by J.D. Heyes
A number of Missouri lawmakers are supporting an amendment to the state constitution that essentially formalizes the fundamental right of parents to raise their children as they see fit.
In late April the House gave its approval to a measure, House Joint Resolution 26 (HJR26) that says parents have the right to make all decisions regarding the “discipline, education, religious instruction, health, medical care, place of habitation, and general well-being” for their own minor children.
Laying out the law – parents over the state
The measure says, in part:
Section 35. 1. That parents have a fundamental right to exercise exclusive control over the care, custody, and upbringing of their minor children, including all decisions involving the discipline, education, religious instruction, health, medical care, place of habitation, and general well-being of such minor children.
2. Parents have the right to choose to educate their children in public schools, private schools, or in-home education to prepare them for future obligations in life.
3. Neither the state nor any political subdivision, nor any agency, entity, or person acting on behalf of the state or any political subdivision, shall act to deny or impair the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children. However, the fundamental right of a parent to control and direct the care, custody, and upbringing of a minor child may be modified by a court of law when a parent has been found guilty of or pleads guilty to a crime of violence against a child, abuse of a child, kidnaping of a child, abandonment of a child, sexual abuse of a child, sexual conduct or any other sexual offense against a child, criminal nonsupport, or endangering the welfare of a child; or when a parent has been found by a court of law by clear and convincing evidence to have committed child abuse, child neglect or medical neglect; or as a result of adoption, child abandonment, mental incompetency or marital dissolution proceedings, or through the voluntary consent of the parent of a child.
The amendment would not prohibit law enforcement agencies or courts to move to protect at-risk children.
Enshrining a basic right
State Rep. Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said the amendment was prompted in part by a desire to protect the rights of parents who home-school their children.
In March, Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon, introduced legislation that would essentially accomplish what Richardson’s amendment would.
“HB 513 would put into statute that the state, or state agencies, cannot violate those parental rights without due process,” Bahr said in a statement.
“We must make sure children are protected in emergency situations but balance that with serious action of the state,” he added. “To formally terminate parental rights of a child is only eclipsed as the most extreme measure civil government can wield, with the imposition of the death penalty being the only other more extreme measure.”
A second House vote will be needed to send Richardson’s legislation to the Senate. If it passes there, the proposed amendment would be sent to the voters in 2014.
If the presumption of Richardson’s amendment seems apparent – that parents should have the final say in raising their own children, barring committing criminals acts against them, parental rights have actually been under attack for years, and often over the issue of home schooling.
“Parental rights are under siege. Parents, in many ways, are becoming ‘second class citizens’ as lower courts elevate the power of the state to supersede the wisdom of parents,” says a 2004 issue analysis by the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Parental choice is in jeopardy. Freedom is at stake. The basic fundamental freedom of parents to raise their children hangs in the balance. Have we forgotten whose children they are anyway? They are a God-given responsibility to parents.”
Sources for this article include:
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