A constitutional amendment to protect parental rights was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week amid heightened concerns about the state of public education in the United States.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., introduced the measure on Tuesday. With Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress, it is unlikely that the amendment will pass before the current session of Congress ends next January. But supporters want to "get the ball rolling" in hopes the 2022 midterms shake up the power dynamics in Congress and statehouses.
The proposed amendment contains five sections, with one declaring that "the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right." The proposal also contends that "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."
"Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe these rights without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served," the proposed amendment continues. "The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability. This article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life."
In a statement, Lesko said she believes the amendment is necessary to "protect parents" from left-leaning school board officials and "government bureaucrats" who have "actively worked to undermine parental rights and eliminate educational choices for families."
As a proposed constitutional amendment, the Parental Rights Amendment has a higher threshold to clear than most legislation before it can take effect. It must secure the support of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and then three-fourths of the state legislatures must ratify it.
The Parental Rights Amendment, crafted by the advocacy group ParentalRights.org, has been introduced in every U.S. Congress dating back to the 110th Congress, which convened from 2007-2008.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Will Estrada of ParentalRights.org and the Parental Rights Foundation said introducing the amendment in the current session will "get the ball rolling so we can hit the ground running" in the 118th U.S. Congress, which begins Jan. 3.
"This is the first time that the amendment has been introduced when everybody across the country has been talking about parental rights," he said. "But the thing that's different this time is [parental rights] was not a high priority among the general population for the longest amount of time. That changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when parents were home from work, working from home, when kids were doing Zoom school at the kitchen table and parents were disappointed ... with the quality of public education."
Estrada told CP, "the moment has arrived where parents across the political spectrum are upset that their right to direct the education, upbringing and care of their children has not been respected."
"[W] e're seeing a groundswell for parental rights that we've never seen before in the history of ParentalRights.org and the Parental Rights Foundation," he stressed.
Estrada told CP that he and other advocates are already discussing with allies in Congress about holding House subcommittee hearings, full committee hearings and voting the amendment out of committee in the 118th Congress.
While the U.S. House held hearings on the Parental Rights Amendment in 2012 and 2014, the U.S. Senate has never held such hearings.
He predicted that the U.S. Senate will introduce a separate version of the Parental Rights Amendment in the 118th U.S. Congress, noting that it has an additional provision not present in the House version proclaiming that "no United Nations treaties shall be ratified that alter or abridge the fundamental right of parents."
"I am optimistic that will change in the next Congress," Estrada remarked.
While U.S. Supreme Court precedent dating back to 1923 recognizes the importance of parental rights, Estrada believes parents "can't just rely on Supreme Court precedent."
"It should be enshrined in the text of the Constitution to show that it is such an important right," he asserts.
Jim Mason, chairman of the board for ParentalRights.org, cited the current political climate surrounding the role of parents in education as evidence that a Parental Rights Amendment is needed.
"The Supreme Court in 1923 said 'the child is not the mere creature of the State,' but many of today's bureaucrats have lost sight of that," he said in a statement.
Estrada said "discussions and battles in public schools and school boards over who's going to make decisions for minor children" suggests that the right of parents to determine how to "raise their children, educate their children, care for their children, [and] make medical decisions for their children" are being infringed.
In 2020, Estrada's organization contested a law passed in Washington, D.C., allowing students 11 and older to consent to vaccinations in schools. The law prohibits insurance companies from stating in an explanation of benefits that the children had been immunized.
The advocacy group secured a preliminary injunction in federal district court, blocking the policy. The District of Columbia declined to appeal.
Parents nationwide have expressed concern about some school district policies that prevent parents from being informed if their child identifies as the opposite sex at school.
"Parents love their kids more than any government official who's paid to be there," Estrada said. "[T]hey would lay down their life for their children, and they knew their children better than even the most well-meaning government official."
Estrada acknowledged that "amending the Constitution is not something that should be done lightly" and characterized the process for passing the Parental Rights Amendment as a "journey of 1,000 miles." His advocacy organization will rely on a "grassroots groundswell of parents in all 50 states."
"We're urging our grassroots to call their U.S. representative, ask him or her to cosponsor the Parental Rights Amendment since this is something that everyone can join in with," Estrada said.
The Parental Rights Amendment has secured the support of the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which has won several religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court.
"Parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children," ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Advocacy Strategy Emilie Kao asserted in a statement endorsing the effort.
"Sadly, as parents have stood before local school boards and state legislatures across the country to claim that right, they've been met by government officials who declare themselves the ultimate determiners of what's best for children. This includes growing instances of schools actively hiding controversial curricula and critical information about children's mental and physical health from parents."
ParentalRights.org supports similar protections at the state level.
Data compiled by the advocacy organization reveals that 15 states have statutes that define and protect parental rights: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The group identified 19 states that do not have statutory protections for parental rights but whose courts have effectively treated parental rights as fundamental rights: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
California, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and South Dakota have neither statutory nor court-enforced protections for parental rights while it is unclear whether courts in Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have courts that recognize parental rights as fundamental rights.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org