Parental Rights in Danger

Culture Wars

The fight against parental rights has been going on for fifty years and will continue until nations realize that the relationship between a parent and child is not one instituted and protected by the State, but by God.

If you grew up in the 1950s you may have had the childhood experience many of us had. At school, you were expected to behave and if you didn’t, you were disciplined. You would either have your desk moved out into the hallway (an early version of “time out”) or you took a trip to the principal’s office.

After school, you went outside and played and you knew you had to come home when the streetlights came on.

In either case, if you got in trouble, the teacher or neighborhood mother would take care of things immediately and the only plea you had besides “I didn’t do it” was “Please don’t tell my parents!”

That was truly a time when you were a product of the community in which you lived.

Why then was there such as stir when MSNBC weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry went on the air with an advertisement now airing in which she said that our children were everyone’s responsibility?

The difference is one of context.

In October 2010, MSNBC began using the tag line “lean forward,” which was the new network slogan for promoting its self-described politically progressive identity. (Apparently, the campaign has struck a chord with the American Left as President Barack Obama twice used the catchphrase last October when addressing Red Cross volunteers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.)

In her promo spot Harris-Perry said:

We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children … We haven’t had a very collective notion of these [that] are our children… We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

This is a continuation of the Progressive notion expressed by then First Lady Hillary Clinton in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village. When she was promoting her book, Clinton said:

I chose that old African proverb1 to title my book because it offers a timeless reminder that children will thrive only if their families thrive and if the whole of society cares enough to provide for them. … Instead, our challenge is to arrive at a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities. Creating that consensus in a democracy depends on seriously considering other points of view, resisting the lure of extremist rhetoric, and balancing individual rights and freedoms with personal responsibility and mutual obligations.

On the surface, the words sound good. We are all responsible to each other; we are our brother’s keeper. On closer examination, however, one can see that how one defines the terms used makes a big difference in the meaning of these words.

In Harris-Perry’s commercial, what does “kids belong to whole communities” actually mean? One may believe she means that “we are all in this together,” but Harris-Perry has a different definition.

She says, “This isn’t about me wanting to take your kids…” But in the same breath, she says, “This is about whether we as a society … including our government, have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good.”

Progressives believe that, in many cases, the rights of the State trump parental rights. The liberal group People for the American Way once called Colorado’s proposed Parental Rights Bill, “ … a powerful vehicle for attacking public education and state and federal legislation.”

Progressives are concerned that parents may interfere with a child’s learning if given the chance. They want all children to receive explicit sex education as early as kindergarten and see parental rights as a threat to that program.

Some Progressives would take the legal principle of In loco parentis (“In the place of the parent”) and use it to give the State the role of the parent in all aspects of a child’s life.


The campaign against the rights of a parent in raising their child does not stop within the confines of a single country. The United Nations has a treaty called the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The convention was signed for the United States by U.N. Ambassador Madeline Albright in 1995, but has not yet been ratified. If it is, it would supersede any U.S. law, including the Constitution, which is the main reason for opposition to the treaty.

The UNCRC ostensibly protects and promotes the rights of all children around the world. The convention states that “the child … should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” and should be “brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations … in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”

While this sounds good, the convention attacks the basic child-parent relationship, removing parents from their central role in their child’s life and placing government front and center in their upbringing. The two principles at the heart of the treaty involve the “best interests of the child” and the child’s “evolving capacities.”

Does Father Know Best?

Article 3 of the UNCRC states that “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Article 18(1) of the CRC states that “Parents … have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.”

These two concepts fly in the face of American Law.

In the 1993 case of Reno v. Flores, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the ‘best interests of the child’ is not the legal standard that governs parents’ or guardians’ exercise of their custody.”

In the 2000 case of Troxel v. Granville, the Court struck down a grandparent visitation statute because of that ruling. The court’s presumption that it is normally in the best interest of children to spend time with the grandparent failed to provide any protection for Granville’s fundamental constitutional right to make decisions concerning the rearing of her own daughters. (In this case, the judge had granted the grandparents greater visitation with their grandchildren over the objections of the parent.)

If the UNCRC were ratified, it would supplant the traditional preference of parents’ rights with a new presumption in favor of the rights of the state.

Evolving Capacity

The UNCRC states that all decisions regarding a child’s upbringing should take into account the child’s “evolving capacities.” The Convention recognizes that sixteen-year olds should be viewed differently in the eyes of the law than four-year olds.

