Just How Much Control Over Their Children’s Thought Are Parents Entitled To?

In reply to yesterday’s open philosophical question whether a Swedish law banning any school, even private ones, from indoctrinating students by teaching their religious tenets as truths (with the ulterior motive of undermining Islamic schools’ abilities to radicalize their students), Mary Young makes a rigorous and eloquent case against such bans well worth highlighting (and commenting on) with this post:

I think the answer to your question comes down to a few fundamental things. To what extent do parents have the right to decide what their children should be taught? And does the country in question have some sort of legislation which protects religious freedom?

My answer to the first question is: a very, very large extent. Parents, no matter how ignorant or blind or stupid or doctrinal or whatever have a right to decide how their children are educated. In exchange for helping to perpetuate the human race, parents get to make fundamental choices in how they raise their children. If a parent wants to educate their child in a religious school, they should be allowed. Now, I don’t think that this is absolute – just extremely far reaching. If a parent wants to send their child to a school that teaches that the Holocaust never happened that is regrettable, but well within the rights of the parent. If the parent wants to teach their child to go to school and beat another child to death – that is aiding and abetting the commission of a crime and is manslaughter. I also feel that when a parent entrusts a child to a school, then they give up some of their rights as to what a child can be taught. So many parents, for example, complain that schools teach about condoms and stuff in schools and that they don’t want their children taught that. But if you want to benefit from free state education, you have to accept some of the things that will happen in public school. Similarly, if you don’t want someone teaching your child that Jesus is God, keep them out of Christian schools. Otherwise, though, I think the burden of proof should be on proving what situation is severe enough to remove a parent’s right to decide her child’s course of education and not in what situation the parent should be granted the right.

Second, is that if your legislation or constitution protects religious freedom – as the First Amendment does in the United States – then the government should not outlaw the teaching of religious doctrines in religious schools. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Considering that practicing religion and perpetuating religion is incumbent upon educating people in religion, then it is a violation of the constitution to prevent people from teaching doctrine as truth in religious schools. If, however, the state in question doesn’t have any laws practicing the exercise of religion, then perhaps it is OK. But I think that most western countries recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which Article 18 discusses the right to practice religion as being a fundamental human right.

Schools based around schools of thought have existed since the ancient world and I don’t see how a government can justify removing a private school’s ability to perpetuate a viewpoint. So long as the students are taught the same basic skills in reading, science, writing, mathematics, etc. that are part of the national standard, there should be no reason to impose upon the curricula in those schools.

This is also an impractical move. Perhaps there are no historians of religion in Sweden, but anyone with any knowledge of the history of religion should know that if there is one way to inspire growth in a religion it is to persecute it. Outlaw the teaching of doctrine in religious schools and the schools will teach it anyway. Except instead of it being the class that 90% of the students sleep through, it will be coercive and a martyristic (word?) practice of a fundamental human right. It will become scary and interesting, much like it was for the first students who were subversively taught evolution, and it will become more popular. This December the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest my Catholic high school for being filled with “fag lovers and pedophile priests.” When I went to school hearing “you’re a f**king fag” ten times a day was normal and hearing people talk about how “gay” it was that we had to go to mass and learn religion was common. But as soon as an outside source threw hate speech at the school and questioned the school’s ability to practice it’s Catholicism, suddenly all the students are “United Against Hate” and vehemently interested in the outward Catholicism of the school. The fervor will die as the memory of the visit from the Westboro Baptist Church dies, but it is one small instance of how persecution fuels participation. If you outlaw religious schools then students will meet in private. Parents will begin to home school but in reality they will send their children off to a religious institution. It is what my own parents would have done if the same situation happened in America and it is exactly what I would do with my own children.

So if the goal is to stop the spread of radical Islam then I have a feeling it’s going to create more heroes and martyrs than apostates.

Which leads to my question: when IS it right to limit someone’s human rights? If people have a right to think, feel and believe according to their own consciences, at what point are you allowed to curtail that? When is it moral to infringe upon that right? If the answer is, “I’m afraid of Muslims taking over” then I think you have to examine how committed you actually are to human rights. If you are only committed to human rights insofar as you’re not afraid of other people, then you aren’t committed at all. There are ways to stamp out the violent actions of radical Islam without stamping out people’s right to practice religion.

