Last year the Parental Rights.org group analyzed article by article the impact of ratification of the
United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC) would have on Parental Rights and Children’s Rights in the United States.
Here is that continuing analysis:
Article 14: Religion Is Child Abuse?
This week, we continue our series on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with Article 14, which says that the government shall “respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and shall also “respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.”
Proponents of the CRC, such as law professor Jonathan Todres, has commented that Article 14 “provides for the role of parents in teaching religion to their children, while ensuring that the government does not impose restrictions on any child’s right to freedom of religion.” Nevertheless, a deeper understanding of this provision reveals that the purportedly “pro-parent” language is really another avenue for government power, not a shield to protect parental rights.
How much “direction” is too much direction?
On its face, this article may seem to support the role of parents, but such a position is merely wishful thinking. The Convention merely recognizes the parents’ primary role to “provide direction” to the child, and there is considerable disagreement on what this “direction” should entail. For example, according to Faulkner University law professor John Garman, Article 14 is one of the few clauses in the CRC that “actually brings the parents into play to ‘provide direction to the child.’”
But another CRC proponent, law professor Cynthia Price Cohen, disagrees. According to Cohen, one of the earliest drafts of Article 14 included “two paragraphs that protected the right of parents to guide the exercise of this right and to ‘respect the liberty of the child and his parents’ with regard to the child’s religious education.” When the final text was adopted, however, all language protecting the rights of parents to “ensure the religious and moral education of the child” was omitted. This omission makes no sense if the purpose of Article 14 was to protect the rights of parents to instruct their children.
Religious “indoctrination” as abuse?
The danger to parents is compounded by a growing movement among American and international academics to prevent parents from “indoctrinating” their children with religious beliefs. For example, British scientist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins recently described religious “indoctrination” of young children as a form of child abuse. “Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is,” Dawkins writes, “I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.”
Dawkins is not alone in his analysis. In 1998, bestselling author and professor of psychology Nicholas Humphrey, teaching at New York University at the time, argued for “censorship” of parents, who have “no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.”
Both authors advocate an outside solution to “protect” children from indoctrination: intervention by the government. In The God Delusion, Dawkins quotes from Humphrey, who writes that “children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.” Humphrey bluntly adds that “parents’ rights have no status in ethics and should have none in law” – parenting is a “privilege” that operates within parameters set by society to protect the child’s “fundamental rights to self determination.” If parents step beyond these boundaries by indoctrinating their children, “the contract lapses – and it is then the duty of those who granted the privilege to intervene.” (emphasis added)
Some have called for international talks on whether children should be involved in religion. Innaiah Narisetti of the Center for Inquiry (a U.N. NGO) said, “The time has come to debate the participation of children in religious institutions,” continues Narisetti. “While some might see it as a matter better left to parents, the negative influence of religion and its subsequent contribution to child abuse from religious beliefs and practices requires us to ask whether organized religion is an institution that needs limits set on how early it should have access to children.” Narisetti also said that “The UN must then take a clear stand on the issue of the forced involvement of children in religious practices; it must speak up for the rights of children and not the automatic right of parents and societies to pass on religious beliefs, and it must reexamine whether an organization like the Vatican should belong to the UN”
The “fundamental interest of parents”
This aggressive censorship of parents captures the true spirit of Article 14. According to law professor Bruce Hafen, the language of Article 14 views “parents as trustees of the state who have only such authority and discretion as the state may grant in order to protect the child’s independent rights,” and is consistent with what the state deems as the child’s “evolving capacities.” Such a calloused view of parents stands in stark contrast to our own legal tradition, which has long upheld “the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the State, to guide the religious future and education of their children.”
America’s legal heritage has consistently held that parents have a fundamental right to teach their children about religion, shielded from well-intentioned but intrusive interference from the state. The danger of Article 14 is that it disrupts this crucial balance, tipping the scales in favor of the government and those who claim to “know better” in our society. If we wish to secure these freedoms, we must act now to place parental rights into the text of our Constitution.
Please forward this message onto your friends and urge them to sign the Petition to Protect Parental Rights.
Article written by Peter Kamakawiwoole, May 5, 2008.
Jonathan Todres, “Analyzing the Opposition to the U.S. Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child,” in The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (2006): 24.
Cynthia Price Cohen, “Role of the United States in Drafting the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Loyola Poverty Law Journal (1998): 30-31.
Bruce Hafen, “Abandoning Children to their Autonomy,” Harvard International Law Journal (1996): 470.
Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232 (1972).