Many Americans have heard about or in some cases even felt the growing assault on parental rights in recent years. Decisions that have for so long rested with parents are, in many areas, being passed to schools, government entities, or in some cases, the children themselves. From underaged abortion to life-altering “gender reassignment” surgeries, children—and the rights of parents to lead and protect them—are in danger.
The Parental Rights Foundation has worked for fifteen years to add a parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. More recently, they’ve filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Washington, D.C. parents to fight a new vaccine law the District recently passed. James Mason is president of the Parental Rights Foundation, and he joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss the case.
The new Washington D.C. law would allow children as young as 11 to be vaccinated without their parent’s consent or even notification, if the child consents and the healthcare provider decides the child is sufficiently mature to consent. This law has been coming for a while, says Mason. “This all was started before COVID,” he stresses. “It started out with the usual childhood vaccinations that you’re required to have to go to school.”
“It’s not about vaccines,” Mason continues. “It’s about removing parents from that equation. Most parents want to have their kids vaccinated, but they want to be involved in the decision.”
This new law would require schools and healthcare providers to actively conceal medical information about children from their parents. The parents whom Mason and the Parental Rights Foundation represent have been granted religious exemptions from vaccinating their children for years. “This new ordinance would say, ‘We’re going to ignore the parents’ religious exemption and ask the child themselves. And if the child says yes, and the doctor thinks they’re mature enough, we’ll give them the shot and we won’t tell the parents about it.’”
“Our lawsuit is probably going to be looked at as kind of an anti-COVID vaccine lawsuit, which it is not. It is all about who decides.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear James Mason discuss why parental rights are important, and how his organization is fighting to keep parents as the primary decision-makers for their children.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Most of us assume that the law defers to the decisions of parents when it comes to their children, especially in education and medical matters. But that is not always the case. The organization Parental Rights Foundation recently filed a lawsuit challenging a new Washington DC law that allows children as young as 11 to make binding medical decisions without parental consent or even notification.
James Mason is with us today to discuss this disturbing trend. James Mason is president of the Parental Rights Foundation and vice president and Director of Litigation and Development for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
James Mason welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JAMES MASON: Well, it’s my pleasure to be with you today.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, do you think most parents would be surprised at the current legal status of parental rights in the United States? And if so, why?
JAMES MASON: The traditional view of parental rights is under pressure from a lot of different fronts. And I think parents would be surprised from some of those directions. Not so much though in others. I mean, some of these are pretty big items in the news today. We read a lot about school districts and school boards and critical race theory and the way education is being affected.
There’s another big issue—that is something I didn’t foresee coming years ago—but the transgender movement and the ideology behind it and how that’s affecting children and how parents are being excluded from those big decisions is a pretty big item in the news, and it’s kind of a frightening one.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Just for people that may not be paying attention, the transgender movement involves what? Give us a quick synopsis.
JAMES MASON: The ideology is that people are born into the wrong bodies and that they are actually a sex other than what their biological sex is. Where children and parents become involved, it involves pre-puberty hormone treatments to block the natural development of a child’s body, either male or female, and pretty drastic surgical interventions. Really frightening stuff that is happening to children all over the country, and it’s increasing at an alarming pace over the last few years.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And there are situations where the parents are being threatened with losing custody of their children, right, if they resist?
JAMES MASON: Yeah, and that ties into another big area of erosion of parental rights that most people are maybe vaguely aware of, but don’t necessarily think about very often, and that is the whole child welfare system that most people don’t think about unless a CPS investigator comes to their house. Where these things intersect is that the rights of parents to decide medical issues for their children comes into conflict when the transgender ideology would say that the child has a right to have pre-pubescent hormone treatments or drastic surgical interventions, and the CPS system gets involved at cross purposes with the parents. That’s an emerging trend that’s starting to happen.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Yeah, that’s disturbing. So somewhat related to that, you have filed recently a lawsuit—or your organization has filed this lawsuit—in federal court related to a Washington DC law to vaccinate minors. So tell us why this is so important.
JAMES MASON: What the district did is it passed an ordinance that says children as young as 11 years old may consent to vaccinations—it started out with the usual childhood vaccinations that you’re required to have to go to school—without their parents’ knowledge or consent. It’s actually structured in a way that the school districts will keep two sets of books: one that the parents can see; and one that they can’t. In the ones that they can look at, it won’t reflect that they had the vaccination and it even instructs insurance companies to hide the fact in the explanation of benefits that’s mailed to the parents. Now it says that a child as young as 11 may consent, if in the opinion of the healthcare provider, the child has sufficient maturity to give that consent. Well, who is it for the 11-year-old child that has traditionally been the one to give consent for medical treatment? That’s always been parents.
And the other layer on this is that in the District of Columbia, parents can file for exemption, which is kind of routine all around the country; you can have your children exempted from those vaccines for medical or religious reasons. So the plaintiffs that we represent, for religious reasons, have exempted their children from vaccinations for many years in the public schools, all in accordance with law. And now this new ordinance would say, “We’re going to ignore the parents’ religious exemption and ask the child themselves. And if the child says yes, and the doctor thinks they’re mature enough, we’ll give them the shot. And then we won’t tell the parents about it.” That all was started before COVID, and now the COVID vaccine has been approved down to 12 years old, and the District of Columbia, when school opens, they’re going to set up clinics and ask kids apart from their parents whether they want to get the COVID vaccine.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Wow. So tell me about why parents—in case they’re not seeing the importance of this—why do parents who even may fully support vaccinations and think getting everybody vaccinated is a great idea, why should they care about this? Why is this important?
