Over the past two years, one of the few positives to come out of school shutdowns and a massive rise in schooling from home is that many parents have woken up to the inappropriate content their children are often being exposed to in school. Parents across the country are now fighting back against the rise in radical teaching about identity, sexuality, and more that has been brought on by some progressive school boards, educators, and bureaucrats.
Will Estrada is no stranger to the fight for parental rights, and through his work as president of the Parental Rights Foundation, he has fought to enshrine parental rights into federal and state codes. Estrada joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss how parental rights have come under attack in recent years, and share the status of various parental rights amendments across the country.
“We are seeing parents from across the political spectrum advance the notion that they should be in charge of their children’s education, upbringing, and care,” says Estrada. “This is not just a Republican issue or even a Christian issue. This is something parents all across the board want. They may have different views on how to raise their children, but we respect that and we advance it and we protect it legally here in our country.”
Estrada and the Parental Rights Foundation have been working for years to pass a parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but they’ve also passed such amendments in twelve states to affirm that “the liberty interest of the parent, and the nurture, education, care, custody, and control of the parent’s child is a fundamental right.”
“In some ways, the state level is more important than the federal level,” says Estrada. “Most of the interactions a parent will have with a government official are at the state level […] So we put these parental rights statutes in at the state level. In some ways, they may even provide greater protections in day-to-day activities between parents and the government than a federal parental rights amendment would…”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Will Estrada discuss the continued fight for parental rights across the country.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Most of us assume that parents call the shots when it comes to their children, but there are more and more attempts to limit parental rights. So parents need to educate themselves and be proactive to ensure the law upholds the foundational relationship of parents and children.
We’re joined today by Will Estrada, the president of the Parental Rights Foundation. Estrada was most recently in the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before that, he worked for 14 years at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association as a legal assistant and then staff attorney. We are grateful to have him here today to talk about parental rights.
Will Estrada, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
WILL ESTRADA: It’s great to be on with you. Thanks for having me.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, tell us why we should be concerned about the status of parental rights, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions regarding the care of their children.
WILL ESTRADA: Well, Traci, you’re absolutely right; there’s a line of cases at the Supreme Court level here in the United States that have all said, “Parents have the fundamental right to direct the education, upbringing, care of their children.” But here’s why parents should be concerned about the status of parental rights. We just have to turn on the news and look at what’s going on in the school boards to see parental rights are under attack by academics, by bureaucrats, by busybodies, and by other people who support them. Right now we’re seeing kind of op-eds around the country, putting parental rights in scare quotes. Salon recently had an article about that. A guest columnist out in California who was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle said, “We must eliminate parental rights in the name of equity. Today, these are people who don’t really have a ton of power, but they are advancing this narrative that the school boards are advancing, that were still seeing in state legislatures, and even at the federal level that we see with International UN treaties that would put best interest of a child there.
That’s why we think this is a moment to seize the energy of parents around the country and enshrine the good case law that we mentioned in the Supreme Court, but into actual black and white statutes at the state level and at the federal level with our work on a parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Cases change, courts change, judges change, but when we can enshrine these fundamental rights in our state codes, that’s going to provide an extra bulwark of protection. And remember, state laws can change too; laws at the federal level can change. So we’ll never be able to hang up our cleats, as it were; we’ll always have to be fighting. We are seeing parents from across the political spectrum advance the notion that they should be in charge of their children’s education upbringing and care. In fact, I recently wrote an op-ed response to this writer at the Salon, Kathryn Joyce, and saying parental rights are a bipartisan issue. That’s why Glenn Youngkin won in Northern Virginia; that’s why we’re seeing such energies at the school board level, because parents everywhere are saying we should be the ones making these decisions for our children, not the government.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right, and I think we ignore these criticisms from the other side at our peril. I mean, I think we really need to listen and encounter them patiently and gently, of course, but we don’t need to simply ignore them.
