Parental Rights and the Protection of Children
A few weeks ago, I told you about a Substack publication called “Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans (PITT).” The publication provides a place for parents with children who are struggling with gender dysphoria to describe their often-horrific experiences.
One of the most disturbing (but, by this point unsurprising) themes of the posts, is how parents who have any level of doubt or hesitancy about “transitioning” their child, whether by using different pronouns, or with the use of drugs or surgery, are swiftly condemned as being “unsupportive” and showing signs of a dangerous “transphobia.”
As one heart-broken mother wrote recently, simply because she showed some hesitancy about “transitioning” her son, she suddenly became “a TERF [Note: this stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist”] and a transphobe.” She writes, “I’d magically transformed from a lifelong liberal to an ignorant, hateful, right-wing bigot.”
Another mom describes how all her friends would reply to her hesitancy about her child’s supposed transgenderism with comments like, “If this is her truth you need to support it!”, “Would you rather have a live son or a dead daughter!”, and “It’s no skin off your back to just change your kid’s pronouns and name, it’s totally harmless!”
Often in such cases, an army of highly motivated, ideologically extreme healthcare or social workers or teachers promptly step in, pressuring the parents to fully support hormone therapy or cross-dressing, etc. If the parents continue to show skepticism, then efforts are made to sideline the parents from the process or to go behind their back, casting the parent as the villain.
The Assault on Parental Rights Heats Up
Now, some extremist Democrat legislators are trying to change the law so that transgender activists can push parents out of the picture with complete legal impunity. In Washington State, for instance, Senate Democrats recently passed a bill that allows youth shelters not to tell parents where their runaway child is, if they are unsupportive of the child’s transgenderism. (The bill also allows youth shelters not to inform parents where their child is, in cases in which the parents do not support their child getting an abortion.)
Washington is not the only state seriously considering such legislation. California legislators have introduced a bill to pressure judges to remove kids from parents who won’t affirm their child’s self-determined transgender identity. In March, the bill, AB 957, passed in the Assembly Judiciary Committee with a party-line vote. The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lori Wilson (D-Livermore) introduced the bill to tell court judges to suspend their own independent judgment in custody disputes and instead “strongly consider that affirming the minor’s gender identity is in the best interest of the child.”
What hubris! This Democratic lawmaker is presuming to tell judges that it is always in the best interest of a child to “transition,” and that the view of the child’s parents doesn’t matter. Not only is this breathtakingly arrogant, but it is also appallingly unscientific. Studies have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of children who experience gender dysphoria (i.e., discomfort with their biological sex) will outgrow these feelings. And yet, if this bill goes into law, the state of California will officially support the notion that parents have one possible response to their child’s supposed transgenderism: “support” their transitioning, or risk losing their child.
It’s enough to make one’s blood boil.
As Greg Burt, Capitol Director for the California Family Council, said in a statement: “It is unconscionable that state legislators would try and take children from parents who believe the sex of their children is a matter of biology and not feelings, or because they want to protect their children from sterilizing drugs and mutilating surgeries. The First Amendment protects parents from losing their children because their opinions or religious beliefs are unpopular with state politicians.”
Meanwhile, many schools and school districts are adopting policies (so-called “gender support” plans) that encourage teachers and school administrators to allow their students to secretly transition at school, without any obligation to inform parents. Over at the Daily Signal, attorney Emilie Kao details some of these policies, and recounts some of the heartbreaking stories of parents who have been horrified to discover that their children have been living as a different gender at school, and that nobody bothered to tell them.
As Kao notes, things could soon be made much worse by the fact that the Biden administration is attempting to change Title IX policies to recognize “gender identity.” A fact sheet put out by the administration supports “social transitioning” of children in school, while maintaining the child’s “privacy.” It says nothing about a school’s responsibility to keep parents involved.
Kao explains: “Since schools across the country may face loss of funding if they don’t comply with the reinterpretation of ‘sex’ under Title IX, parents can expect even more schools to adopt gender support plans. The foreseeable result is that schools will socially transition more students without their parents’ knowledge, much less their consent.”
Church Teaching Is Clear on Parental Rights and Duties
An increasingly common talking point among transgender activists is that there is a “genocide” being perpetrated against transgender individuals by conservatives who “deny the existence” of transgender people.
The thing about a genocide, of course, is that it is one of the greatest evils imaginable. And in fighting a genocide, drastic measures might be necessary and justifiable. Drastic measures, like taking children away from their parents. That, at least, is how transgender extremists are justifying laws and policies that flagrantly override parental rights.
