Parental Rights (But Just For The Right Parents..)

I still remember experiencing an epiphany of sorts when–some twenty years ago–a group of parents wanted the Indianpolis City-County Council to pass an ordinance  preventing children from accessing certain books from the public library. The library had responded by offering what I felt was a reasonable accommodation: parents who desired to control what their kids could check out could fill out a form at the library, and librarians would require parental approval for materials their children wished to read.

Nope–not good enough.

These advocates of “parental rights” insisted that no child should access whatever it was that had them up in arms. That’s when I realized that what these parents really wanted was the right to control the decisions made by other parents.

That mindset is all around us.

Elon Musk believes in free speech for racists, anti-Semites and homophobes–but not for critics of Elon Musk.

Anti-abortion fundamentalists want “religious liberty” defined as the imposition of their religious beliefs through the passage of laws that ignore the liberties of people whose religions differ.

That absolute disregard for the rights of people who disagree with them–and their utter un-self-awareness of that hypocrisy– is obvious in so many of the fights being waged by these culture warriors. The anti-mask, anti-vaccine “freedom fighters” are a great example–they don’t care if they endanger friends and neighbors; It’s their rights that matter.

E.J. Dionne recently made that point in an op-ed about the “parental rights” extremists who’ve been showing up at school board meetings and demanding that certain books be banned. He noted that this new round of censorship “has sturdy roots in a right-wing movement that uses slogans around “parental rights” to defend removing books from libraries in the name of “protecting” children.”

The scare quotes I put around parental rights and protecting kids will invite immediate denunciation and provide an opportunity to say that terrible liberals like me are against parents exercising their responsibilities and protecting children….

Opponents of censorship heartily agree that parents should have an important say in how schools work and how public libraries serve our children. What we’re against is a willful ideological minority imposing its views on everyone else, dictating which ideas should be forbidden in public institutions that instruct the young.

As Dionne noted, the same disregard for the rights of other parents permeates the movement’s dishonest “anti-CRT” assaults. (I think everyone who screams about our schools teaching Critical Race Theory should be challenged to define it. They have no clue. What they really want, of course, is whitewashed history…) Dionne cites several surveys that confirm the desire of a majority of American parents to teach accurate history, warts and all.

“We found that Americans of all political orientations want their children to learn a history that celebrates our strengths and also examines our failures. Americans overwhelmingly agree that the experiences of minority groups are an important part of that history. And they agree that if students are better informed about America’s past there’s a better chance of not repeating past failures.”

When it comes to book banning, a survey for the American Library Association in March asked: “Would you support or oppose efforts to remove books from local public libraries because some people find them offensive or inappropriate and do not think young people should be exposed to them?” It found 71 percent were opposed.

There is an appeal to the idea that parents should have some control over what their children learn,” Hart Research’s Guy Molyneux, who has polled extensively on educational issues, told me. “But parents don’t want a situation where the most upset parent determines what other children learn or what books are in the school library.”

It’s instructive to look at the questions in surveys that the culture warriors claim support book banning: one Rasmussen survey found that 69 percent of voters “believe books containing explicit sexual depictions of sex acts, including homosexual sex, should not be present in public high school libraries.” Those stocking school library shelves would agree–and it’s the height of dishonesty to use language suggesting that such explicit materials are what is at issue.

As Dionne says,

The vast majority of parents want their kids’ schools to be open and welcoming settings for education, not battlefields in culture wars designed primarily to goose conservative turnout at election time.

Unfortunately, most of these sensible parents lack the time and resources to do battle at school board meetings.

The board members who must listen to the ravings of these fringe activists need to remember that people are loudest and most aggressive when they know they don’t represent a majority–and that the parents who disagree with the loudmouths have parental rights too.


