This article is based on excerpts from Dr. Michael Farris’s more comprehensive article, “Parental Rights: God grants them. Governments secure them.” published in HSLDA’s The Home School Court Report, May/June 2010. Dr. Farris’s words are within quote marks. Read his original full article at www.hslda.org/courtreport/archives.asp.
Section I of the proposed Parental Rights Amendment (PRA) states, The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right.
There has been much discussion among conservatives about this Parental Rights Amendment and the desirability of amending the U.S. Constitution to protect the rights of parents.
The chief criticism – Is the PRA unnecessary or even dangerous?
Dr. Farris first points out, “The chief argument [that some conservative critics of the PRA present] is that because parental rights are God-given and inalienable, it is unnecessary or even dangerous to attempt to protect these rights in the Constitution of the United States.”
“Like most fallacies, this argument contains a mixture of truth and error. It is obvious that anything that is a universal right comes from God. If men create a right, men can take it away. But it is error to say that it is unnecessary or dangerous for government to recognize or protect our God-given rights.”
Farris goes on to explain why.
“To maintain our freedom and to secure the actual protection of our God-given rights, it is essential for judges (and other agencies of government) to respect, acknowledge, and protect our rights. The founding fathers clearly agreed: the Declaration of Independence unmistakably sets forth these very principles. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. [emphasis added in Dr. Farris’s article]
“The founders made it clear. Rights come from God. But the very reason we have government is to ensure that these God-given rights are secured.
“God grants rights. Governments have the duty to acknowledge, protect, and secure those rights.”
Farris asks the key question. “But why is the Constitution the best place to secure these rights?”
He responds, “The answer to this question comes from a principle that I teach on the first day of every one of my constitutional law courses. The purpose of a constitution is to grant power to government and to limit the power of the government. A private person can never violate the Constitution. Only the government can violate the Constitution.”
Our government is accountable to We the People.
As Dr. Farris emphasizes, “So when the Constitution says that ‘We the People’ are the authors, it is speaking literal truth.
“ ‘We the People’ granted power in that document. And we limited the power of the government in that same document.”
Would the PRA be any different than the Bill of Rights in regard to securing inalienable rights?
Farris explains. “By creating the Bill of Rights, our elected officials were fulfilling the mandate of the Declaration of Independence. They created no rights. But they secured these rights, which now must be recognized by the government.”
From the point of view of securing rights and limiting government, there is no difference between protecting religious rights in the First Amendment and protecting parental rights in the Parental Rights Amendment. Both are equally legitimate acts of “We the People” to limit the government and ensure that all branches of our government respect our rights.
At the time of the writing of the Constitution, religious freedom, freedom of the press, and the freedom to assemble in public were among the major issues of the day. They were recognized as inalienable rights. These were amended into the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights, which is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children was taken for granted in the culture that produced our Constitution. This right was so basic that it was an unspoken given – until recent decades. Now this right has become a major issue. Because parental rights are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, government agencies and courts today are increasingly trampling on these rights, not recognizing them as inalienable, and stripping parents of this vital responsibility assigned to them by God.
The Parental Rights Amendment would remedy today’s dangerous situation in the same way the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights) addressed the concern for the acknowledgment and protection of other inalienable rights.
A second related criticism – Why introduce the term “fundamental right”?
Dr. Farris states the question that some have asked. “Why is the term ‘fundamental rights’ used in the PRA rather than the term ‘inalienable rights’? ‘Fundamental rights’ is a term recently invented by the Supreme Court and not from the era of the founding fathers. One critic framed the argument this way: ‘To use the term fundamental introduces new language that is already understood as a civil or government-granted right.’ ”
However, Dr. Farris explains that the use of the term fundamental rights to refer to inalienable rights is not new. “The anti-federalists, who effectively campaigned against the Constitution because of its lack of a bill of rights, employed the term fundamental rights to describe what was, at that time, missing from the Constitution.”
Farris points out that one author of the time argued, “The trial by jury in criminal as well as in civil causes, has long been considered as one of our fundamental rights….” (Letters from a Federal Farmer No. 16). This trial by jury was subsequently affirmed in the Bill of Rights as Amendments VI and VII to our Constitution on December 15, 1791.
“It is absolutely clear that the Founders used the term fundamental right concerning freedom of the press, the right to trial by jury, and the right to self-government. Any claim that fundamental rights were merely ‘civil or government-granted rights’ is not historically correct.”
As Michael Farris concludes, “The historical pedigree of the term fundamental right is unassailable.”
In summary, the Parental Rights Amendment (PRA) does not grant any powers to the government. To the contrary, it restricts the power of government – federal, state, and local. Government at all levels will be required to respect, honor, and secure the fundamental rights of parents, which are inalienable God-given rights, if the Parental Rights Amendment is adopted.
We are indebted to Dr. Michael Farris for his leadership in protecting our rights as parents, and for taking the time to think this important issue through and to present its various aspects to us for our understanding and serious consideration. We have posted other key articles regarding the PRA on our web site under “Parental Rights” at http://www.childandfamilyprotection.org. Get involved in supporting the PRA by contacting the Parental Rights Organization at www.ParentalRights.org.
Note: Definition of “inalienable:” not to be separated, given away, or taken away; cannot be transferred to another or others. (See The American Heritage College Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary.) Both these sources consider “inalienable” to be another term for “unalienable,” so the terms are used interchangeably.
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