In 1995, the first session of the 104th Congress was dominated by economic discussions and the battle to balance the budget. This was to be expected since the issue was the centerpiece of the “Contract With America.” Social conservatives and pro-family organizations were told to sit tight and be patient, and that the second session in 1996 would address more social and values-oriented issues. That opportunity may have arrived.
The Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act, sponsored by Steve Largent in the House and by Charles Grassley in the Senate, promises to go a long way toward affirming the role and rights of parents in the lives of their children. Largent asks, “Who do you trust to make educational choices, medical choices, and religious education decisions for your children—parents or the government?” He argues that the answer to that question has always been clear, but that the rights of parents have been eroded by a modern culture where the family unit is not respected or valued by the state. Supporters of this legislation say it would address a number of issues, including:
- Setting a legal standard to determine when government can interfere with the family.
- Providing a method of recourse for law-abiding families against overly intrusive government actions.
- Reaffirming the bonds of families by allowing parents to direct the upbringing of their children and make choices for their families.
Conscientious parents today, recognizing the cultural decay and moral degeneration of modern society, have a difficult time protecting their children from these problems. They recognize that there are steps they can be taking to encourage and create a healthier environment for their children to experience. But increasingly in recent years, laws and restrictions placed on families, originally intended to help children, have undermined parents’ fundamental role in their children’s lives.
The increasing popular support for school choice and deregulation, for technology like the v-chip, which would allow parents to screen explicit programming from their television sets, and for well-meaning bipartisan efforts like that of William Bennett and Senator Joseph Lieberman to clean up daytime television talk shows are just a few examples of how parents and families are voicing their frustration with an unhealthy culture and an uncaring government. This energy is largely being channeled toward efforts like the Largent/Grassley legislation, and for good reason.
Isn’t it alarming that there is such significant support for such legislation? Have we really reached a point where we need to be passing laws to enumerate the rights and responsibilities of parents? Most who are familiar with the plight of parents argue that we have reached that point and that it is time to act. Consider the following: contraceptives being distributed at schools without parental involvement or input; thirty-two states that currently are without any meaningful parental consent or notification restrictions on minors having abortions; and millions of poor and disadvantaged families denied the right to decide how and where to educate their children. It does, in fact, seem as though we need some common sense injected into the discussion here, and perhaps the Largent/Grassley legislation will provide that or, at the very least, begin a discussion about the proper role of parents in the upbringing of children.
Catholics have traditionally been in the forefront of the pro-family movement; indeed, the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of the family are at the heart of the social teachings of our Church. Government policies that protect the less fortunate and the vulnerable are vitally important, but it seems that some of these policies, like the outdated and failing federal welfare and social assistance policies, are today either defeating their originally intended purpose or having little effect at all, while draining the bank accounts of tax-paying families.
Perhaps now is the time to ask more of ourselves, our parents, and our families and less from a government bureaucracy. Perhaps now is the time to encourage our government policies to embody our Church’s teachings on the family and on the role of parents in the cultivation and nurturing of our children. Perhaps it is time to relieve the social workers and other well-intentioned bureaucrats of their responsibilities and to once again let parents make the primary decisions for the well-being and care of their children and families. Can to afford to do otherwise?