  1. A point that Frank Bruni and others have made in the past is that parents aren’t the only stakeholders in the education of our future citizens. Public education is key to an educated democracy and even those who don’t have children in the schools will live in a world where these students someday vote, lead, and influence our worlds. Although I sympathize with those who want to ensure that their children grow up with their values and are protected from harmful influences, I think that present parents need to recognize that how their children are educated affects others. They are our future. Those of us without children in the schools presently need a voice as well. Parents who feel that they should control the curriculum for all must understand that we rely on professional educators to take a broader societal view and serve many parents and ultimately, the public at large. Sure, any outrageous actions in the schools need to be countered, but informed social consensus on what is harmful is the key, not individual preferences. By substituting dialogue with those who have prepared to teach with personal demands for control, some parents are not only undermining our goals for public education but damaging an important profession that serves a crucial purpose in our society.

  2. I’m not sure why supporter of abortion rights assume that opponents of those rights are motivated by religious beliefs. There are plenty of atheist pro-lifers out there, after all. In fact, most pro lifers I have talked to talk about fetal development, not religion, to justify their beliefs.

  3. “…the parents who disagree with the loudmouths have parental rights too.”

    So do we grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents; our tax dollars are still funding public education and watching our dollars being used to support the loudmouth’s demands and the voucher system.

  4. I wonder how many of the parents whining about these library books, or CRT, grooming etc are attending parent teacher conferences ( at least with the intent to listen to understand) ? It seems most are using the same arguments straight from Tucker Carlson, Lauren Boebert or Marg Tayor-Green.

  5. Clearly, the anti-abortion movement is rooted in religious views. The rationale almost always argues for “the sanctity of human life.” Sanctity, of course, refers to “sacred,” a wholly religious concept. Equally surely, the conceptual center of American opposition to abortion, or birth control in any form, is in the Catholic church’s rigid doctrine. Tellingly, a majority of nominal Catholics report3dly ignore that doctrine and practice birth control and abortion.

    Hypocrisy abounds in the “pro life” ranks, with their having no apparent concern about capital punishment or the personal harassment and murder of “abortionists.” Pro-lifers are not notable proponents of taxpayer support for pregnant women in unstable employment or poverty, strong prenatal health programs, parental leave programs, or efforts to assure that forced-birth children get a fair start in life. A great paradox: antiabortion fanatics generally are comfortable white folks. If they succeed in banning abortion, that will result in more births to poor people of color, the very people many comfortable white folks wish would just go away. Don’t just listen to what the “pro-life” politicians say; watch what they do. It won’t be pretty.

  6. Once again the 25% come to the rescue of societal sanity.

    No school district I’m aware of shelves “explicit” books that the blue-noses find so offensive. What these people are REALLY afraid of is that their children might learn a history and fact base that is counter to their own prejudices and bigotry.

    Then, there is the “forbidden fruit” behavior situation. If a kid is told that such and such a book is being banned, they will set out to find it anyway…somewhere. DUH!

  7. As a long-time advocate of universal human rights for women and children, I have observed that those most vocal in their support of PARENTAL RIGHTS seem to be those who ignore the fundamental human rights of women and children and perpetuate the patriarchy. They are the reason the United States is the ONLY COUNTRY that has refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Why? Because children have not a single unalienable right under the express language of our U.S. Constitution.

    The United States has yet to acknowledge that children have a fundamental human right to an education designed to eliminate ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitate access to scientific and technical knowledge (CRC Art. 28, Sec. 3). Education is supposed to prepare children “for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.” (CRC Art. 29, Sec. 1(d)).

    In addition to expanding the conversation on parental rights to include all parents and overarching needs of society, let’s balance our discussion of parental rights with the fundamental human rights of every child regardless of parentage.

  8. Other things the pro-lifers usually oppose are fact based sex education and contraceptives, both of which reduce unwanted pregnancy and, therefore, demand for abortion.

  9. I never had children, but I always paid my property taxes, which is the conduit for school taxation. I really felt it was the most important item on my tax bill. I’m beginning to think that I really don’t want to support a school system that has been taken hostage by the wackos, like Moms for liberty. Seems like it should be my right in the “free state of Florida.”