Thus, the Convention’s command to respect the “evolving capacities” of the child rejects the time-proven concept that parents are the most effective advocates of the child’s interests and best understand the maturity and abilities of their children. With one swift move, the treaty cuts parents out of the equation.

Yet in the Troxel decision, the U.S. Supreme Court thoroughly rejected the notion that government officers were more qualified than parents in determining the needs of their children. In the majority opinion, Justice Souter wrote that the choices of parents cannot be overridden “merely because the judge might think himself more enlightened than the child’s parent.”

These core principles of the UNCRC, the “best interests of the child” and the child’s “evolving capacities,” pose a direct threat to the basic relationship between parent and child. All decisions affecting the child—even those made by the parents—could be overruled if they do not satisfy these two principles.

Sadly, the erosion of parental rights started even before the UNCRC. The kind of infringement on parental rights in favor childrens’ rights has led to bizarre situations in some states a child can demand an abortion without parental notification, but cannot get a tattoo or even an aspirin.

A Biblical Prescription

The Bible gives some clear direction on the rights of a parent and a child. One of the commandments God gave Moses was the command to respect one’s parents (Exodus 20:12; Deut 5:16). One verse Christian parents (particularly frustrated ones) seem to know is how the Old Testament handles a rebellious son. In Deuteronomy it is written:

If a man has a stubborn son who does not obey his parents, and although they try to discipline him, he still refuses to pay attention to them, then his parents shall seize him and bring him before the elders at the gate of his city. Then they are to declare to the elders of their city: “Our son is stubborn and rebellious. He does not obey us…” Then all the men of his city shall stone him with stones so that he dies. This is how you will remove this evil from among you …

Deuteronomy 21:18–21, ISV

Even here though, a parent’s authority was not absolute. A father could not take it up on himself, as in some cultures, and kill a rebellious child. He had to take his case to the elders and they had to agree on the punishment.

Mutual Obligations

Parental obligations include loving their children, providing for their well-being and educating them (both in the ways of God and the ways of life).

Parents and children are both required to provide for each other, one in their youth and one in their old age:

If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8, ISV

Parents need to love their children and treat them with respect:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up by training and instructing them about the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4, ISV

Parents are also required to educate their children:

Let these words that I’m commanding you today be always on your heart. Teach them repeatedly to your children. Talk about them while sitting in your house or walking on the road, and as you lie down or get up.

Deuteronomy 6:6–7, ISV

This admonition actually relates to their spiritual education even more than their secular education. The head of the household is supposed to be a child’s first and foremost Bible Study teacher. Sunday Schools were never intended to be a substitute for home Bible Study led by the parents.

In turn, a child (even a teenager) is obligated to obey and honor their parents. Even if it is hard for a child to honor their parents, they are to obey them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

Colossians 3:20, ISV

In neither the Old nor New Testaments is there any exception to this. Jesus Himself set the ultimate example.

Then he went back with them, returning to Nazareth and remaining in submission to them [Mary and Joseph].

Luke 2:51, ISV

Both parents are included in this authority. Respect for parents is a duty which has no restriction; even if a parent’s character forbids reverence in its truest sense. There is a limitation, however, in all cases—the law of God takes precedence over any obligations one has to their parents or their children:

He asked them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49, ISV

A Long-Term Battle

The fight against parental rights has been going on for fifty years and will continue until nations realize that the relationship between a parent and child is not one instituted and protected by the State, but by God.

On March 30, 1961, at the annual meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Ronald Reagan stated, in part:

Drugs and devices are prescribed without getting parental consent or giving notification after they’ve done so. Girls termed “sexually active”—and that has replaced the word “promiscuous”—are given this help in order to prevent illegitimate birth or abortion…Is the Judeo-Christian tradition wrong? … Isn’t it the parents’ right to give counsel and advice to keep their children from making mistakes that may affect their entire lives? But the fight against parental notification is really only one example of many attempts to water down traditional values and even abrogate the original terms of American democracy. There’s a great spiritual awakening in America, a renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America’s goodness and greatness.2

These same words are as true today as they were then. Parental rights and obligations are central to God’s plan for us and it is incumbent on us to preserve those rights for ourselves, for our children, and also for the Lord.


  1. “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”
  2. Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations … St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.


  • Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations … St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.
  • Moltmann, J. (1997). God for a Secular Society: the Public Relevance of Theology. Kaiser/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh.
  • Pope, W. B. (1879). A Compendium of Christian Theology. London: Beveridge and Co.