Europe is becoming rapidly more secularized as the years go by which is curious because it has vastly growing fundamentalist Islamic sects growing within it. But a great social scientist (whose name I don’t know) showed that the religions which thrive the most are the ones which are the most counter-cultural and when you create a culture which makes religious people “other” and seem stupid or morally evil and uninformed, you open the door for zealous fundamentalist sects whose goal is to oppose the very culture you are trying to protect.

There is a reason people preach tolerance and that is because when people feel free to be the people they want to be (obviously not absolutely but within reason), they don’t feel the need to attack other people for being who they are. I can see this in my own behavior. I think I am generally tolerant of other people and what they believe, but once I heard an uninformed Methodist unintelligently bashing Catholicism and I pounced on her. I normally feel no real call to Catholic apologetics but in that instance I did. Why? Because she made the space I was in uncomfortable for me to be who I am. It is human nature.

So in conclusion my answer is that it is unjust to outlaw the teaching of religious doctrine in private religious school – unjust and an overall bad call.

I came close to saying “‘Nuff Said” again to Mary’s remarks here, but remarkably thorough, incisive, and well written as they are (and as much as they make the case she should start her own blog already!), I do want to raise the question to the readership whether parents really should be seen to having a right to as near absolute control over what their children are exposed to as she insists they do.  Even as she concedes they need to tolerate exposure to safe sex education if they take advantage of public education, the question still remains whether it is fair to children for their parents to control their thought to such an extent as to send them to a school that has indoctrination as one of its aims?

Is it fair for parents to presume the right of prejudicing their children to such an extent where not only are the children exposed to religion in the home and places of worship, as are obvious rights, but even in their formal education they are isolated from having any space to think outside their parents’ faith?   Or at least from their parents’ hostility to established facts of science (like evolution!), from their parents’ horrific racist beliefs (like Holocaust denial!), and from their parents’ homophobia (which come with insidious threats of hell in the hereafter and misery on Earth!).

And if Mary is to be consistent, then why should she accept the right of public schools to enforce secular policies about sex education, condom use, evolution-teaching, etc. when many poor parents who would otherwise seek sexual ignorance and creationism for their kids are stuck sending their kids to public schools?  Are vouchers for private schools necessary to accommodate some parents’ religious needs to fight scientific education and sexual health and awareness in their kids?  And if those vouchers do happen, then how is this not state funded indoctrination?  Just how much should the state accommodate irrational, dogmatic, and authoritarian beliefs and values among the religious, beyond just not interfering with free assembly and speech outside of people’s roles as executors of public offices?

I question whether this nearly absolutist view of parents’ rightful control over their children’s minds—though extremely common in America to the point of being an axiom—is not a prejudice which deserves serious questioning.  I pose that question to you to consider in the comments, along with the rest of Mary’s powerful case.

Richard Dawkins makes a related, lengthy case against state funded faith schools in Britain in a documentary you can watch here.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Brian

    “If a parent wants to send their child to a school that teaches that the Holocaust never happened that is regrettable, but well within the rights of the parent.”

    So, taking the most extreme approach to this problem evaporates it-just like it does every other problem.

    “So long as the students are taught the same basic skills in reading, science, writing, mathematics, etc. that are part of the national standard, there should be no reason to impose upon the curricula in those schools.”

    It’s a shame that for Mary’s argument to work the idea of critically thinking about evidence in a way incompatible with believing the Noah myth is historical can’t be part of the national standard that schools are required to teach. What’s the idea, that so long as they can memorize things for a few hours, read words, and solve math problems the school has done its job, regardless of pupils’ inability to think?

  • Mark C

    It’s definitely a difficult subject to think about. My inclination is to think that, as long as school is required for children, all schools should be held to the same standards, those standards being set by public schools. What this means is that nothing should be taught that couldn’t legally be taught in public schools.

    My preference would be that school standards be set according to scientific and fact-based reasoning. For the most part, this is what we have in public schools already, but it’s stunted by the fact that the curriculum isn’t determined by people in the relevant fields (e.g. the math curriculum isn’t determined by mathematicians), which is why we get junk like Intelligent Design and evolution denialism invading our schools.