WILL ESTRADA: I think you’re absolutely right, and that’s something we’re doing at parentalrights.org and the Parental Rights Foundation as well. We’re being kind of that voice in the public square saying, “Hold on a moment. This is not just a Republican issue or even a Christian issue. This is something parents all across the board want. They may have different views on how to raise their children, but we respect that and we advance it and we protect it legally here in our country.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What are your thoughts on that infamous U.S. Attorney General memo regarding angry parents at school board meetings?
WILL ESTRADA: That is a great question, Traci. And the context is on September 29, 2021, the National School Boards Association sent this letter to President Biden, and I’m going to read the second sentence. “The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.” Now, if they had just left it at “threats of violence,” I think that would be one thing. But the “acts of intimidation” sentence that the National School Boards Association put there is vague and undefined. And we were seeing—my wife and I live in Loudon County, Virginia, which a few years ago was known as one of the best school districts in the nation. Now it’s become infamous for the way parents have been treated in that county when their children are in the public school.
So if they had just left it to “threats of violence,” that would’ve been one thing, but we were seeing school board members saying just parents coming and protesting the closures, the mask mandates, the vax mandates, the critical race theory in the classrooms, the sexualized materials being left in school libraries—that school board members were saying, “This is intimidation of you just speaking out against this.” And I remember our First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that is the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition government for a redress of grievances.
So that’s the context of the Attorney General’s memo; it’s coming out now that actually the White House solicited this letter from the National School Boards Association to kind of give them cover for coming in and investigating parents. It’s a troubling history, Traci, because I’m grateful for our federal law enforcement. Most recently, the FBI’s hostage rescue team killed a terrorist and they saved a rabbi and synagogue goers in Texas, but we can’t overlook abuses of federal power. Remember back in the fifties and sixties, when J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on Americans such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for political reasons. That attorney general memo responding to the National School Boards Association letter really reeks of that same sort of politicized interference in parents peaceably assembling to petition government for a redress of grievances. Local law enforcement does a great job; they’re more than capable to handle this.
The interesting thing is, since that letter came out, 27 states have issued statements disagreeing with the National School Boards Association letter, and 17 have actually withdrawn their memberships or dues. So it’s really devastated the School Boards Association, and our organization and many others are watching this to make sure that parents’ First Amendment rights are not impinged by the FBI when they speak out on these issues in school board meetings.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you’ve said that you consider this current moment a sea change when it comes to parental rights. Why do you think that?
WILL ESTRADA: Homeschool and private school parents have always been engaged. They’re a very small minority; they realize that that freedom is not free; they need to speak out. But it was not really common to see this level of interest in parental rights and parental involvement, particularly in education, until the pandemic hit. And I think this is one of those “It was meant for evil, but God used it for good” moments. I remember those words that Joseph spoke to his brothers, recorded in scripture when they sold him into slavery in Egypt and how he saved basically the entire world from starving to death. It’s sort of like with the pandemic, obviously it’s been horrible, many have died—I think there are very few families who’ve not been impacted by the pandemic. But March of 2020, schools shut down, parents are working from home, and all of a sudden they’re seeing what’s going on in the schools and they’re saying, “Whoa, wait a minute!” And again, like we said at the beginning, this is parents across the political spectrum. Not just conservatives, not just Christians, parents left/right/center are seeing what’s going on and they’re saying, “This is troubling to us.” Really everyone became homeschoolers, and I think that really brought together parents in a way we’ve never seen of, “We want to be involved in our children’s education.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Wow, well thank you for saying something positive about the school close downs. That might be a first!
WILL ESTRADA: There’s not much, Traci, but the one good thing has been it’s pulled back the curtain, so to speak, on what’s going on in the public schools, and many parents have been deeply concerned about what they’re seeing.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So we’ve even heard the possibility of a parental rights amendment at maybe the federal level; some states have been talking about that. Is this why this idea is gaining some traction now?
