We owe a lot to our parents. They bring us into the world. They take care of us before we can take care of ourselves. They teach us how to walk, talk, love, and live. If they’re followers of Christ, they introduce us to Christianity and help direct our spiritual formation. They prepare us to become productive members of society, with the aim of living as good citizens.
This is a huge undertaking. Of all the people who share in shaping a child’s future, moral character, and the adults they become—from teachers and coaches to spiritual mentors, extended family, friends, and others—parents have by far the most profound and most enduring influence. The men and women we become often directly reflect our parents’ character, convictions, and qualities.
Everyone should care about how children are raised, if for no other reason than because today’s children become tomorrow’s leaders. In this sense, parents have a direct impact on shaping future generations.
Everyone should also agree that, in general, parents are best positioned to protect their children’s health and welfare. And this makes perfect sense because parents are usually the ones who know their children the best.
But even more important, parents are called to teach their children to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). This directive points to the vital role the family plays in a child’s life. And it highlights the reality and importance of parental rights.
Parental rights are related to the noble, fundamental duty that parents have in directing the upbringing, care, and education of their children. They are fundamental rights and, therefore, protected by the U.S. Constitution. Parental rights are pre-political, meaning they existed before the formal institution of any government. They are natural rights and cannot be given or taken away by a government. Instead, the government’s job in this area is simply to recognize and uphold these inherent rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that parental rights are fundamental. For instance, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Court stated that “the history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.”
Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents to “[t]rain up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Scripture clearly teaches that God gives parents the responsibility to care for, raise, and educate their children. And this is to be done without undue interference from the State. Scripture contains many commands to parents – but none to the State – about properly raising and training children.
This speaks directly to the need to educate and guide children, so they are raised to know, revere, and follow God their entire lives. God has intentionally delegated authority over children to their parents. This authority must be stewarded wisely.
Sometimes, parents fail to provide for their children’s most basic needs. When that happens, the government can step in. But the government should never seek to replace parents. That’s not its job.
Although the law recognizes the rights of parents, parental rights are under increasing attack. Many of these threats are coming from educational policies in public schools that unconstitutionally interfere with parents’ rights and responsibilities to determine how their children will be educated. Notably, there are instances where educational policies leave parents in the dark about what their child is learning and experiencing at school. Sometimes these policies even encourage school staff to hide information from parents about their child’s mental health and well-being.
But parents have a God-given and constitutionally-protected right to know this information as they seek to direct the upbringing of their children.
Schools across the country are adopting policies based on critical theory, including gender theory.
Gender theory sets up schools to allow—and often encourage—students dealing with gender confusion to change their gender identity at school while hiding the information from parents. Instead of inviting parents into this important discussion related to the well-being of their child, they are kept in the dark to allegedly enable a child to find his or her “true self.”
Children struggling with gender dysphoria or the belief that they should be the opposite sex are still made in the image of God, and they need our compassion, prayer, and help. Shutting their parents out of this struggle is harmful to this goal and a child’s long-term well-being. These policies put vulnerable children on the path toward “transitioning” to the opposite sex, making it much more likely that a child will go through additional medical steps aimed at a gender transition. All of this is typically done at a very young age. And some of the effects are irreversible.
Experts have testified that this is harmful to children. And studies have shown that allowing a child to naturally work through gender confusion with the help of a good counselor almost always results in the child accepting their biological sex.
Alliance Defending Freedom has heard from parents across the country whose children are caught up in these disturbing policies. We’ve filed a lawsuit against Harrisonburg City Public Schools in Virginia, which has a policy of hiding information about children’s gender identity struggles from parents. With the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, we also have two ongoing cases against similar policies in Wisconsin, one in Madison and one against the Kettle Moraine School District.
Alliance Defending Freedom represents many parents in legal challenges seeking to recognize and vindicate their rights. Equally important is our ongoing effort to encourage state and federal policymakers to protect parental rights. And our work is cut out for us. Here are some fast facts:
ADF’s Center for Legislative Advocacy tackles these issues head-on by advocating for legislation that ensures the government cannot infringe on fundamental parental rights. This includes legislation that asserts parents’ rights to direct their children’s upbringing, provides for increased transparency in curriculum, and ensures parents—not schools—are making vital health care decisions for their children.
Helping to secure parental rights is a collaborative effort. We encourage you to engage on this important issue, whether you’re a parent, ministry leader, or both. Conveying the importance of upholding and protecting parental rights not only helps strengthen your community now, it helps strengthen families and communities for generations to come.
We’re proud to stand with every parent and defend their God-given responsibility to shepherd the upbringing of their children wisely.
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