  • The Vicar

    Sure, private schools should be able to teach religion. But in exchange, they should lose their certifications and no longer be considered a valid exchange for a publicly mandated education. Once you start putting things which are demonstrably false into a course of education — and every religion has ‘em, whether it’s on the level of 4-legged beetles or a false theory of disease — then the whole thing is basically just outsourced home-schooling, and home-schoolers have to go through a whole rigamarole to get credit for their classes.

  • Ben Finney

    Parents do not have a right to teach their children whatever they like.

    Rather, parents have a responsibility to the child, to provide the child with a sound education. The child has a right to a sound education – and that excludes being taught pious lies.

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    Making indoctrination illegal is flawed for the same reason we have a right to privacy, and the same reason that the war on drugs is a failure, and the same reason that there shouldn’t be a thought police. That’s not to say that indoctrination isn’t immoral. We can’t control everyone’s behavior and it is way to expensive and costly to society to try.

    • Daniel Fincke

      the issue isn’t outlawing indoctrination in general, it’s asking whether indoctrination should be allowed to be called “school”.

  • Mary Young

    If I may reply:

    First I think that having children is a serious service to society. I think it’s undercut because we have issues with overpopulation and because we don’t really consider the issue of the population dying out – but if people didn’t have children, then there would be no life or civilization. This sounds trite – but I think it’s serious. Everything that we do in the name of progress (including an atheist’s campaign to end the control that religion has over people’s lives) is either implicitly or explicitly done in the name of future generations. When Nietzche realized that, in his lifetime, the vast majority of people on earth would still be theist, he didn’t stop writing. When MLK saw that he would die in a world where racism still exists, he didn’t throw his hands up and say, “well, guys. Let’s just quit. This is getting too violent.” When we work for environmental reform, we obviously have tangible, present goals in mind, but we all know that the real results will be seen generations down the line. If there is no one to inherit our legacies and the culture that we’ve built, I can literally see no point in living. I see no point in human life being on earth at all or in doing anything productive. And so that is why I think that having children is such a serious service society and not just something people do to feel good (though obviously raising children is rewarding). Children inherit the earth we build and the learning and culture and society that comes with it. They ensure that there is a “future” to be rationally understood by humans and not only by animals or plants.

    That is one of the many reasons that parents are given the right (and I think intrinsically deserve the right) to a great deal of control over their children. Children under 18 can’t own property or sign up for the military or even go to college without a parent’s permission. In a lot of ways, so long as parents aren’t physically harming or severely mentally abusing their children, parents own and have total control over their children. It sounds cruel but it’s true and it’s the way I truly think it should be. The “state” or “the government” or even “society” can never replace the meaningful value of a parent’s influence in raising children and so their ability to do so should never be hindered by outside ideology – good or bad. Parents have many responsibilities in raising a child, but there is also the privilege that it is the parent’s child and the parent’s values should be passed on to it.

    Unfortunately for the world, not everyone is highly intelligent, rational, open-minded, or even good. But only in the most severe cases of evil behavior or mind-control should the state step in. Considering the vast number of rational, open-minded, contributing members of society trained in religious schools, I can hardly say that they constitute an evil so great that a parent’s right to send their children to one should be revoked by outside members. And since we afford parents the right to home school (where conceivably they could teach, along with the state-mandated curriculum, anything they want to their children) and give them money to home school even though the time could be used to teach religious things, how do we draw a line between this and religious schools?

    I also think it fails to recognize the rational faculty within all of us. How many of the people on this blog who are atheist were raised theist? How many of you attended religious schools? Even if none of you, specifically, fit those criteria, I know many atheists who do. In fact a teacher in high school used to say, “if you want to make sure that a kid turns out atheist, send him to Catholic school.” So despite the evil, oppressive, irrational indoctrination that can happen in the home and school, many people who live through it still become atheist! Why? Because people use their reason in different ways. People are able to weigh evidence and make choices despite their surroundings. To eradicate schools that “indoctrinate” and impose curricula that we think will help children to make completely unbiased choices about the things that are true in life is one, naive, and two, condescending. People ultimately decide the truth for themselves no matter what. It is the same reason why people who come from completely non-religious or even atheist households and grow up in non-religious environments later become theist: we all process data and decide truth on our own. Eradicating religious schools can’t change that.

