Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Parental Rights

A right doesn’t have to be spelled out in the Bill of Rights in order to be a God-given natural right. I believe that we have the God-given fundamental right to see to the care, control, and upbringing of children. With that right comes the responsibility to do so. Only in severe failure to care for children should society (and possibly the local government) step in for the protection of the child. 

You’re probably thinking that this is so obvious, there’s hardly reason to mention it—which is probably what the founders thought when this wasn’t listed in the Bill of Rights: how could anyone think otherwise? 

Unfortunately, this basic fundamental right is under assault around the world. Sweden is what we usually think of as benign socialism. But in June 2009 Swedish officials extracted 7-year-old Domenic Johansson from a plane bound for India, his mother’s homeland—because the family homeschooled. His family has been denied all contact with him since that day. Currently Swedish officials are attempting to permanently terminate parental rights of Christer and Annie Johansson. You can read more here.  

Romeike family,
photo by Mike Bellemy, NYT
In February 2010, the Romeikes, a German family were granted political asylum in the United States to prevent the benignly socialist state of Germany from severely fining the parents for homeschooling—and depriving them of their children. This Christian family had faced conditions in the schools that they didn’t want for their children. The word rowdiness was used; I don’t know what that entailed. But they had also looked into the local private school options and found them worse than the public schools. No amount of proof that their children were succeeding academically would satisfy; they had to leave their homeland in order to provide for the upbringing of their children as they saw fit. Here’s more on that story:  

David Parker in handcuffs,
from article linked
But infringement of parental rights could never be a problem in the US, right? Unfortunately, wrong. In April 2005 a family in Massachusetts questioned the pro-homosexual curriculum being given to their kindergartener. The father calmly went to school officials and asked for the ability to opt out, and to be notified ahead of time when such things were going to be presented. He was told that his parental rights were forfeit when he allowed his children to attend public school. That was not satisfactory. He said he would wait until the higher up official in the district could talk with him. The district sent for the police and had him arrested. You can read the details here:  

Closer to home, in Texas, for the past several biannual legislative sessions efforts have been made to enact the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act. The purpose of this legislation is to close a loophole in the law that allows judges to illegally terminate parental rights for fit parents (a problem that likely exists in whatever state you’re in). Sometimes this is referred to as Grandparent rights. What happens is that grandparents disapprove of the way their grandchildren are being raised—often because of homeschooling or choice of a different religion from the grandparents. The grandparents sue for visitation, claiming that they are being denied access to their precious grandchildren—something that judges tend to be sympathetic to. So, even though there is no question that the parents are fit (no neglect, no abuse, no question of appropriate parenting), the grandparents get a judge to require visitation, or sometimes shared custody. Sometimes judges have actually stepped in and said, until all is settled, he’ll just grant custody to the grandparents—denying a fit parent’s rights to live with and see to the upbringing of a child, until the judge’s decision is overturned, sometimes taking years.  

Always in these cases, by the time they reach the state Supreme Court level, the parent wins. But in the meantime, that could have taken years of family turmoil and loss of custody, and easily upwards of a million dollars in legal costs. If a family simply cannot pay the legal fees (or gain access to donations that will pay), the family may lose to grandparents with deeper pockets. If a case is dismissed somewhere along the way, there is nothing to stop the grandparents from filing an entirely new suit. As long as they have money, they can keep persecuting the fit parents until the parents’ resources are drained, so the grandparents can essentially buy their grandchildren through legal system corruption. 

One case involved a young woman whose soldier husband was killed in Iraq. She had never had previous problems with her in-laws, but they suddenly feared they would lose access to their grandchildren, and instead of talking with her to work something out (which she would have been open to), they sued her—knowing as a widow with small children, her resources were small.  

In another case the grandparents had to be refused access because they couldn’t be trusted to keep the children safe. The grandfather was frequently drunk. The grandmother took grandchildren along on her “dates” with other men. This battle went on for years, and drained the family of over a million in legal fees. 

There’s a case that went to jury trial this summer. If I recall the details, a father was widowed, and was then going to make the choice to homeschool his daughter. The maternal grandparents disapproved and obtained arranged visitation. There was only one visit the father missed; it was during a move. A judge stepped in, took the daughter from the father—for three years—awarding custody to the grandparents, with no accusation against the father except that he had failed to notify the grandparents of the move and had missed one visit. You would think—if you could even grant that such a thing could be required of the father, which I don’t—that the severest penalty would be a small fine and an order to make up the visit. Loss of custody is essentially the equivalent of the death penalty in a custody decision—and he had never even been accused of being an unfit parent. 

He had his daughter returned to him, after three years, this past summer, because he insisted on a jury trial to lessen the judge’s power. But efforts to recoup court costs from the grandparents are being thwarted by the very judge who interfered in the first place. Tim Lambert’s blog, Right in Texas, has covered this case pretty thoroughly over the past several months; I hope you’ll go there for more details. The legislative effort got closer to being passed this session than in the past, but still failed, so it will be put forward again in 2012.

I feel rather strongly about parental rights. That is why I was rather disturbed last week, at a forum to meet the candidates for the local school board. There are two positions on this November’s ballot. One of the questions asked was, “Do you support waivers, or vouchers, to pay for private schools?” One of the incumbents said he absolutely would not support waivers or vouchers. All the money should be kept in the public schools. His reason? That this is an exceptional school district, and no one has a need to get an education elsewhere. This is the school district that caused us to homeschool—so bad that, after two years here, with a child in high school, middle school, and grade school, we could see that it didn’t meet our needs at any level.  

We paid our own way as homeschoolers for a decade—all along paying the full tax with no vouchers. We didn’t even complain about that, since we were free from interference to homeschool in Texas. Vouchers—which really mean you are using your own paid tax money that is assigned to education, to educate your children in the manner you choose—are sometimes construed to give government the claim that they must regulate. So I’m not out their screaming for vouchers for myself.  

But philosophically, being against any tax money for education going anywhere but failing public schools goes against the God-given right for parents to see to the care, control, and upbringing of their children. Even in a tiny off-year election, in a free state with Constitutional protections, we have to be vigilant to keep these rights from being infringed.

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