“With great power comes great responsibility.” This line can be traced in various forms to former leaders like Winston Churchill, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and more recently, Spider-Man. Most often, we see negative outcomes when the rights and freedoms we enjoy are exercised by people who do not also recognize the responsibility and duty commensurate with these rights. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In recent years, we have seen a kind of reverse separation of these two elements. Rather than people wanting all their rights without accepting any corresponding duties, we have seen rights being taken away from those with arguably the greatest responsibility—parents.
As parents, it is our job—our responsibility—to provide for, nourish, raise, educate, and shape our children. We must seek to instill in them virtuous character, personal discipline, and moral courage. We are not long-term babysitters providing temporary care on behalf of the state. We are the first and fundamental caregivers for our children—for their entire lives.
When it comes to the educational success of children, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction states clearly, “The research is clear on parent involvement: when parents are involved in their children’s education, students have higher grades/test scores/graduation rates, better school attendance, increased motivation, better self-esteem, lower rates of suspension, decreased use of drugs/alcohol, and fewer instances of violent behavior.”
Similarly recognizing the role of parents, Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has written, “We can, however, recapture freedom and a traditional understanding of responsibility. If this is to be done, though, the crucial instruments of change will not be the functionaries of the state, but the father whose faithfulness to his family forms the moral tenor of succeeding generations and the mother whose reverence for and nourishing of life ensures the very existence of mankind’s future.”
The children we raise today will be the citizens of tomorrow. If we want to see responsibility and virtue in our society, we have to be prepared to actively raise our children and must be given the right to do so. This is a great responsibility; and great responsibility requires corresponding rights.
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans believe it is somewhat or very important for a good citizen to follow what happens in government and politics. The Bill of Rights Institute goes so far as to claim, “One of the greatest individual responsibilities of citizens in a free society is that of being well-informed.”
If being a good citizen involves staying informed about government and politics, it should be all the more obvious and vital that parents must remain informed about their children. And parents cannot fulfill this responsibility if they don’t have the right to know what is happening in the lives of their children.
This is precisely what has been increasingly under attack over the past few years. Surprisingly, few states actively protect a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions for or be informed about their children. According to ParentalRights.org, only 15 states currently have statutes protecting parental rights, and we have witnessed multiple cases where state and local governments are undermining or simply ignoring parental rights and authority.
Just last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a terrifying bill that allows California courts to assume emergency custody of children currently present in California if they have been unable to obtain “gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care.” Washington DC passed a law, thankfully struck down by a federal judge, that would have allowed children as young as 11 years old to be vaccinated without parent notification or consent. And I remember the shock of hearing the claim that parents should not have a primary role in directing their children’s education by Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia in his unsuccessful gubernatorial reelection campaign.
All of these efforts to put government actors or experts between parents and their children is an afront to the natural priority of parents, and they set off my fatherly “Spidey” senses. Fortunately, there are promising signs of hope that we can fight back against such usurpations.
The United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of North Carolina have consistently recognized the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care and upbringing of children. That means that current law favors us as parents. But if we don’t know our rights as parents, then we are fighting blindly. Thankfully, the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law (NCICL) published a helpful document last year, entitled Parents’ Constitutional Right to Parent Without Government Interference: What Every Parent Needs to Know. Additionally, some of our political representatives are actively fighting this battle legislatively.
At the federal level, US Representative Debbie Lesko (AZ) and seven cosponsors are advancing H.J.Res.38, a Parental Rights Amendment to the Constitution. According to ParentalRights.org, “The Amendment would enshrine the traditional liberty of parents to direct a child’s upbringing, education, and care as a fundamental right.” A constitutional amendment is a hard fight to win, but it is encouraging to know that some of our representatives are fighting that fight, and we should be supporting their efforts.
In addition, Rep. Julia Letlow (LA), along with 122 cosponsors, is advancing H.R.5, the Parents Bill of Rights Act. Among the 122 cosponsors are four of our North Carolina representatives. Though less foundational than a Parental Rights Amendment, this legislation also warrants support and increased awareness as it seeks to provide parents with a legally mandated right-to-know about what is happening in their children’s schools. H.R.5 has passed the U.S. House, and it remains to be seen if the U.S. Senate will take it up.
Here in North Carolina, we also have promising legislation making progress through the North Carolina General Assembly. Recently, on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomed Senator Amy Galey to discuss SB 49, the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
As NC Family recently announced, SB 49, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, passed the NC Senate and moved to the House. SB 49 does many things, and NC Family has provided a good overview of its content. Above all, it shows an appreciation for both the rights and responsibilities of parents. Part of the bill codifies the parental right and responsibility to direct the education, upbringing, and medical care for their children. At the same time, it provides parents access to educational and medical records for their children and ensures notification of any suspected crimes committed against their children.
While all of these points likely seem as though they should be a given, as is clear from what is happening nationwide, that is not necessarily the case anymore. Consequently, as parents, we must be all the more vigilant and intentional about staying informed about the lives of our children.
Quoting Rev. Sirico again, if we are to recapture a virtuous sense of responsible freedom, “the crucial instruments of change will not be the functionaries of the state, but the father whose faithfulness to his family forms the moral tenor of succeeding generations and the mother whose reverence for and nourishing of life ensures the very existence of mankind’s future.” It is we, the parents—the mothers and the fathers—who must stand in the breech for our children. We cannot disregard, defer, or delegate our responsibility; nor should we let anyone deny us our parental rights in doing so.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family Staff and contributors.