Have you ever wondered what the term ‘parental rights’ really means? Then
stay tuned to Homeschool Heartbeat, as guest host Joel Grewe and HSLDA Chairman
Mike Farris discuss five things about parental rights that you won’t want to
Joel Grewe: Hi there! I’m Joel Grewe, the director of
HSLDA’s Generation Joshua, and I’ll be your guest host this week. With me in
the studio is HSLDA’s Chairman Mike Farris. Mike, welcome to the show!
Mike Farris: Hi Joel!
Treat them right [0:27]
Joel: Mike, here at HSLDA we talk a lot about parental rights and
why they’re so important. But there are parts of that topic that sometimes go
unspoken. One of those parts is parental responsibility—the idea that parents have
a duty to treat their children right. Can you tell us about that?
Mike: Sure, Joel. In international law, there’s the idea of
positive rights and negative rights. Positive rights are what the government has to do
for you; negative rights are what the government can’t do to you.
In the United States, we don’t recognize that. We believe that positive rights,
what must be done for children—parents are supposed to do those things. Parents
are supposed to make sure their children have food, clothing, shelter, medical care,
education, and all the other attributes of life that are necessary for children. There
is a duty—a legal duty—on the part of parents to furnish those things for
their children. If they fail to do those things—fail to live up to their
duties—there are legal consequences for that. There are gradations of consequences
that ultimately can result in criminal charges if you seriously fail to do your
But our system is built on a system of duties owed by the parent to their child to
love, clothe, feed. Now, the government can’t sue you about the loving part. But
they can enforce the feeding, clothing, sheltering, and taking good care of your child.
And that’s the way it should be in the abstract.
A free society will punish people if they don’t live up to their duties, but
they won’t regulate them on the front end—make parents get licenses and so
on, to be approved by the government before you have the duty to feed, clothe, shelter,
educate your child.
Joel: I don’t really want to have to get a permit from the
government to have a family. But, you know, that is a great reminder that, as parents,
we are given authority with the expectation that we will use it well. Or, to put it
another way, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
What about the children? [2:13]
Joel: Mike, when we talk about parental rights, some of our
listeners think, “Well, what about the children? Don’t they have rights
too?” So tell us about the relationship between parental rights and
children’s rights. Are they antithetical to each other?
Mike: To get oriented in a correct answer to this question, we have
to know what rights are. The term “rights” describe the relationship between
a government and a citizen or an individual. In a family situation, you have duties, you
have responsibilities. And rights, in a legally enforceable sense, are really not the
correct orientation. There’s duties that can be breached, and there’s legal
consequences for the breach of duties, but a duties-and-responsibility system is much
different than a rights-responsibility. The reason that the children’s rights
movement wants to use the term “children’s rights” and move away from
the responsibility of parents is because then it moves the child away from the
orientation of the family into the zone of government regulation.
So vis-a-vis the government, children—yeah, they do have rights. If
they get arrested for shoplifting, they have the right to a fair trial. They have all
kinds of rights: they have the right to a parent that the government can’t take
The problem that we see is that the children’s rights movement isn’t
interested in protecting children from the overreach of government—that’s
where rights would come in. Instead, the children’s rights movement wants to move
into the zone, and invade the legitimate sphere, of the family. That’s what
we’ve got to watch out against.
So it’s the rights of the parents and the children together to stand free from
the government until such time as there’s a breach of those duties. And then the
parents can be held responsible for failing to live up to what God and the law expect
them to do.
Where’s the line? [3:50]
Joel: Mike, we believe that the right of parents to direct their
children’s education is a fundamental right. But even fundamental rights are not
absolute—they have a limit somewhere. Can you explain what the limits of parental
Mike: The current prevailing test, although it’s a little bit
in dispute, is called the compelling interest test. And I’ll just say it in more
plain language than the normal legalese. Parents have the right to direct and make
decisions for their children until they violate some policy that the government has
created that’s really, really important—so-called compelling interest
test—and there’s no other way to accomplish the government’s objective
other than invading the parents’ decision-making authority. That’s called
the least restrictive means test.
