June 29th marks 20 years since Senator Grassley introduced
THE PARENTAL RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES ACT OF 1995 to Congress. To the best of our knowledge there has not been legislation like it introduced since. It is important to note that this was almost two years before the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. One can only wonder how many lives the Act would have protected or changed for the better… how many lives saved.
The following is the transcript of the introductory speech by Mr. GRASSLEY:
Mr. President, today I am introducing the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act of 1995 to reaffirm the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. While most parents assume this right is protected, some lower courts and Government bureaucrats have acted to limit this basic freedom. The bill I am introducing will protect the family from unwarranted intrusions by the Government. Congressmen Steve Largent and Mike Parker have joined me to pursue this initiative.
While the Constitution does not explicitly address the parent-child relationship, the Supreme Court clearly regards the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children as a fundamental right under the 14th amendment to the Constitution. Fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech and religion receive the highest legal protection. Two cases in the 1920’s affirmed the Court’s high regard for the integrity of the parent-child relationship. In Meyer v. State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), the Court declared that the 14th amendment,
[W]ithout doubt, . . . denotes not merely freedom from
bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to . .
. marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship
God according to the dictates of his own conscience. . . .
The second important case was Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). In this case, the Court declared that:
[In] this day and under our civilization, the child of man
is his parent’s child and not the state’s . . . It is not
seriously debatable that the parental right to guide one’s
child intellectually and religiously is a most substantial
part of the liberty and freedom of the parent.
The Court went on to hold that parents are chiefly responsible for the education and upbringing of their children.
While the Supreme Court’s intent to protect parental rights is unquestionable, lower courts have not always followed this high standard to protect the parent-child relationship. The recent lower court assault on the rights of parents to direct their children’s education, health care decisions, and discipline is unprecedented.
Several examples of lower court cases will demonstrate the need for this bill. A group of parents in Chelmsford, MA, sued when their children were required to sit through a 90-minute AIDS awareness presentation by “Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions, Inc.” In this so-called group sexual experience students were instructed to engage in activities which some parents considered outrageous and pornographic. When the parents challenged the propriety of the school’s actions, the court held that the parents, who were never told about the presentation, did not have a right to know and consent to this sexually explicit program before their children were required to attend.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that it was not a violation of parents’ rights to remove an eighth-grade child from her family because she objected to the ground rules established in the home. The parents in this case grounded their daughter because she wanted to smoke marijuana and sleep with her boyfriend. She objected, and the courts removed her from the home. Most parents would consider these rules imminently reasonable. But the court held that although the family structure is a fundamental institution of our society, and parental prerogatives are entitled to considerable legal deference, they are not absolute and must yield to fundamental rights of the child or important interests of the state.
Recent news accounts reported of a father who was accused of child abuse because he publicly spanked his 4-year-old daughter. When she deliberately slammed the car door on her brother’s hand, her father acted promptly to discipline her by a reasonably administered spanking. A passer-by called the police and the father had to defend against the charge of child abuse. While the father won his case, it is amazing to most parents that they could be dragged into court against their will to defend against such an outrageous charge as child abuse for disciplining their child for open rebellion.
Unfortunately, these cases are only a few of the many examples of parents’ rights being violated when trying to direct the training and nurturing of their children. Recent public debate has also contributed to the movement to violate parental rights.
Dr. Jack Westman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison proposes that the State license parents as a means of conveying the seriousness of the parental responsibility. While there is no question of the awesome responsibility to raise and nurture a child, the proposal to have the State license potential parents for the right to have children raises many serious questions. Who will decide what will be the appropriate standards for parenthood? These and other questions stretch the imagination of freedom loving American parents.
With recent lower court cases and the flow of public debate around “Parental licensing”, it is easy to see the need for the Parental Rights Act of 1995.
The goal of the PRA is to reaffirm the parental right to direct the upbringing of their children in four major areas: First, Directing or providing for the education of the child; two, making health care decisions for the child; three, disciplining the child, including reasonable corporal discipline; and four, directing or providing for the religious teaching of the child.
The PRA accomplishes this goal by simply clarifying for lower courts and administrative tribunals that the proper standard to use in disputes between the Government and parents is the highest legal standard available. This standard, known as “The Compelling Interest Standard” means that before the Government can interfere in the parent-child relationship, it must demonstrate that there is a compelling interest to protect and that the means the Government is using to protect this interest is the least restrictive means
Practically speaking, this means that the law in question is not so broad in application that it sweeps in more than is necessary to protect the interest in question.
An example will help to clarify this point. Unfortunately, there are parents who abuse and neglect their children. Clearly, protecting children from abuse and neglect would fit into any reasonable person’s definition of a compelling interest of the State. One of the stated
purposes of the PRA is to protect children from abuse and neglect.
Another stated goal is to recognize that protecting children in these circumstances is a compelling Government interest. Abusing or neglecting your child has never been considered a protected parental right.
Using the least restrictive means available to protect children from abuse and neglect means that a parents who are appropriately meeting their child’s needs could not fall victim to an overzealous State law. The law would be written in such a way that it would cover parents who are abusing or neglecting their children but it would not cover parents
who are not.
If the law is written so poorly that even good, loving parents could be accused of child abuse, it would not pass the test of being the least restrictive means available and would have to be modified. You might ask, “How is the PRA going to work?” It uses the traditional four-step process to evaluate fundamental rights which balances the interests of parents, children and the Government. First, parents are required to demonstrate that the actions being questioned are within their fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their child.
Second, they must show that the Government interfered with this right. If the parents are able to prove these two things, then the burden shifts to the Government to show that the interference was essential to accomplish a compelling Government interest and that the
Government’s method of interfering was the least restrictive means to accomplish its goal.
In these cases, the court would balance the parents’ right to make decisions on behalf of their children against the Government’s right to intervene in the family relationship and decide what was the proper balance.
While it would be better if lower courts and administrative agencies would use the appropriate legal standard outlined by the Supreme Court without Congress having to clarify the standard, the history shows this is not likely to occur. My bill will clarify this standard with finality.
Two specific concerns were raised that I want to address. The first is from child abuse prosecutors and advocates. As we moved through discussions on the early drafts of this bill, I made clear that I firmly believed child abuse and neglect is a compelling Government interest.
With this in mind, I incorporated suggestions from prosecutors and advocates on this issue. I am comfortable that the changes made address their concerns.
The second issue was infanticide and abortion. The National Right to Life Committee was concerned that the bill would overturn the baby doe laws protecting handicapped children after birth. After consultation with other attorneys who agreed that this was a concern, I changed my draft to clarify that the PRA could not be used in this way.
The second point that NRL raised was that the PRA would somehow empower parents to coerce a young woman to have an abortion against her wishes. This is because the PRA allows parents to make health care decisions for their child unless the parents’ neglect or refusal to act will risk the life of the child or risk serious physical injury to the
child. I have consulted with other pro-life organizations and advocates who do not share this concern and have endorsed the bill.
I urge my colleagues to support this bill. It is critical to the proper balance of parents’ rights against the Government’s actions. Without the PRA, lower courts, Government bureaucrats, and administrative tribunals will continue to interfere needlessly in the parent-child relationship.