    I would also like to work off of what James Gray said. We have to recognize that certain things are impractical. I think that Ke$ha is an insult to anyone in history who has ever created art and that her music should be outlawed because it encourages people to behave like mindless idiots – but that can’t be enforced and should it be? I think that MTV over-sexualizes young children (I know from being over-sexualized myself as a young girl) and then starts hypocritical campaigns about safe sexual choices. I don’t know anyone who has ever learned a good lesson from MTV and that it shouldn’t exist – but is it right to remove it from the air? Trying to keep parents from formally educating their children in their religion is impractical and expensive. We have to assume that some, if not many, children who attend public schools are from low-income homes where parents do not make substantial contributions to the tax pool. We can also assume that most religious schools (with the exception a few set up intentionally for the low income) are filled with students whose parents can afford the tuition and are therefore making a moderate to substantial contribution to the tax pool. If that family’s students aren’t in public schools, then the school system is gaining 100% profit from those parents. That is money that can be used freely without being apportioned to a specific student. My parents sent each of their four children through 13 years of catholic school over the span of about 30 years. Every year, however, they still paid taxes that went into public schools even though their children didn’t use them. That is a benefit to the school system. Considering many parents like the religious aspects of those schools, if they were forced to stop teaching doctrine as such, most parents wouldn’t really see the point in sending their children there and would send their kids to public school. We don’t have to pay for children who attend religious schools, at least not a lot of money. Of course government grants can be given to a school, but it’s nothing like the tens of thousands of dollars that is spent on every student who attends public school. I see a money issue at stake.

    And I also think that we need to draw a distinction between what really is separation of Church and state. If the government gives financial aid for something like science textbooks is it really “paying for indoctrination?” I think we have a tendency to overshoot that a little bit in a constant fear that the “Church” will overtake the government in some significant way which is a strange fear in a country which as never had a federally established government and has intended from its foundations not to have legal relationship with any church. To grant a portion of money to a school like my high school which educates 3,600 students a year is not establishing a religion by any means – especially if equal money is granted to private schools of other religious affiliation or no religious affiliation. If the school meets the state’s requirements for curriculum (the curriculum given in public schools) then it is a valid educational school plain and simple. There is nothing a public school student learned that I didn’t learn in Catholic school – not even sex education. How the 45 minutes of religion per day (three years of which was church and not morality or doctrine) invalidates my high school education – I guess I’ll never really be sure.

    I think it is easy to imagine a world where we can impose our ideology on people’s family unit and children when we believe that our ideology and our approach to learning is correct. Then it’s easy to say that “parents shouldn’t be free to indoctrinate their children” because we believe, firmly, that what we are teaching our children is right. But it comes down to sheer arrogance. It is saying “I’m so sure that I’m right, that I’m willing to deprive you of your rights as a human and a parent because you are wrong.” That approach does not respect the dignity of the human person (which exists regardless of that human’s ability to rationally discern truth) and is as oppressive as any church or doctrine.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com George W.

    As a parent to four children in Catholic school, I think I should chime in. As most of you know, I am an atheist. So why do I send my kids to Catholic school then?
    My wife is French, and grew up in the French Canadian culture of her family. The French catholic school system is the best way to transmit the culture that these children come from in a world that is increasingly becoming homogeneous.
    The ability for my children to relate to their unique culture is important to me. That they can understand their Uncles, Aunts, Great-Uncles, Great-Aunts, Grandparents and community elders is a necessary component in immersing them not only in their own culture, but that of their ancestors.
    My oldest son has already had conversations with me about his disbelief in God. Certainly his interest in Astronomy and Physics has helped him to differentiate between fact and fable. He respects religion, he has religious instruction, and attends Mass through his school. Yet he distanced himself from religion at the tender age of 11 years. I have always been honest with him when he asked what I believed yet I always presented the other side for balance.
    For many religious people, the religious school system is less about indoctrination than it is about teaching children to value the culture intertwined with their religion. I think value needs to be placed on this aspect of religious schooling as well.

    Children are not as credulous as we assume sometimes. A child fascinated with biology will come to understand and likely embrace evolution. Those with no interest can go on being ignorant of it. The truth has a way of getting out. Mythology has a way of being found out.

