The Growing Power Struggle Over Parental Rights in Education
The unyielding demands of a radical LGBT agenda infiltrating U.S. public education have brought traditional parental rights under attack. Unsurprisingly, the power struggle has found its way into America’s courtrooms … and lawsuits are flying in both directions.
Coast-to-Coast Legal Battles
On Aug. 28, 2023, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office sued Chino Valley Unified District Board of Education over its mandatory gender identity disclosure policy. Chino Valley, one of six California school districts standing up for parental rights, adopted a policy in July requiring schools to inform parents whenever a student requests to change pronouns or use facilities or participate in programs that don’t align with their sex on official records. If the court rules in Bonta’s favor, the ruling diminishes parents’ role not only in their child’s education but also in their God-given mandate to exercise primary guidance, discretion, and authority in raising their own offspring.
Disintegrating nuclear family bonds may have been California’s insidious goal from the start. But parents are fighting back. In Monterey County, Jessica Konen sued Spreckels Union School District when her 11-year-old daughter, Alicia, was “socially transitioned” to a boy without her mom’s knowledge or consent. Konen settled that case in what’s being called a “landmark victory for parental rights.” She was awarded $100,000 after a federal judge approved the settlement on Aug. 3.
Konen’s settlement came exactly three weeks prior to another ruling on a lawsuit brought by Muslim parents in Maryland. In Mahmoud, et al. v. McKnight, a federal judge ruled that parents can’t opt their children out of LGBTQ-laced curriculum mandated by Montgomery Public Schools (MCPS), the state’s largest school district. MCPS shelved its opt-out option last spring. Jewish, Muslim, and Christian parents alike sought to reinstate the policy, arguing that the curriculum that did not align with their family and religious values, and the inability to opt out infringes their First Amendment religious liberty rights.
Judge Deborah L. Boardman, a Biden appointee, disagreed. In her opinion she wrote that for parents “to direct their children’s upbringing by opting out of a public-school curriculum that conflicts with their religious views is not a fundamental right.”
State rulings in California and Maryland arrived at different conclusions. The fate of parental rights hangs in the balance. In the middle of what seems to be an uptick in parental rights lawsuits nationwide, what can we discover from a hundred years’ legal precedent? Is it largely being ignored?
SCOTUS Precedents Are Clear
The answer is clear. The Supreme Court stated it as recently as 2000: “The interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000).
This echoed another case almost 100 years ago, when the Supreme Court declared the obvious: Parents and guardians have the fundamental right “to direct the upbringing and education of children.” Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925) (emphasis added).
The court went a step further in that case and stated, in no uncertain terms, that the government is excluded from any attempts “to standardize its children” and that parents and nurturing guardians retain the right to direct a child’s destiny. In its ruling on that case, the court said, “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children.”
Also, “The child is not a 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.”
Again, in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Supreme Court affirmed that “the values of parental direction of the religious upbringing and education of their children in the early and formative years have a high place in our society.” 406 U.S. 205, 213-14 (1972).
Daniel Schmid, senior litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel summarizes it:
There can be no question that the government has no authority whatsoever to infringe the fundamental right of parents to remove their children from an education that is blasphemous and directly contrary to the parent’s sincerely held religious convictions. In Maryland’s curriculum opt-out case, Judge Boardman ignored the oldest fundamental right that exists in American constitutional jurisprudence, and her order represents a gross misunderstanding of the Constitution.
Liberty Counsel’s senior counsel for governmental affairs, Jonathan Alexandre, concurs with Schmid’s analysis. Speaking on Konen’s case, he said
Government schools’ audacity to infringe upon parental rights and withhold essential information from parents knows no bounds. Supreme Court precedent unequivocally establishes parents’ fundamental rights in raising and nurturing their children, a principle echoed in numerous state constitutions. It is imperative for government schools to understand that ‘in loco parentis’ does not equate to co-parenting and recognize their ad hoc policies can’t fabricate that it does.
As state courts weigh questions of parental rights in education, SCOTUS precedent undeniably provides an answer, and history a lesson, if parental rights are ignored. Any nation (think Nazi Germany or the communist regimes of Cuba and the Soviet Union) that purposefully dismantles the most basic of societal foundations, such as the bond between parent and child and their roles in the family unit, does not fare well in the long run.
Annemarie McLean is a writer for Liberty Counsel, a nationwide public interest civil liberties law firm committed to restoring the culture, advancing religious freedom, protecting the unborn, and strengthening the family. In 2012, she founded 3D Missions, an international outreach taking the Gospel to the nations through the performing arts, and co-founded Brave & Beautiful, a platform empowering young women to live, love, and lead courageously. She holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with post-graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.