movement tries to do. Every state is trying to figure out how to thread that needle via legislative action, and I think it should stay that way. Putting the amendment in there would kick it over to the unelected judiciary.


V. Rachel Zirkle

I believe it is telling of the state of society that there is a proposed Parental Rights Amendment at this time. The Family: A Proclamation to the World warns that the disintegration of the family will bring the disintegration of communities and nations. It is as though, to either combat or accelerate this cycle, third parties have stepped in to the parent/child relationship, whether it be in the name of education, healthcare, safety, etc. Perhaps there were enough legal cases over time to warrant a third party (such as the government) to influence decisions normally left to parents regarding their children. Perhaps those initial in-roads to the parent/child relationship are now overly exploited, sparking the need for this amendment. I can see it both ways.

As a mother, I learned quickly that there are plenty of people willing to make decisions for me regarding my children. It starts at child birth and grows with the child. One of the questions addressed on ParentalRights.org is about ‘the best interest of the child’ principle, which historically has recognized that parents will act in the best interest of their children. The Parental Rights website suggests though that a new emerging human rights application allows that “best interests provides decision and policy makers with the authority to substitute their own decisions for either the child’s or the parents’, providing it is based on considerations of the best interests of the child.” If this is the case, I find that troubling.

We live in an age of professionals and specialists, where ‘knowing what is best’ is often attached to title or degree—neither of which come with the role mother or father. It can be hard to advocate for children in the face of ‘superior knowledge,’ but who knows a child better than their parents?

For example, one of my children has grown up with a mild peanut allergy. We suspected that she had grown out of the allergy as she had gotten older, so at her well-child visit we asked that she be retested. The results came back, and the doctor informed us that she would need to go on a special diet as they found she was in fact not only still allergic to peanuts, but also to beef, pork, corn, eggs, soybeans, milk, and wheat. I was shocked—I looked at my healthy, thriving daughter and thought ‘She eats these things every day! How could this be?’

And following my mother’s intuition, I did not think that it was. When I told the doctor I would be getting a second opinion before drastically changing my child’s diet, I was told that ‘as a mother of three, I was probably feeling too overwhelmed to make the diet changes for my daughter.’ That reply hurt—surely the doctor knew I would do anything for my daughter? – but not unless I knew it was what was best for her. And, after meeting with an allergist, we discovered the pediatrician had ordered the wrong test. My daughter wasn’t allergic to all those foods and had, in fact, grown out of the peanut allergy as well.

Obviously, I was able to advocate for my child without a Parental Rights Amendment, but I do think the Amendment draws attention to the need and ability parents have to intervene on their children’s behalf. It is unclear to know what power parents have to override what others decide for their children, whether it be in healthcare or in education. Locally, there was concern in some elementary schools about pamphlets given out regarding homosexuality and transgender issues. There are some conversations parents would rather have with their children than have them get that knowledge from another source, like school, and such sensitive topics surely fall in that category. As such topics become more center stage in media and society in general though, I could see public schools embracing them in their curriculum. As a parent, I would want to be part of these and other sensitive topic conversations with my children—and if that is not already acceptable in public education, then I would see that as a positive aspect of this Amendment.

In my opinion, there is an enormous need for greater resources geared towards parents and families in general. And perhaps this Amendment could be part of that support network to reinstate the importance of family in our nation. However, I always feel wary of unintended consequences that stem from something that seems truly good. And I feel an attempt to add to the constitution should pass rigorous scrutiny before being adopted. I don’t imagine the Founding Fathers ever imagined there would need to be something in the nation’s constitution to guarantee parents would have a central say in their children’s upbringing.

I would be interested to know how this Amendment would affect the various definitions of parents—is this biological parents? Legal guardians? And what of divorced parents? Or same-gender parents and the laws around that issue? And ultimately, I would be interested in knowing the counsel from the Prophet on what to make of an Amendment that has moral and political implications. The Church was careful about how it responded to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, but certainly weighed in since it affected families. I would imagine the Church would also have something to say about another Amendment that would impact families.