    I don’t necessarily agree with a school purposefully lying and misrepresenting facts in an effort to indoctrinate children. In light of our greater global culture, they do themselves no favours. Let them teach their own way and let them sew their cross to a sinking ship.
    Many of the greatest thinkers of the last 500 years have been educated in the faith. Many of those who are emerging now were not. A robust society needs all kinds of voices, good science needs as many angles as it can get. Just as many of the great discoveries of the last 500 years were made by hobbyists rather than specialists; sometimes starting from a different point of view can lead to the greater truth. If every child is guaranteed a homogeneous education, I feel that we are guaranteeing a shortchanging of society.

  • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins

    The way the question was worded involves a key presumption about parental rights and the belief that religion is benign. Accordingly, replies are cast in terms of parental prerogatives and no one acknowledges that some children are frightened s**tless over the cruel facts of Abraamic religion. What if we looked at this issue in terms of children’s rights?

    George W explains what is important to him, transferring family culture to his offspring. He assumes this will be OK with his son. What if the method he chose is not OK? Maybe his son will not care a whiff about French Canadian culture and customs let alone being a Catholic. No one mentions the child’s right to mature into an autonomous self directed human being. If his son matures and wants to learn about his culture, that is a decision he can make. Why subject him to ancient superstitious dogma and practices? Maybe I am insensitive to the interplay of Catholocism and French Canadian culture.

    Mary Young points out that many an atheist was subjected to Catholic school and church. She is right about this as far as I can see, but does she account for all those kids who did not learn how to think critically, did not have the stamina to resist, and essentially became captured by Catholicism for life? Those are the ones we need to focus on it seems to me and saying some escape does not adequately account for all those who do not. There is a Google group devoted to recovering Catholics. Some of the personal narratives are quite dramatic and should lead objective observers to the view that Catholocism is not the benign force the Pope would have us believe. To discover this just pay attention to the people who confront his rule (for example gays, radical nuns, and women who would be priests).

    When a parent consigns their child to a religious organization the unspoken belief is that they are there for life and that is how the child is treated from the starting gate. They have absolutely no say in the matter and they don’t sign a paper giving consent to mold virtually every aspect of their entire life.

    The institutions have had centuries of practice to hone effective techniques that keep adherents trusting, subservient and firmly seated in the pews. It is a ghastly process with a kindly face and all the cards are stacked against vulnerable children who cannot resist. I should think any modern person not indoctrinated as a child would be revolted by the concepts of scapegoating and blood atonement. Mel Gibson to the contrary, the sight of scourging a man half to death and nailing him to a cross to die should simply inspire disgust, not admiration or a wish to lead an exemplary Catholic life.

    The doctrine of parental rights is ethically flawed, gives too much control to parents, and is simply an outgrowth of ancient patriarchal custom, where children were assumed to be the property of their parents, or simply an extension of the parents. Supreme court pronouncements (Yoder and Pierce, princippaly) were wrongly decided and should be overturned. Instead of rights, parents should be regarded as having parental responsibilities to act in the interests of their children. Where you don’t know or cannot know what a child would require or wish, the correct response is not to do anything that is irrevocable. For example indoctrinate children in religion of any kind.

    To understand why the doctrine of parental rights is legally and ethically flawed read this seminal paper by James Dwyer, family law professor:

    http://www.cirp.org/library/legal/dwyer2/ Dwyer paper excerpt

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com George W.

    I don’t want to sound crass; but….
    Do you even have children?
    Really. Sincerely.
    I don’t have a problem with giving my kids choices. I will say that if my kid comes home from school and says he just doesn’t want to go to school anymore, he can go screw himself. Kids make stupid and ridiculous decisions all the time. Hell, adults make stupid decisions all the time. At least adults have been given the benefit of life experience and education to hopefully instill some common sense. My four year old daughter would like to survive on lollipops, gummi bears and Pepsi. Should I just let her do what she wants?
    Parents may from time to time cross the line from stewardship to lordship, but a parent needs to make choices for their children. What if my six year old son wants to stop doing any afterschool programs and just play video games all day? What if he never wants to go out with other kids and play at the park because he would rather play “Super Mario Galaxy”?

