The “Private Idea” of Parental Rights

The Left has always held a dim view of parental rights, seeing them as an obstacle to centralized planning. But usually the Left’s spokesmen are a little more circumspect in their pronouncements than MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, who blurted out in a promotional ad for the channel that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents” and see them as “our children.”

Harris-Perry’s paean to collectivism makes explicit the principle that is implicit in many of the policies of the Left—from its resistance to home schooling to its propagandistic sex education in public schools to its opposition to parental consent or even parental notification for abortion. All of those policies are based on the state-as-parent model that she articulated.

Harris-Perry’s remark also explains the blizzard of proposals one hears these days from groups given Orwellian names like the “Children’s Defense Fund.” In the name of “our children”—as if they belong first to the state and then only provisionally to parents—these groups are always clamoring for public school teachers to get their hands on children at younger and younger ages and for more of the day and year: they want them “before-school,” “after-school,” and “year-round.”

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In a culture that prized parental rights, most of these proposals would go nowhere. But now, after years of familial erosion and accelerating collectivism, they crowd our politics. Pro-abortion pols who care about children the least talk about them the most, framing their big-government schemes as boons “for the children.”

Of course, judicial activists have long fostered the state-as-parent model. In a 2005 ruling that would have met with Harris-Perry’s approval, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decreed that the right of parents to control their children’s education “does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door,” and that public school teachers have a right to give students “whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise.”

The case, Fields v. Palmdale School District, was brought by parents who had been left in the dark about an outrageous sex survey public schools had given their children. Invoking the Latin phrase Parens patriae (the country as parent), the court refused the parents any relief, ruling that “parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed.”

Like religion, parents often stand as an impediment to the fulfillment of the Left’s conception of the common good. The Left fears that a Brave New World of superior STD treatments, over-the-counter abortifacients, and free contraceptives is simply unachievable if they let pesky parents meddle in the lives of their children. This is why they want to get away from a “private idea” of parental rights and let the “collective” play parent.

One irony in this warped thinking is that the Left often insists that children are the property of parents, provided that the parents are choosing to kill them or devise their lives in an In vitro fertilization lab. In those cases, the Left permits parents to treat children as disposable appendages of their bodies. Take God out of the picture and such extremes become possible. Either parents exploit children or the state does.

But if children come from God, neither parents nor social engineers can presumptuously call them “our children,” to be violated and propagandized by their masters in any way the prevailing mores permit. Without a government’s recognition of God and the natural moral law, children’s rights quickly disappear. In secularized Mexico under Plutarco Calles, teachers could say, “We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.”

It was no accident that parents were nowhere to be found in Obama’s notorious “The Life of Julia” campaign ad last year. In this ad about “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime,” the state gets its hands on Julia as a tot, enrolling her in a pre-K “Head Start” program. The state then shepherds her through public schools (which Melissa Harris-Perry, by the way, says are underfunded due to our “private idea” of parental rights), gives her a loan to go to college, covers her birth control through Obamacare, helps subsidize her child care (when she “decides to have a child”), and guarantees her “equal” pay until she receives Medicare and Social Security.

The ad presented what Obama considers a glorious vision of a state-bankrolled partnership between family-less individuals and central planners. Hillary Clinton, who as a lawyer once favored the right of children to sue their parents, tried to soften this vision years earlier by using the phrase “It takes a village.”

Harris-Perry is now staking out the same position, but in more blunt language: children “belong” to the state. As the Left grows more cocky and triumphant, it apparently feels less of a need to rely upon euphemism and misdirection. Responding nonchalantly to conservative backlash, Harris-Perry simply called her comment “uncontroversial.” The scary thing is that she might be right. The culture is hurtling towards a day in which the most basic precepts of the natural moral law are purely “private” notions.


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