WILL ESTRADA: It really is. I think of what just happened in Virginia. So the new governor, Glenn Youngkin, came in and he spoke about parental rights, and everyone’s been talking about this statute in the Virginia code. It was passed into law in 2013, saying parents have the fundamental right to direct the education and care of their children. That’s actually a statute our organization worked on with our state volunteers and many others to get passed into law in 2013. It’s kind of been sitting there for eight or nine years, and all of a sudden, everyone’s saying, “We are going to use this to restore parental rights in our school boards.
So Parental Rights Foundation, parentalrights.org, we’ve been around for 15 years. We’ve been known for our work on a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect parental rights. We’re still working on that, but let’s face it, D.C. is pretty dysfunctional right now. So we’re also looking at the state level. We have a fundamental parental rights statute, which says the liberty interest of the parent, and the nurture, education, care, custody, and control of the parent’s child is a fundamental right. And we’re seeing that introduced all over the country in state legislatures everywhere. I will say, North Carolina does not have a fundamental parental right state statute. Virginia does. So, North Carolina is I think a state that we’re looking at right now. If we have state legislators who are listening, we would love to work with you on this to try and ensure that North Carolina joins the 12 other states that strongly protect parental rights in their state code.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We are a statewide advocacy organization, and so of course we see the value of state policies, policies that might start at the state level and bubble up. But what happens in the states is very important, isn’t it?
WILL ESTRADA: It really is. In fact, in some ways, the state level is more important than the federal level. Most of the interactions a parent will have with a government official are at the state level; it’s how our founders set up our system of federalism. So think about it: the schools are almost always controlled at the state level or the county level; the local school district, the social service agencies, again, where a parent may interact with the government official, are at the county or state level. So we put these parental rights statutes in at the state level. In some ways, they may even provide greater protections in day-to-day activities between parents and the government than a federal parental rights amendment would, even though that is so critical as well.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you’ve talked a lot about the threats that we face to parental rights here in the United States. Have you given us all of what you consider the greatest threats to these rights?
WILL ESTRADA: We’ve talked about them. I think I didn’t talk in as much detail about the international threats. Right now, we have these strong court cases; we’re trying to enshrine the court cases into state code, but we remember that the U.S. Constitution has what’s called the supremacy clause, where there’s a sentence in the Constitution that treaties which are ratified by the U.S. Senate—takes a two-thirds vote—become the supreme law of the land. And it says that the judges in every state are bound thereby. Now, our founders were thinking they didn’t want New York to keep fighting England if there was a peace treaty, but the context is we’ve seen a rise of dangerous treaties, like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—good sounding treaties, but which would replace our nation’s history of parental rights as a fundamental right with the nebulous “best interest to the child’s” standard, which allows government of to step in and make these decisions.
Thankfully, I don’t think these treaties are anywhere close to being ratified. The closest we ever came was in 2012, when 62 U.S. senators voted in favor of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; it would’ve taken 67 votes to ratify that for it to become a supreme law of the land. So it failed by five votes, even though it got a majority of votes. Right now, I think we’re in a better position, but again, this is one of those things of why we can’t ever let down our guard. It’s why long-term we’re working on a federal parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution, just in case decades from now, one of these dangerous UN treaties were to ever be accidentally ratified.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, how wonderful that we have you there watching for things like this, because who would’ve thought that some reference to treaties back in our constitution would now be possibly threatening our parental rights. So thank you for the good work that you do. We’re just about out of time. Where can our listeners go if we want to learn more and follow the work that you all do over there at Parental Rights Foundation?
WILL ESTRADA: Very simply parentalrightsfoundation.org. You can also find us on Facebook @parentalrights and also on Twitter @parentalrights as well. And we encourage people to keep up with it. It’s only because of moms and dads around the country that we’re able to fight for parental rights. So, it’s because of them and people like you that we’re able to be in this fight, so thank you.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Well, Will Estrada, President of the Parental Rights Foundation, thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
– END –