    How about a more reasonable example. What if my oldest son comes home and wants to switch to an English only school? Sounds reasonable, right? What if I told you that I live in a community where 40% of the population is bilingual, or that 10% speak only french? What if I lived in a province where Francophones accounted for 20% of the population? What if the best jobs in the country were mostly held by bilingual people? What if the average salary of a bilingual graduate was fully 25% higher than an anglophone, to the extent that a bilingual person with a Grade 12 diploma makes slightly more than an anglophone college graduate on average?
    Because that is my reality. Do I let him make his own decisions knowing full well that he is spending away his future capital? I mean, he should be able to make his own decisions, right?
    Children sometimes need to have their uninformed opinions overruled. If my son wanted to switch to a french public school (of which there are woefully few) I might consider it, though the french culture in Canada is intertwined with Catholicism. I would be doing him a disservice by doing even this. Catholic schools in Canada are admittedly a far cry from the religious schools in other countries. They are really no different than the public system I grew up in. School prayer, observation of religious holidays, occasional mass. All those things I experienced in public school 20-some years ago.
    Part of this is that the catholic church was essentially contracted out to provide french education in Canada for years and they have been careful not to jeopardize their unique status. They have been very progressive. Language itself is not culture, and you cannot understand the history of the French in Canada without the Catholic church. Any more than you could properly appreciate Portuguese, Brazilian or Classical French culture without it.
    I don’t disagree that their are limits that need to be placed on parental rights, but you are being absurd to place it on the right to send your children to religious schools. The answer is to regulate the schools, not the parents. Education standards need to be created and enforced across the board.
    Religions do not have an inalienable right to educate children, parents have a right to make decisions that affect their child’s future. Religious schools can be and are a good way to teach children within a cultural reference.

  • Daniel Fincke

    On Richard’s blog, which is explicitly devoted to ending hereditary religion, is a very eloquent case quoting from an article on St. John’s University’s website, against religion affecting children’s schooling.

    • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins

      Professor James Dwyer is the author of the paper you mention. He is one of the most original thinkers I have found on the subject of children’s rights.


      In his new book “Moral Status and Human Life,” law professor James Dwyer argues that children should enjoy a higher moral status than adults. This book has profound implications.

  • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins


    Thanks for replying to my post. You asked a lot of questions and I may disappoint by not answering all of them.

    Whether I have children is a non sequitur. What difference does that make? I am not black and I am not a women. Does this disqualify me from weighing in on womens’s rights or black social issues? I am not the owner of a bank so am I barred from having a say about monetary policy concerning the banking system? I had considerable experience being a child if that satisfies your point. But, just to spite you I will not reveal my parenting status. You would be amazed at how many people try this tack with me.

    I think your daughter’s candy choices are also off target. I agree that parent’s have a responsibility to be in the decision loop for children who are not developed far enough along to choose wisely. Furthermore, I salute your recognition that parents are not “lords and masters”.

    How much leeway are the children given? Instead of making decisions for children would it not be a better process to help them make decisions for themselves so they understand how to decide on objectives, and use facts and reasons to reach conclusions? I realize this takes more time and thought than simply imposing a choice on children, but unless they are made to feel a part of the process they don’t have any investment in the decisions do they?

    Children do not choose their parents, nor are they under any obligation to fulfill some life plan of their parents design or more particularly of some religious institution. We get one life, and it is ours and ours alone to do with as we determine for ourselves.

    I guess what I don’t see is why you make such a point of Catholicism being a requisite for learning about a culture that one is immersed in to begin with and why there are not adequate ways of learning the French language without consigning a child to religious heteronomy. I think there must be more to the story.

    As noted someplace else in this blog the Swedes have made it a law that religious schools may not teach dogma as truth. This a step in the right direction, but the best solution would be to eliminate all sectarian schools.

    This is because, religion is not benign, the pope and his legions of priests to the contrary notwithstanding. But apparently you glossed over that point in my earlier post.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    I would like to apologize for my opening comment. I understand in retrospect that it implied things that were not meant when I used it. I was trying to bring light to the fact that children are fickle and not always thinking in their best interest. You are right to point out that there is a deeper sub-context that is unfair and uncalled for.

    I also want to make it clear that I am an atheist, as is my wife, and I don’t believe that either one of us would disagree with your stand against hereditary religion.

    I think that some of your comments are worth questioning though, but first I would like to take another look at Franco-Catholic education in Canada.
    I think language is important. I think arming your children with the skills to communicate effectively is important. I think culture is important. I will assume that we all agree with these postulates.

