Vantage Point

Faith and the Rights of Parents


I have been watching with concern the news about parents protesting what their children are being taught in school. The parents say that their kids are being indoctrinated with leftist political ideology, and that what their children are learning is in conflict with their own convictions. Some educators are saying in response that parents have no right to demand changes in school curricula.

The protests are directed at both public and private schools. Many parents disagree with what their children are being taught on topics including race, gender and sexuality, as well as history and political movements. They are rightly concerned, because teachers and school administrators have the opportunity to shape the minds and beliefs of children and adolescents in ways that conflict with what their parents believe and teach at home.

The parents have truth on their side. It is their right to shape their children’s beliefs and attitudes in accord with their own faith and convictions; the schools cannot usurp that right. Yet some in the governmental education bureaucracies are labeling the parents “domestic terrorists.” That’s outrageous. And when the schools in question are public schools, then it is, ultimately, the government that is usurping parents’ rights. That’s ominous.

Parents of students in Catholic schools don’t have to worry about this. They know that their children are being instructed well and wisely, not according to the notions of a popular movement, a fad, or the current political climate, but in timeless wisdom, and in accord with Catholic teaching.

When parents are fulfilling their obligations and defending their rights with regard to education, they have no stronger ally than the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it plainly: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” The Catechism presents the parents’ duties in handing on the faith. Then it states, “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions.” (Italics in original.)

Obviously, many parents believe that their religious and political convictions are being disregarded, or even trashed, by those who administer and teach in the schools their children attend. They want changes. They want to make certain that what their children are being taught does not conflict with the moral values the parents are instilling at home. That is their right. Government has no authority to violate it.

There is ample precedent for parents who stand up for their rights as the moral educators of their children. In the 19th century, when several million Irish immigrants fled their famine-stricken country and came to the United States, they faced bitter prejudice, including animosity toward Catholics. The public school system in New York City—run at that time by a private society—used the King James Bible in the classroom. Archbishop John Hughes protested against its use for Catholic students, and founded an independent system of Catholic schools based in parishes.

Parents who protest the indoctrination of their children today are, in one sense, walking in the footsteps of Archbishop Hughes. They are fighting against a culture that often rejects religion outright or demands that a religion change its teaching to suit the popular opinion of the moment. Biblical morality does not change to fit the fashion.

Parents who can afford private-school tuition can choose schools that uphold and teach the values they are teaching their children at home. But the right of parents to form their children’s minds and consciences according to traditional faith and values must not depend on income. If it does, then freedom of religion means nothing.

The parents who are fighting to keep objectionable material out of school curricula deserve strong support. If they lose, the country drifts even farther away from the values its founders enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. And farther from freedom.