As Catholics, however, we have access to the vast wisdom of the Catholic Church’s teachings on this topic, all of which agree on one point: parents are the primary educators of their children, and it is their sacred duty to protect their children from the machinations of ideologues who would seek to take that right from them.
As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris consortio:
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others (no. 36).
Whether or not parents act on this responsibility, the fact remains that they are accountable to God for the children who have been entrusted to them. The first duty of parents, who have begotten their children, is to love them, which includes taking responsibility for their moral welfare. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation” (no. 2221).
In other words, parents are primarily responsible for their children, and government actors and agencies, like schools, are merely supposed to help parents in their role. As the Vatican affirmed in the Charter of Rights of the Family, “Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions.” Furthermore, “The primary right of parents to educate their children must be upheld in all forms of collaboration between parents, teachers and school authorities.”
In other words, government and its actors and agencies cannot pretend to be the primary educators of children. Furthermore, parents cannot give away their responsibility. They are not to yield their rights and obligations to anyone else. Their ultimate responsibility for their children is indivisible. It cannot be shared with others. While certain aspects of their child’s education can be delegated to teachers and schools, it is still up to the parent to ensure that the education their children receive supports the physical, mental, and spiritual welfare of their child.
Parents Must Fight Back!
Unfortunately, in the past few decades we have witnessed a retreat on the part of more and more parents from their God-given duty to raise and educate their children.
Into this vacuum have swept state and federal government actors and agencies: schools, teachers, and healthcare systems, as well as progressive ideologues. Our society has bought into the notion that government – i.e., the state – and its actors and agencies are the key ingredient in children’s lives. This implies that they are responsible for children, while parents are supposed to be involved in “helping” them do that job.
But this is completely upside down!
These entities should never replace parents or work to substitute a parent’s decision with its own view for what is best for the child. Here, parents must remain vigilant to defend the primacy of their role to their children, insisting that the state’s role is limited.
As you can probably tell, I am extremely passionate about this issue. As HLI’s president, I have travelled across the globe, and have witnessed the assault on marriage and family on a global scale. They are under attack as never before. This toxic culture is further separating children them from their parents, creating the belief that the state knows best, often in an open effort to recruit children to radical and radically immoral worldviews.
However, God has revealed His plan to us: all human society is built on the cooperation of wives and husbands acting together to do His Will. Family is (or ought to be) the bedrock of society. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live” (Perth, Australia, 1986).
This can work both ways. If families live up to their God-given mission, then the community, the nation, and the entire world benefit. However, when families renounce their dignity, and when parents shirk their God-given duties, then the entire world suffers. Unfortunately, as with the ravages of such things like no-fault divorce, contraception, and abortion, it is often children who are the first to suffer, and to suffer the worst, when parents fail to meet their responsibilities.
There are few things that cause me greater pain, and provoke in me greater anger, than watching parents turn their backs on their most important duty, and willfully hand their children over to people who are completely unfit for the task. We are watching a social experiment unfold that has tragic consequences, with our children as the victims. With transgenderism, children’s bodies are being mutilated and their very sense of identity is being stolen. They are being plunged into a perverse worldview that all but guarantees that they will never feel comfortable in their own bodies, and never experience the ordinary, quiet joys of a normal life well lived.
Will we continue to sacrifice generations of families and children to these social experiments? I hope not. At the Daily Signal, Emilie Kao describes efforts being made by many heroic parents to fight back. Some of these families are filing lawsuits against schools that have attempted to secretly “transition” their children. Others are supporting the efforts of courageous lawmakers to protect their rights. Kao writes:
Lawmakers can, and should, also put parents back in the driver’s seat. They can require schools to notify parents if their child is struggling with their gender identity and prohibit schools from engaging in unauthorized treatment of a student’s mental health. Doing so would put schools on notice that they cannot deceive parents about significant issues like a student’s confusion over gender identity.
I hope that everyone reading this column will research and support lawsuits and laws like these. And I hope more parents and families, with the mutual support of concerned individuals, will unite in this ethical effort. If ordinary parents could only recognize the immensity of their responsibility to their children, and the power they can wield if they band together, they could easily resist the machinations of the comparatively small (but extremely vocal) number of ideologues who are trying to browbeat them into silence or capitulation.
Don’t let them. Fight back. There is much at stake. For our children’s sake.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.