    I don’t think that someone can truly communicate with a Mexican just because they speak Spanish. I don’t think that someone can effectively communicate with a Japanese person by simply speaking Japanese. Language is built into culture but it is not culture. It has been my experience that French culture in Canada is for better or worse intertwined with the Catholic Church. I will also say that French Catholicism is markedly different from English Catholicism in Canada.

    I should clarify that we live in a predominantly English community with a strong French minority. As is the case with many minority populations, the urge for young children immersed in a world of conformity is to emulate the dominant culture.

    Quebec, with the highest proportion of French in Canada, has consistently been shown to exhibit more progressive values than the rest of the country. Yet many french people still feel a close connection with the Catholic church. The catholic church, in turn, evolves with the culture. French Catholics, in general, wear their faith like a warm sweater, able to put it on and take it off as the moment requires.

    The language, at least their particular dialect, is steeped in religious imagery. Their customs are steeped in religious imagery. To teach my son French but not his culture is to rob him of the ability to really communicate with his peers. I believe that the things they learn from us at home is a useful and reasonable counter-point to the religious instruction they learn at school. Our oldest son has come to be an atheist while still in a Catholic school. I am more proud of this fact than I would be if we had not sent him to a religious school. I wonder if he might be more vulnerable to religious conversion in the future had he not come by the decision through knowledge.

    Many of the most ardent theists I know came from irreligious backgrounds. They felt that because they came to God in adulthood that this showed that the decision was a mature one. I strongly feel that educating your children about other ideas is a healthy thing. Because of this, I also understand your trepidation toward religious schooling. For the majority of children in religious schools, this is expressly the opposite of what is going on.

    My defense of religious schooling is based on my unique and subversive use of it. I understand that. I still believe that religious instruction, when integral to the flourishing of a minority culture, can be a useful system. Many parents in this position are going to try to do whatever is necessary to protect their unique culture. What I would suggest is that we concentrate on educational standards instead of abolishing religious schools. If children are getting a well balanced education, then I think that religious schools can serve as a counter-point to the melting pot culture we live in today.

    That said, I want to question some of your arguments.
    Get rid of religious instruction to rid the world of hereditary religion or keep it and let children choose. You are saying that either we as a society make the choice for them, because we know what is in their best interests- or we leave the choice to children who will in all likelihood inform them based on the desire to please their parents. I don’t really see how your this is really giving children a choice. You either make the decision for them based on your interpretation of their interests (which you question my authority to do), or you give them a choice that they are ill equipped to make. What if 90% of children in fundamentalist religious families “chose” to go to a religious school? Would you respect that decision?

    Like me, I bet you would consider that choice to be not so much made willingly but under duress. I have a feeling that your insistence that children be given a choice has certain limits.

    • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins

      You are showing amazing patience, for which I thank you. I admit I am not an expert on French Canadian culture so I appreciate your efforts to enlighten me. I try not to be dogmatic.

      I am not questioning parents responsibility to make decisions in their children’s interests, but merely pointing out that too many parents do not look at the situation through their children’s point of view and their moral rights. Our legal doctrine in the US is parent-centric instead of child-centric and is based on nothing more substantial than custom and the ancient system of patriarchy, which is responsible for so much mischief around the world. Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children and is actively working on the mechanisms to conform to the aspirations of the convention. In this respect Canada is far ahead of the US. You just need to get rid of Article 53.

      It is not so much I insist that children be given a choice as that they are listened to and taught how to make choices and honestly given permission to feel free about what they might choose. You apparently are OK with the fact that your children may become life long Catholics. As long as that decision is not coerced by an institution then well and good. I am skeptical having studied hundreds of personal narratives posted on the web. I get your sweater analogy and believe the situation is true of the UK as well.

      On principle, I am opposed to institutionalized forms of religion, because they prey on children but I support the right for everyone to make the choice for themselves, as adults, in full knowledge of all the facts and thoroughly educated in the requirements for critical thought. If those conditions are met I feel satisfied my liberal ideal of free thought is protected.

      Children deserve an open future as advocated by moral philosopher Joel Feinberg in “The Child’s Right to an Open Future”. As more children grow up free of entrapment the institutions will have to reform to survive. That will be a good development. Religions provide community and companionship and can inspire people to altruism. These are good things, but they can also be gained in a secular environment free of superstition and dogma.

