In the sense that the term is used to imply a moral obligation and chosen desire to provide and care for children, I have no objections to discussing parental rights. To some extent that’s what I read as the goal in this editorial by Thomas Bowden of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. I just wish the correct use was the basis of the discussion rather than the caveat. Mr. Bowden introduces the topic in response to the recent ruling in California affirming the legality of homeschooling.
But where’s the real victory for parents’ rights? Rights identify actions you can take without permission. A true victory would have been a judicial declaration that parents have an absolute right to control their children’s upbringing–and that they therefore don’t need government permission to educate their children as they see fit.
There’s much more verbiage in the essay taking that same lazy approach. But absolute should not be accepted as a stand-in for nuance. Is this particularly libertarian?
To give parents a permanent victory, California would need to make its law consistent with America’s founding principles. Parents are sovereign individuals whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness includes the right to control their child’s upbringing. Other citizens, however numerous or politically powerful, have no moral right to substitute their views on child-raising for those of the father and mother who created that child.
We know that rights are ignored far too often, but that doesn’t provide us justification to fling the word about as if expanding its definition and application are all that matter. That justification doesn’t exist, nor is that approach to rights correct. Where the individual is concerned, yes, but children are also individuals. Sharing DNA is not a contract capable of converting an obligation into a right. Creating the child is the parents’ right as individuals. Raising that child is better approached as an obligation with important qualifications. (I use obligation as an objective term not meant to imply a burden.)
Mr. Bowden gets closer later in his essay:
Of course, there are certain situations in which government must step in to protect the rights of a child, as in cases of physical abuse or neglect. …
Education, like nutrition, should be recognized as the exclusive domain of a child’s parents, within legal limits objectively defining child abuse and neglect. …
The qualification is key to advancing liberty first, for each individual. How best to do that, and on which principles, is next. Parents are the correct answer. But setting limits using objective standards should never be lost in the issue. Parents must be free to homeschool their children because they are best positioned to respond to the child’s positive right to an education. That is not a concession that the child may be held in a perpetual state of ignorance that will inhibit or prevent her from becoming a functioning, independent adult. Bowden succeeds where he makes that point. I wish he’d gotten there earlier so he’d have more time to defend this proper view of liberty instead of retreating on exaggerated claims.
For discussion: How likely is it that children will respect liberty when they become adults if they’re only granted their basic, fundamental liberties at the discretion of their parents? Where liberty is denied, is it really better if parents deny it rather than the state?