Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.
Though efforts to pass a constitutional amendment protecting parental rights have failed in the past, two U.S. legislators are preparing to reintroduce the idea this week; and this time, they say, the effort is backed by more than 60 congressional members.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who introduced a parental rights amendment by himself last year, told the Agence France-Presse that he will be joined by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., on Tuesday as they renew the fight.
According to a statement released to AFP by Hoekstra’s office, the amendment “would clearly outline in the U.S. Constitution that parents, not government or any other organization, have a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit.”
“At a time when government at every level seems to encroach upon the ability of parents to choose the best for their children,” Hoekstra writes on his website, “it is important to preserve parental rights into the Constitution.”
Last summer Hoekstra introduced H.J.R. 97, proposing a constitutional amendment stating that the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right that cannot be infringed upon by federal, state, or international treaty law without demonstrating government interest “of the highest order.” Hoekstra asserts that legitimate cases of abuse and neglect fall under the “demonstrated government interest” clause.
Without any co-sponsors, however, H.J.R 97 died in committee.
“Few dispute the vital role of parents in raising the next generation, but, regrettably, few recognize that the fundamental role of parents is under direct attack,” wrote J. Michael Smith, president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Smith pointed to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, an internation treaty approved by the Clinton administration but stalled by opposition in the Senate, as one example of governmental attempts to infringe on parental rights.
“It’s possible that in the near future, the United States may significantly weaken the rights of parents to raise their children,” Smith wrote. “Crucial decisions that parents are accustomed to making, such as what our children read, who they associate with, what kind of discipline is used, whether we take them to church, or whether we homeschool, all become decisions for the state if the United States ratifies the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
He continued, “By allowing the government to define and determine what is in the ‘best interests of the child,’ outside the context of abuse and neglect cases, the UNCRC in effect diminishes the parental role, replacing it with government supervision.”
As WND reported, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., last month urged a hurry-up timetable for adoption of the UNCRC.
“Children deserve basic human rights … and the convention protects children’s rights by setting some standards here so that the most vulnerable people of society will be protected,” Boxer said, according to Fox News.
Critics like Smith, however, argue the document, which creates “the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” usurps the role of parents in directing their children’s upbringing.
Hoekstra used a 3-minute video clip, viewable below, to explain how, he believes, parental rights are being overlooked in the nation’s capitol and why a parental rights amendment is needed:
Opponents of the amendment, such as those that opposed a Colorado state version proposed in the 1990′s, argue that the measure would protect child abusers, make public schools a battleground for parents’ ideological issues and prevent teenage students from receiving sex education and family planning services through their schools.
Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued against the amendment in a blog post last month, making many of the same arguments lodged against the Colorado initiative.
Boston also argued that the amendment is a back door approach to mixing public education dollars and religion, claiming through the amendment “states would be forced to give parents tuition vouchers for private and religious schooling since the right to direct a child’s education would be enshrined in the Constitution.”
Sen. DeMint, who will join Hoekstra in offering the amendment, has been involved in similar legislation in the past. DeMint was a co-sponsor of the Parents’ Rights Empowerment and Protection Act of 2007, which required schools to obtain written parental permission before teaching children about sex or sexuality.
DeMint’s bill, like Hoekstra’s in 2008, never made it out of committee.
To succeed, the amendment Hoekstra and DeMint plan to introduce Tuesday will need to pass in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate by two-thirds majorities each, then win ratification by three-fourths of the states.