JAMES MASON: Well, it’s a very direct assault on the traditional role that parents have with their children to guide them through life’s decisions until they’re old enough or reach adulthood themselves to make those important decisions. So our lawsuit is probably going to be looked at as a kind of an anti-COVID vaccine law suit, which it is not; it is all about who decides. The Supreme Court in 1923 in a very famous case said that children are not mere creatures of the state, that their parents have the high duty and responsibility to make major life decisions for them. So that’s what’s under assault. It’s not about vaccines; it’s about removing parents from that equation. Most parents want to have their kids vaccinated, but they want to be involved in the decision. I have seven children; they’re all adults now. None of them at the age of 11, in my humble opinion, would I have wanted to make those kinds of medical decisions without my wife or I being involved in them. And that’s what’s under assault. This is just one example of laws like this around the country. Whether it’s medical records or consent to abortions, there’s a trend of taking parents out of the medical decision-making to achieve social goals that are kind of contrary to the traditional role of parents in the lives of their children.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Is it a grand scheme here? Are these people all getting together and deciding, “Oh, let’s start with something that seems reasonable, like a vaccine, and then we can go after more and more parental rights.” Or do you think this is just kind of that zeitgeist, that kind of cultural movement?
JAMES MASON: It may be both. The ideology that is behind this? There’s a pretty prominent law professor named James Dwyer who has written books. One of his books is about homeschooling, but he doesn’t confine his writings to homeschooling. He has expressed the notion, which is widespread amongst elite, academic institutions and law professors and the like, that the only reason parents have rights to do anything with their children is because the state grants them those rights. He has a very long essay about this, and he is actually at the forefront of changing the way we view the parent/child relationship and removing the traditional view, the legal view. What is still the law in America is that fit parents—that is parents who have not been adjudicated as abusive—fit parents have the right to decide major life decisions for their children—education, medical, and so forth—unless there’s a really compelling interest that is very narrowly tailored to overcome that right. They would like to switch that to the state gets to decide pretty much everything, and parents are just kind of the caregivers that the state delegates its role to. So, there is that in academia and these kinds of laws are reflective of that mindset.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And this despite the fact, as you just said, that the Supreme Court has ruled pretty much the exact opposite of that.
JAMES MASON: Yeah, so that’s kind of the problem. My organization was actually founded about 15 years ago with the idea of getting a parental rights amendment added to the United States Constitution to prevent the erosion of parental rights through the courts, because parental rights are not in the Constitution. They are the traditional rights that parents have long understood they had and the country as long understood that parents have. But we had set out to put it in black and white in the Constitution to prevent any kind of erosion.
So we do see erosion in courts, and I have been involved in a couple of cases over the last few years where the courts have upheld and returned to those traditional rights and used that kind of language. So it’s an ongoing struggle where people who hold to the traditional view—law firms, lawyers like me—need to be involved in cases to keep advancing that so that the courts will continue to uphold it. But not every court has, so it’s an ongoing issue that we need to really pay attention to.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So the outcome of this lawsuit that you filed in Washington DC, will that have implications for some of these other issues that you’re discussing?
JAMES MASON: Depending on how it turns out. If the traditional role of parents is the primary holding and it comes up favorably, this lawsuit would be used as a good example of the reasoning behind it. We raised a couple of other arguments in it. Religious freedom, for example: should parents who have a legal right to a religious exemption have those rights just ignored? How does that make sense? You give them the right to claim exemption for religious reasons, and then you ignore them and hide the fact from them; that doesn’t make any sense. That’ll also be helpful. So we take these cases on because we think they have the potential to highlight the issues and get us a good precedent that can be relied on in other cases around the country.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you mentioned your efforts to try to get parental rights into the U S Constitution. How is that effort going?
JAMES MASON: Well, as you may have read, Congress is kind of polarized right now. So the first step: getting a parental rights amendment (or any kind of amendment) to the United States Constitution requires that a bill be introduced and passed in the same two year Congress. So this is a marathon divided up into two year sprints. We get the amendment introduced in Congress pretty much every Congress. We have pretty high hurdle—two-thirds of each house—before it gets sent to the states.
We’re just continuing to highlight it; it’s not likely to happen soon, but because of our efforts and because we formed the organization, we’ve also been working diligently around the country getting parental rights statutes. We’ve had several of those passed around the country. Then the other big thing we’re working on is the CPS investigation system. It is very erosive of parental rights and it largely occurs in secret and nobody knows what’s really going on. So we have been proposing model legislation through an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council. State legislators attend these sessions and they can take those bills out into their states and pass state-specific bills to protect parental rights.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I know that there will be people who are listening to us who will be very interested in following this issue, but also your organization is involved in a couple of other very interesting cases. Could you tell us how people can follow your work and where they would go to learn more about these other cases as well?
JAMES MASON: Our website is parentalrightsfoundation.org, and you can sign up for our emails there. As you noted in my introduction, I also work with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, and the relationship there is the right to homeschool depends in large part on the right of parents to direct the education of their children. And you can find out more about us at hslda.org, and we have a weekly newsletter you can sign up for there as well.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: James Mason, president of the Parental Rights Foundation, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.