VI. Elizabeth Barton

From the scarce and largely anecdotal information I was able to find on the organization's website, I do not believe such an amendment is needed. Having graduated high school a mere four years ago, I hardly remember a single infringement on my parents' "rights." Granted, I do live in one of the country's most conservative states, but from my perspective, the amendment feels superfluous. This only compounds my confusion concerning the (religious) right's vehement opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. If parents are so concerned about protecting their parenting rights (assuredly to raise strong individuals who are all treated as equals, regardless of sex, race, or sexual orientation), how could they seek to thwart the ERA?


VII. Neal Kramer

In my opinion, this amendment as formulated is unnecessary. The issues involved are real enough—many parents believe their influence on their children is waning because of the power of institutions and media to influence and maybe “convert” their children. Certainly, the more conservative among us are afraid that globalization and the reach of international treaties and international organizations is a threat to our way of life. While the instances the group cites as evidence in favor of such an amendment are also real, they seem to me to fall outside the current norms of our society. So the amendment is designed to protect us from possible bad futures augured by a particular interpretation of scattered, and maybe random, events.

My biggest concern, however, comes from my experience in the juvenile justice system. This group confidently asserts its belief that parents’ rights are children’s rights. I prefer to believe that parents’ responsibilities are more important than any list of rights we may create. I do not believe that any other responsibility adults have is greater than their responsibility to be good parents. Wise people have strongly averred that children have a right to good parents.

But what happens when parents fail? This amendment does not take such failure into account. It gives no indication of when bad parents need to forfeit their parental rights. Some of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read came from reports of how parents savagely mistreated their children who ended up in the youth facility where I worked. I have witnessed teenagers who were sexually abused before they could walk sent to adult prison while the abusers and the parents who enabled the abuse sat safely protected in the courtroom.

So I don’t think we need a parental rights amendment. In cases where parents believe they are losing the proper control they need to parent well, I suggest going to local school boards, state legislatures, and even Congress for legislative relief. I think legislation, in this case, is better than a constitutional amendment.


VIII. Valerie Hudson

I feel torn about this issue. On the one hand, we know there may be unintended negative consequences to any new piece of legislation, including constitutional amendments. I worry about that.

On the other hand, I have watched what is happening in Europe, and even to a lesser extent in the US, and worry that without such an amendment, my children’s children will be at risk. How can one not look at the Charlie Gard case and feel that the rights of the parent to seek treatment for their child were overruled by faceless bureaucrats who felt they had the right to do so. Closer to home, I remember the Parker Jensen case in Utah, and it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. And I view the case of the state of Minnesota facilitating gender transition for a teen without the knowledge or permission of the parent as very troubling.

But it’s not just medical decisions; it’s also decisions about what the child will be taught and who is allowed to teach them. In several Western European nations, homeschool is patently illegal. The state prohibits you from teaching your own child, and if you persist in your desires, the state will take your children away from you and put you in jail, as was done to the Gorber family in Germany,the Romeike family, also from Germany, who fled to the US, the Bodnariu family in Norway, the Johansson family in Sweden, and many others.

Will that happen in the US? To a degree, the issue is already enjoined. In some school districts, your daughter may be forced to share a restroom or shower with biological males whether you think that is a good idea or not. Parents in one California school district found out a week after the fact that their kindergarteners were read books about teansgenderism by their teacher and were made to witness a classmate’s transition—all without their parent’s foreknowledge or permission. In the future, the only chance you may have to prevent your children from being caught up in the cultural maelstrom is to homeschool them—but only if the US refuses to go the path of Europe. The proposed amendment to guarantee the right of parents to homeschool their children may thus become the most important religious liberty right of all.

I doubt a national constitutional amendment will pass. But the state level is another matter: action is needed from state legislatures to state courthouses to try and ensure that there are oases within our country where parents’ rights to act in the best interests of their child are still respected. And I must admit that I hope the composition of the US Supreme Court will change in such a way that these crucially important parental rights are preserved.