And so if, for example, a parent is a member of some occult religion that believe in
child sexual sacrifice or something, does the government have a really, really important
reason for stopping that kind of behavior? The answer is yes. Absolutely yes. And so the
parents don’t have a right to such activity.
Parents don’t have a right to make decisions for their child that would deny
their child the basics of life—food, clothing, shelter, basic medical care,
education. So if a parent wants to make educational decisions for their child,
that’s within their rights. A parent who wants to deny education to their
child—that’s not within their rights.
Joel: Alright, and then—when those decisions are made, the
least restrictive means for the government coming in is that they have to minimize the
amount of disruption they create there, is that the idea?
Mike: Well, is there another way to accomplish the
government’s objective? That’s another way of saying it.
And so, for example, it used to be that you had to be a certified teacher to be able
to homeschool your kids. And that kept 99 percent of the families out of the
homeschooling world. And we found that, you know what, if the goal of the state was to
make sure that children were literate and self-sufficient, there’s a lot of other
ways that you can make sure of that without requiring the parent to be a certified
teacher. So you’ve got to find those alternative ways—there’s nothing
wrong with requiring literacy and self-sufficiency. What’s wrong is requiring this
particular path to achieve literacy and self-sufficiency. And so if there’s
another path to achieve the child’s safety, if there’s another path to
achieve the child’s well-being, and food, clothing, medicine, then the government
has to allow the parent to choose that other path that accomplishes the
Joel: Sounds like parental rights are rooted in a culture of
freedom—the idea of choices being a good thing.
Parental rights in the 18th century [6:11]
Joel: Mike, some of our listeners might be surprised to learn that
the phrase “parental rights” never appears in the Constitution or in the
Bill of Rights. If the concept of parental rights is so important, why didn’t our
Founders mention it?
Mike: Well, they understood that the purpose of government was to
protect life, liberty, and property, and to punish those who do evil. If you have a very
limited purpose of government—they couldn’t imagine a government with a
federal social services policy. They couldn’t imagine a federal government with
any kinds of the policies that, day-to-day, interfere with parental rights. And so it
just simply didn’t occur to them that they were creating this kind of monster, and
so they didn’t put it into the Constitution.
But the 9th Amendment implicitly mentions the issue that we’re talking about.
They wrote down, “Just because we wrote down other rights, doesn’t mean
we’re not preserving our other recognized rights in the law.” And if you
will go to the common law rights that were recognized in 1791, when the Bill of Rights
was adopted, there is utterly no doubt that the rights of parents to direct the
upbringing and education of their children was overwhelmingly recognized as a basic
right of life, a right of parents to do. And the government could not legitimately
interfere with that.
So the Founders—everything in the Constitution was in response to something
that they experienced. They had not experienced a government that was so draconian, and
they couldn’t imagine that we were creating a government so aggressive as to get
between a parent and his child.
Raising good parents [7:37]
Joel: Mike, tell us about the purpose of parental rights. When
parents use their rights rightly and wisely, what are they aiming for? What’s the
Mike: Really, Joel, another way to phrase it [is],
“What’s the purpose of parenting?” Because the right of parents is
just the right to be able to make good parenting choices. And so what I have tried to do
in my own life, and what I’ve encouraged other families to do, is we like to think
of developing spiritual fruit in our children, and, you know, reproducing
But the goal is not really to have good children. The goal is not to have good grown
children or good adults. The goal is to have good parents. And so, if we want to use the
spiritual fruit analogy, we’re not interested in baskets of apples; we’re
interested in orchards. And so I think that raising children who will be responsible
parents, and who will be really good in raising their own children—that’s
the ultimate goal.
And good parenting, parenting done well—your kids will embrace the way
you’ve raised them, and they will carry it on the next generation. If you’re
too harsh, or you’re strange, or you do things that are really contrary to the
loving best that you can do for your kids, your kids are going to reject that. And what
they do with their own kids will not resemble anything that you did with them.
So my advice is: parent well, and then you’ll see your grandchildren being
raised in a way that raises them truly in the nurture and the admonition of the
Joel: Mike, it’s so important to have a clear understanding of
what parental rights are and why they exist. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us
this week, and thanks for letting me host your show! Until next time, I’m Joel