Christian Homeschoolers: Children Don’t Have Rights

There has been a lot of confusion about why the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the UN Disabilities Treaty. Fred Clark of the Slactivist is absolutely right that evangelicals’ fear that the UN is the vehicle of the coming antichrist, along with conservatives’ fear that the UN is a plot to form a one world government and erode the United States’ national sovereignty, played a role in the rejection of the treaty. But there’s something else there too.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. I grew up hearing that treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which only the U.S. and Somolia, a country with no functioning government, have not signed) must be opposed at all costs because it would erode parents’ rights. This wasn’t some minimal thing. Michael Farris, the most well known homeschool leader in the country and the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, has been advocating for a parents’ rights amendment and fear mongering about UN treaties for decades now.

You see, the Christian homeschool movement holds that parents have rights, but children do not.

Growing up homeschooled, I was told that the idea that children have rights was a liberal plot to undermine the family by removing parents’ rights and handing children over to the government. The byline displayed on Farris’s ParentalRights.Org is “protecting children by empowering parents.” Not “protecting children by defending their rights,” no. Never. Children don’t have rights. Parents should have full and total control over their children. Parents always know what’s best for their children.

What does this have to do with the UN Disabilities Treaty? Plenty. Here is how Rick Santorum explained it in an article titled UN Disabilities Treaty Would’ve Had Bureaucrats Unseat Parents:

Who should make the critical health-care decisions for a child with a disability? A well-meaning, but faceless and distant United Nations bureaucrat, or a parent who has known, loved, and cared for the child since before birth?

Another example of this U.N. overreach is the treaty’s “best interests of the child” standard, which states in full: “In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” This provision is lifted from the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was also not ratified by the United States Senate. This would put the state, under the direction of the U.N., in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child, replacing the parents who have that power under current U.S. law.

In other words, the UN Disabilities Treaty was not simply defeated because of fear of UN control or because of concerns about limitations on U.S. sovereignty but also because it states that disabled children have certain rights. And men like Rick Santorum don’t believe children have rights. Santorum argues that parents always know what is right for their children, and should have full control to make decisions about their children’s well-being. He scoffs at the idea that there might ever be a case where parents might not know what is in their child’s best interests, or might want to do things that are not in their children’s best interests.

Someone needs to tell that to Lydia Schatz. Someone needs to tell that to Hana Williams. Someone needs to tell that to Joshua DeShaney. Someone needs to tell that to Austin Sprout. Someone needs to tell that to Lisa Steinberg. Someone needs to tell that to Zachary Swezey. R.J. Arrington. David Hickman. Rayna Gagne. Madeline Kara. I could go on. These are all children who died at the hands of their parents.

And yet, according homeschoolers like to Michael Farris and Rick Santorum, any attempt to state that children have rights is an attempt to take rights away from parents, and must be opposed. They argue that parents always know what is best for their children, and that the family should be upheld as sacred and not interfered with. They honestly don’t believe that children have rights. Instead, they believe that children are wholly under their parents’ authority and control until the day they turn 18. Children are, in some sense, simply the property of their parents.

I was recently at a workshop on children’s rights and homeschooling during which a scholar from Germany expressed confusion that we in America would see the state as a threat to the family and parents. He said that in Germany people don’t see questions of children’s well-being as a contest between parents’ rights and the state power. People there understand state only steps in to protect children’s rights, which, like any other right, must be protected. If the state must protect rights like freedom of speech or freedom of the press, must it not also protect children’s rights?

This is where, I suppose, I believe that Michael Farris and Rick Santorum are wrong. You see, I believe children do have rights.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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