Parental Rights Amendment Proposal Introduced in Senate

Published September 9, 2017

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the Parental Rights Amendment (Senate Joint Resolution 48) in August. The amendment would stipulate, “The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right.” Section two of the amendment would establish, “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.”

Four senators—Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Jim Risch (R-ID)—joined as initial bill cosponsors. To be ratified, the amendment must receive two-thirds support from both the House and Senate, and approval from three-fourths of the states.

‘Erosion of Parental Rights’

Home School Legal Defense Association Federal Relations Director Will Estrada says parents in the United States are in danger of losing their rights.

“In the recent Charlie Gard case, the courts told [Charlie’s] parents they could not seek alternate medical care, and they basically sentenced that little infant to die,” Estrada said. “We’re seeing an erosion of parental rights, and that is why we believe the time is now to put the right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children into the U.S. Constitution.”

Charlie Gard was a baby born in England last year with a severe genetic disorder. Charlie’s parents wanted to take him to New York for experimental treatment, but a National Health Service hospital determined further treatment was not in the boy’s best interest. The UK High Court sided with the hospital in April 2017. Charlie’s health deteriorated during the court battle, and his parents eventually gave permission to have his life support removed. Charlie died in July 2017, just shy of his first birthday.

“Right now, in the United States, we do actually have very strong protections for parental rights,” Estrada said. “In England, they’ve adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which eliminated parental rights. It puts it in the hands of the government to decide what’s best for children. What happened with Charlie Gard was a classic example of what happens when moms and dads are not able to decide how to care for their children.

“We kind of see that on the horizon,” Estrada said. “We think the Charlie Gard case is a canary in the mineshaft singing the danger that we face in our country if we don’t act and stand up.”

‘Red Flags of Concern’

Rick Jore, who argued for parental rights in his four terms as a Republican member of the Montana House of Representatives, says “red flags of concern have consistently and persistently risen” for him since hearing of the Parental Rights Amendment.

“My opposition to such an amendment certainly is not that I do not believe parental rights to be of utmost importance, or that I do not think they are under attack,” Jore said. “They certainly are. Too often, though, in our strategy to challenge illegitimate government action, we unwittingly accept the assumed authority behind the usurpation that is the cause of the action. It seems to me that we have gone from ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’ to ‘There is no absolute truth,’ let alone ‘self-evident truth.'”

Jore says the rights enumerated in the Parental Rights Amendment are already covered in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

“If parental rights are not unalienable, then no right is,” Jore said. “The government has no right or authority to declare unalienable rights. It has the duty and obligation to recognize and then secure them. Fundamental right? Why not unalienable right? I don’t believe the language of the Declaration is out of date. We know, or should know, that parental rights are already fundamental, if not unalienable, and certainly are to be considered as covered by the Ninth Amendment.

“If we need to begin to specifically enumerate by further amendment all rights which were intended to be contained in the Ninth Amendment, do we not diminish those which are not enumerated by additional amendments?” he said.

Concerned About Unintended Consequences

Jore says the amendment would officially legitimize government schools, though the Constitution does not.

“The language ‘as an alternative to public schools’ endorses, condones, and legitimizes government schools,” Jore said. “Currently, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that does that. I prefer it stay that way, because I do not believe government schools should be endorsed and legitimized by the U.S. Constitution.”

Jore says the language of the amendment gives government too much power.

“Who gets to define ‘reasonable’?” Jore said. “Probably bureaucrats initially, and then ultimately judges. That word is wide open for arbitrariness and mischief. At the least, if this effort is to be made, it probably could have been significantly improved by establishing that parents could ‘reasonably’ exercise this ‘fundamental right’ as determined by a jury rather than a self-interested bureaucrat or agenda-driven judge.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.