      People may gain spiritual benefits from religion that they believe are only available to believers. So be it. I’ll never know if this is true or not and will have to rely on second hand information, which to me is not very convincing so far.

      On the subject of children making stupid decisions, secular parenting guru Dale McGowan reports that his children go back and forth in their attitudes towards religion. They change their minds as often as they change socks. This is good. Every change of mind is a teaching moment. Dale has posted several videos on his YouTube channel which I highly recommend.

    • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins

      Correction, that should be Article 43 (waters down corporal punishment law and leaves parents a legal way out)

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    If one of the effects of child rights legislation is to do away with homeschooling, then I’m all for it.
    I do not believe that religion has an inalienable right to school children. I would prefer that children attend regulated religious schools than be sitting across from a dogmatic parent telling them Darwin created evolution in response to his anger at god over the death of his daughter. I think the state has a right to regulate public and private education, but it does not have a right to insist on a strict normalized curriculum.

    I am certainly willing to take the gamble that my children might become life long Catholics. They will make that choice knowing both sides of the argument, they will not just accept it because it is all they have known. I am leery of presenting atheism as the only reasonable choice in their lives.

    I don’t condemn your goals. I question whether to achieve your ultimate goal, we aren’t going beyond what could be considered a reasonable limit to parental rights. I wouldn’t endorse outlawing religion in the home, for example. Yet in order for children to truly be able to make a choice I cannot see how you can allow parents to coerce their children into false heuristics.

    I am increasingly becoming concerned by the cost/benefit interplay. Are we aiming for a Utopian ideal by distopian means?

    • http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com Richard Collins

      Parental rights, as this concept is commonly understood, rest on flimsy legal and ethical grounds. This comes as a shock to many people, but not to anyone who is familiar with the incisive theoretical work of James Dwyer (and others). As Dwyer argues, issues arriving at the courts wind up in arguments over state power vs individual power and how to balance these competing interests. The children are left out in the hallway cuddling their teddy bears.

      If I am an eleven year old boy awaiting a state supreme court decision whether I am going to lose an inch or so of my very sensitive and private anatomy, I would like to say to the court: please sirs, it is not my father’s penis that is at issue here, it is mine.

      Children have a moral right to be consulted and to have their wishes respected where it is reasonably possible to do so.

      CONCLUSION of Dwyer paper on debunking the doctrine of parental rights.

      “Consideration of judicial interpretations of rights in numerous contexts has revealed that the notion of parental rights is inconsistent with well-established legal principles. Rights protect only a right-holder’s own person and property. No one should possess a right to control the life of another person no matter what reasons, religious or otherwise, he might have for wanting to do so.

      Children are persons, intimately bound up with but nevertheless distinct from their parents. Supposed justification for parents’ rights based on the interest of children, on the interests of parents, or on the interests of society simply do not withstand scrutiny.

      These findings compel the conclusion that parental child-rearing rights are illegitimate. A better regime would simply grant parents a legal privilege to care for and make decisions on behalf of their children in ways that are not contrary to the children’s temporal interests. Children themselves should possess whatever rights are necessary to protect their fundamental interest in an intimate, continuous relationship with their parents. This includes the right to be insulated from any state interference that is not in the children’s interests.

      Courts should acknowledge the illegitimacy of the parents’ rights doctrine and decline to recognize claims of parental rights in the future. The evolution of our social attitudes toward, and legal treatment of, children in recent decades would afford the Supreme Court an adequate rationale for departing from the rule of stare decisis302 and for overruling Yoder and Pierce to abolish parental child-rearing rights.

      Subsequently, courts would decide cases involving disputes between parents and the State over child-rearing practices based on the interests and rights of the children involved. This approach would encourage a more appropriate social and legal understanding of parenthood as a privilege conditioned on a parent’s willingness to operate within limits defined by temporal well-being of her children. It would also foster recognition that children are distinct persons deserving of respect equal to that accorded adults, and not merely means to the fulfillment of parents’ life-purposes.”

      Professor Dwyer’s paper (condensed version) is here:

      http://www.cirp.org/library/legal/dwyer2/ Dwyer paper excerpt