Fundamental Rights of Parents to Education Choice

In a series of United State Supreme Court cases from the 1923 to 2000, the Court applied and upheld the “Parental Rights Doctrine”, which holds that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.  Parents were assumed to be the best caretakers for their children unless proven unfit.[1]

“It is the natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life.”  Meyer v. State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)[2]

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.  The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”  Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)[3]

“It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder … It is recognition of this that these decisions have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.” Prince v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1994)[4]

“The values of parental direction of the religious upbringing and education of their children in their early and formative years have a high place in our society.  Even more markedly than in Prince, therefore, this case involves the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the State, to guide the religious future and education of their children.  The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children.  This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.”  Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)[5]

“This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”  Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974)[6]

“Our decisions establish that the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.  It is through the family that we inculcate and pass down many of our most cherished values, moral and culture.” Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977)[7]

“The liberty interest in family privacy has its source, and its contours are ordinarily to be sought, not in state law, but in intrinsic human rights, as they have been understood in ‘this Nation’s history and tradition’.” Smith v. Organization of Foster Families, 431 U.S. 816 (1977)[8]

“We have recognized on numerous occasions that the relationship between parent and child is constitutionally protected.  We have little doubt that the Due Process Clause would be offended ‘if a State were to attempt to force the breakup of a natural family, over the objections of the parents and their children, without some showing of unfitness and for the sole reason that to do so was thought to be in the children’s best interest’.” Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978)[9]

“The law’s concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions.  More important, historically it has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.  The statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition.  Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or because it involves risks does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state.” Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979)[10]

“The fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody, and management of their child does not evaporate simply because they have not been model parents or have lost temporary custody of their child to the State.  Even when blood relationships are strained, parents retain a vital interest in preventing the irretrievable destruction of their family life.  Until the State proves parental unfitness, the child and his parents share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their natural relationship.”  Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982)[11]

“’The best interests of the child,’ a venerable phrase familiar from divorce proceedings, is a proper and feasible criterion for making the decision as to which of two parents will be accorded custody.  But it is not traditionally the sole criterion – much less the sole constitutional criterion – for other, less narrowly channeled judgments involving children, where their interests conflict in varying degrees with the interests of other.  ‘The best interests of the child’ is not the legal standard that governs parents’ or guardians’ exercise of their custody:  So long as certain minimum requirements of child care are met, the interests of the child may be subordinated to the interests of other children, or indeed even to the interests of the parents or guardians themselves.”  Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292 (1993)[12]

“In a long line of cases, we have held that, in addition to the specific freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the ‘liberty’ specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the rights .. to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children.  The Fourteenth Amendment ‘forbids the government to infringe …’ ‘fundamental’ liberty interests of all, no matter what process is provided, unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.”  Washington v. Glucksburg, 521, U.S. 702 (1997)[13]

Although this standard was slightly eroded in the 2000 case of Troxel v. Granvill, the Troxel case merely made The Parental Rights Doctrine less concrete and more vague.  However, the overriding legal philosophy is that parents, not the government, are in the best position (and have the greatest interest) to direct a child’s life, education, and upbringing.  We have almost a hundred years of this right being considered a FUNDAMENTAL right, protected by the Due Process Clause of our United States Constitution. 

According to Pew Research Center, when comparing 15-year olds throughout the world, “among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.”  They also ranked 24th in reading.  However, the most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. 38th in Math, 24th in Science, and 24th in Reading.  (Source: Pew Research Center, U.S. Students' Academic Achievement Still Lags That of Their Peers in Many Other Countries, Drew Desilver, retrieved January 22, 2019, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/).

With those results, is it any wonder why parents are looking for other ways to provide a high quality education for their beloved children?  If the American public school system is failing our children, wouldn’t parents be forced to seek other option rather than the failing public schools?  And for the family that cannot afford a private school education, homeschooling is really the only alternative.

But, homeschooling is not easy.  It involves additional expenses, sacrificing the largest portion of a parent’s day to teach his or her child(ren), and it can be very frustrating when a child is struggling to understand difficult concepts. 

Some state and federal legislatures are trying to pass laws that would make homeschooling an automatic cause to investigate the parents, under the guise of “protecting the children”.  But this assumes that parents only, or usually, choose homeschooling to hide abuse or neglect.  This puts the parent is the awful position of being forced to choose between 1) allowing their children to be “educated” in a failing public school system, or 2) allowing themselves to be investigated by Child Protective Services in order to homeschool. 

In an era when our public schools are failing miserably, we should not put additional roadblocks in a parent’s path to providing a high quality education for his or her child. 

Therefore, no agency, agent, person, or entity connected to the Federal, State, or Local governments within the United States may interfere with the fundamental rights of a parent to direct his or her child’s or children’s education and upbringing, unless there is an independent accusation of abuse or neglect, other than the method of education that the parent chooses.

 

[1] Parental Rights Organization, The Supreme Court’s Parental Rights Doctrine, https://parentalrights.org/understand_the_issue/supreme-court/, accessed February 20, 2019.

[2] Library of Congress, Meyer v. State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep262/usrep262390/usrep262390.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[3] Library of Congress, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep268/usrep268510/usrep268510.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[4] Library of Congress, Prince v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1994), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep321/usrep321158/usrep321158.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[5] Library of Congress, Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep406/usrep406205/usrep406205.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[6] Library of Congress, Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep414/usrep414632/usrep414632.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[7] Library of Congress, Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep431/usrep431494/usrep431494.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[8] Library of Congress, Smith v. Organization of Foster Families, 431 U.S. 816 (1977), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep431/usrep431816/usrep431816.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[9] Library of Congress, Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep434/usrep434246/usrep434246.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[10] Library of Congress, Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep442/usrep442584/usrep442584.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[11] Library of Congress, Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep455/usrep455745/usrep455745.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[12] Library of Congress, Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292 (1993), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep507/usrep507292/usrep507292.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

[13] Library of Congress, Washington v. Glucksburg, 521, U.S. 702 (1997), http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep521/usrep521702/usrep521702.pdf, accessed February 20, 2019.

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