Magazine article The Humanist

The New "Parental Rights" Crusade

Magazine article The Humanist

The New "Parental Rights" Crusade

Article excerpt

Last, year, the Christian Coalition and many religious-right supporters began calling for laws and constitutional amendments guaranteeing "parental rights" so that parents could raise their children without governmental interference. It was one of the planks in the Christian Coalitions "Contract with the American Family" At the federal level, this resulted in the introduction of Senate Bill 984 ("The Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act of 1995") by Senator Charles Grassley (Republican--Iowa). There the bill has remained bottled up in committee. To break the bottleneck, Majority Leader Bob Dole and others urged an amendment that now provides an exception for demonstrable child abuse or neglect--a feature painfully absent from some state bills, which read simply: "The right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be infringed."

Furthermore, according to the New York Times of January 15, 1996, many of the federal amendment's supporters hold that the wording permits, for example, corporal punishment using a leather strap but would not allow "serious" child abuse for which other laws apply. On January 14, Virginia Governor George Allen threw his support behind a state constitutional amendment that lacks even that caveat, declaring in defense: "Parents have good sense. They'll do what's right"

Most observers--supporters and critics alike--also interpret "parental rights" laws to mean that parents would have complete control over the content of public-school curricula, testing, and so forth, thus usurping the existing authority of teachers, school boards, and state and federal policymaking bodies. In dozens of states, this new formulation of a long-standing conservative cultural goal-disempowering "government schools and bureaucrats"-has become the Christian Coalition's current major effort toward legislating the content of public education. …

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