House Joint Resolution 56 would add a new section to the Bill of Rights in our State Constitution. It would specify "that parents have a fundamental right to exercise exclusive control over the care, custody, and upbringing of their minor children."
The new language delineates that parents have legal authority to make "all decisions involving the discipline, education, religious instruction, health, medical care, place of habitation, and general well-being" of their minor children.
The most significant public policy impact of Representative Richardson's proposal would be in the area of education. The amendment would provide a constitutional guarantee to the right of parents to choose
the setting of their children's education, whether it be public schools, private schools, parochial or parish schools, or home education. As such, it would provide homeschooling with constitutional safeguards.
House Joint Resolution 56 would also ensure the instructional independence of private schools and home educators. The amendment would prohibit the state from dictating the content of curriculum used in private schools or in home education. No state official could require inclusion in the curriculum of any materials
which conflict with the school's religious doctrines or a homeschool parent's religious beliefs.
These provisions are already found in state statute, but would now be inserted into the binding language of the Constitution. In so doing, those protections could not be eliminated or altered without a vote of the people of Missouri.
Representative Richardson's proposed constitutional amendment was enthusiastically approved by the Missouri House during the 2013 legislative session. Last year's house joint resolution on parental rights was overwhelmingly approved by a 131-23 vote with genuine
bipartisan support. The bill died in the Senate for lack of time to move it through that chamber.
Out of all the essential civil liberties enjoyed by American citizens, the right of parents to guide the upbringing of their children has been one of the most broadly shared and least disputed. Yet there is no language in either the federal or state constitution which formally establishes that fundamental right.
Federal courts have acknowledged the right of parents to decide the destiny of their children for nearly 100 years. In the famous Pierce v. Society of Sisters
case of 1925,
the U.S. Supreme Court declared that "the child is not merely a creature of the state." In the Prince
case in 1944, the court said: "It is cardinal with us that the custody, care, and nurture of the child rests first with the parents...The private realm of family life is one which the state should not enter except for compelling circumstances."
In the 1972 case of Wisconsin v. Yoder
, the Supreme Court established the principle that parents could choose to educate their children outside of either public or private schools. The Court upheld the right of parents to transfer their moral standards, religious beliefs, and
the elements of good citizenship to their children by educating them themselves.
Over the last century, the Supreme Court reasoned that parental rights were a liberty interest bestowed by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. But in the Troxel v. Granvill
e case handed down in the year 2000, the High Court went even further. It defined the privilege of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children as a fundamental right.
The High Court's validation of parental rights in the Troxel
case was sweeping: "The Due Process Clause doe not permit a state to infringe on the fundamental right
of parents to make childrearing decisions simply because a state judge believes a 'better' decision could be made."
Over the years defender of home education have proposed various parental rights amendments on the state and the federal level. Unfortunately, they have at times suffered from defects in statutory construction. Some have failed to effectively constrain intrusion by the state into family life. Others have failed to explicitly preserve the legitimate interest of the state to safeguard the welfare of children in serious cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, and child neglect.
House Joint Resolution 56 recognizes the many valid child protection provisions of Missouri law designed to
ensure the safety of children whose life or health may be in true jeopardy. Yet the language of HJR 56 reaffirms the legal standard employed in state and federal courts that parental custody cannot be removed until a parent has been proven to be unfit through clear and convincing evidence.
The future fate of home education in the United States has been called into question by recent actions of the Obama Administration. The controversy surrounds a homeschooling family from Germany that has sought political asylum in the United States. The Romeike family
fled Germany when they were harassed and fined by government officials for failing to enroll their children in the public schools.
The U.S. Justice Department has strongly opposed the Romeike's request for political asylum. In a brief filed with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by Obama Administration lawyers, the Justice Department stated that laws that prohibit home education "do not violate basic human rights." This is a clear and total contradiction to the federal case law we have described above.
Should the Missouri Parental Rights Amendment be endorsed by both chambers of the Missouri Legislature, it would be submitted to a vote of the people later this year. The proposition would go before Missouri voters
on the November general election ballot, unless the Governor chose to place it on the August primary ballot.
House Joint Resolution 56 was heard last week by the House General Laws Committee. It is expected to move to the House floor for debate in the coming weeks. We encourage you to ask your state representative to vote for this important bill to protect the religious liberties of Missouri families. You can do so by using this link:Missouri House