  10. Sheila — I recently spoke at my school board’s meeting (for 3 minutes -the limit on public comments). There was a book banner who spoke ahead of me. I suspect I will have to appear again in the coming months. I would like your permission to quote some of your findings in the blog about “parental rights”.
    I find the banning of books very disturbing.

  11. What is whitewashed about history is that the KKK was formed by oppressive people Democrats who wanted to hang as many people who stood for freedom.that they could. Since then they have used tax dollars to continue to oppress our black community. Today the whitewashing of history is recreated and is not open debate but to criminalize every nuance of a free capitalistic society back by a constitution that says all men are created equal. Yes it says created. Our rights are inalienable. Some histories today are not expanding history but producing fantasy of ideological nature that opposes racial equity through divisions of the races.”
    There is only one race, butbthe problem with CRT is that it states slavery primarily came from the white colonialied America. Thats false.
    Africans enslaved and sold slaves through Portugal and Spain primarily. A smaller portion were sold to the US

  12. If a teacher opens and reads rom the scriptures like Benjamin Franklins reader does, that teacher would most likely be suspended. History shows that socialists first goal is to destroy a countries religious base and its principles. Today there is so much indoctrination that not only are children not taught true constitutional history, science, math, classical literature books of the western world, we see a huge drop in proficiency.

  13. John S. If I understand your first few sentences of your first post correctly, you are saying that Democrats are responsible for the oppression of your black community. The Republican and Democratic Parties have pretty much reversed their positions on racial equality since the heyday of the KKK. Today’s Democrats are far more supportive of racial equity than are Republicans. I read that post 4 or 5 times trying to decipher it and admit I’m still confused.

  14. John S. Re. your second post. Religions indoctrinate. That is the point of keeping religious doctrine out of the public schools

  15. Firstly,
    That voucher system needs to be blown up! Money from the public tax base should not be used to fund private education! Taxpayers need to share the burden when it comes to public schools. If you have disposable income for a private school, then have at it. But you still should have to pay your share of the public districts schools tax levy.

    It sets a bad precedent when you can demand your tax dollars fund something other than social services, entities, departments, divisions, and organizations.

    The United States supreme Court has said that “faith-based organizations may not use direct government support to support inherently religious activities.” It means you “cannot use any part of a federal grant to fund religious worship instruction or proselytization.” Religious organizations set up their 501c3 corporate wings to separate charitable work from religious teachings.

    You really can’t do that with school vouchers, and, you can’t do that with religious social services. Because they are constantly pushing religious beliefs into their 501 c3 corporations. That should be considered illegal, why? Because it is!

    So parents want to send their kids to religious schools need to pay there tax share, and, the fees for private religious schools. And even if the schools are not religious but still private, the parents need to still pay for that tuition unless there is a grant from the school or some religious organization.

    Giving a child any specific education along with a well-rounded public education, should not be infringed upon. But, the parents have to be able to pay for something more if they want more then the public is offering! And when the individual is old enough, they can fund their own education to the degree in which they can afford. It would be beneficial to have two and four year College available for everyone just like high school (secondary school) is now. Starting around 1910, It was mostly vocational, but continued to evolve. Unfortunately these schools were originally only for white students.

    To give a well-rounded education and an enlightenment so to speak, Colleges need to follow the path that high school took or secondary school. And, it should be free to everyone no matter the color or stripe of an individual.

    The parents of those children need to pay their fair share of the public educational tax levies, and if they want something more, they need to work harder or apply to organizations for grant money. Publicly funded education should be everything that’s needed for a productive work life. And, it’s up to the parents to provide more if they deem it necessary. But cannot or will not put the burden on ones neighbors!

    Getting all of this sorted out would stop a lot of these shenanigans in their tracks. Kind of like a sharp left uppercut right under the chin.

  16. John S. Re 1st post:

    Slavery based on race and maternal lineage did come from white colonized America and was the foundation of American capitalism.

    “Race, while not a valid biological concept, is a real social construction that gives or denies benefits and privileges. American society developed the notion of race early in its formation to justify its new economic system of capitalism, which depended on the institution of forced labor, especially the enslavement of African peoples. “

  17. Please note that slavery was a reality well before the Americas were populated by Europeans. History is replete with conquered tribes, countries and religious/political groups enslaving those they controlled. In almost all areas of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, conquered people were enslaved with no regard to race as that was and is just another pretext to justify the practice as it was imposed by the Eurocentric power structure.
    The vouch program is a means of defunding public education, carried out the Republican officeholders in this state to privatize public services wherever they exist to the benefit of private wealth. Mitch Daniels is only one of the architects of that movement. The fact that he is likely to re-enter state politics should be a warning to all Indiana citizens that he will continue in his mission to privatize public education to the exclusion of minorities of all stripes.

  18. John S: says
    “the problem with CRT is that it states slavery primarily came from the white colonialied America. ”
    The problem is that John S actually has no idea what CRT says.
    Every person with a minimal knowledge of history (including CRT scholars) knows that slavery has existed for as long as human civilization. The old testament (written several millenia before American colonialism) is full of slavery. History is full of examples of middle eastern people enslaving other middle eastern people, and Asian people enslaving other Asian people, and black people enslaving other black people, and white people enslaving other white people.
    CRT is about racism, a social phenomenon that has many facets other than outright legal slavery.
    Please take some time to educate yourself about CRT before you criticize it. I recommend Victor Ray’s book “On Critical Race Theory” as a starting point.

  19. I did some rough calculations a few years back, and at least for Indiana, only about 10% of households have school age children at any time. Several people made good on the point that schools exist for the good of the whole society. A small vocal fringe of a small percentage of tax payers shouldn’t be able to hold schools hostage.

    Tax payer dollars should not be used to fund private institutions, or if they are, they need to be bound by the same rules as public schools.

  20. John S. you are a perfect example of one who lacks the ability to understand history and especially how positions change. You truly are in need of a good Liberal education. BTW, I am an applied engineer but also have a firm grounding in the Liberal Arts. My bachelor degree required the type of education promoted by Thomas Jeffrson including courses in both the Liberal and practical arts. I am the well educated person who scares the crap out of the ignorant rightwingers.

  21. Stan: You’re not a voter, are you? Maybe you can advocate in the Philippines?

    It’s simple: Right wingies/Magats/GOP all vote fear. Liberals vote rationalities.
    Guess who comes to the polls?
    I’m an anti-abortion atheist. It IS murder.
    So what? Wars are murder, too.
    Pro death penalty. Cull the herd.
    I’m Planned Parenthood, also.
    Rare and legal, that’s me.

  22. Three thoughts on the main theme and comments:
    1) “Parental rights”, as these groups want it, means the ability to impose their view of child rearing on everyone else’s children. So true.

    2) As a citizen and a tax-payer, I should have an equal say in educating the next generation of citizens. As John Sorg pointed out, parents have the right to a private education for the children, either to attend high academic schools or religious ones, as long as they pay for it. In my case I attended a religious afternoon school after I finished my public school classes three days a week, as did a Muslim friend of mine who grew up in London. It was the choice of our parents and they paid the extra tuition.

    3) Paul – whether you call it “religious” or “philosophical”, views on abortion are about the believe on when “personhood” begins, the “soul” enters the body, or some other subjective point of view. “Objective science” does settle the discussion because different definitions and/or assumptions lead to different answers. So when someone calls it “religious”, it is not worth arguing about, although you are technically correct. “Philosophical” is not synonymous with “religious”.

  23. Ormond, I will vote in the POTUS elections at the US Embassy in Manila. And never, ever for a Repug.

  24. OMG, in the words of Rodney King…..why can’t we all just get along together. This country was founded by immigrants from many ethnic backgrounds, yes, maybe some were criminals of a sort.
    But they all came for a “better life” and it appears that some people, descendants of the originals, want to go back to the very oppression that their forebearer left. If the bible thumpers would kindly re-read their bibles, I think somewhere in there it will tell them how oppression is not at all what God/Jesus wanted us to do.

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