Schools and Learning

The Christian Nationalist Plot Lurking Behind ‘Parental Rights’

  Rob Boston

Media outlets have reported that in the final days of the midterm elections, many conservative candidates are highlighting “parental rights.”

The term is a euphemism, and like most euphemisms, it sounds good at first glance. Parents are responsible for raising children, so who wouldn’t want parental rights?

The problem is with the policy proposals that flow from the concept. When we look at those, we quickly see that lurking behind the benign term “parental rights” is the same-old scheme by Christian nationalists to force all of us to live under a narrow interpretation of their faith. In short, far-right parents want to make decisions for everyone’s kids, not just their own.

This is nothing new. In the mid-1990s, a Virginia-based group called Of The People pushed a so-called “Parental Rights Amendment” in several states and lobbied to add it to the U.S. Constitution as well. The brief amendment read, “The right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be infringed.” (The group’s co-chair was Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate of school vouchers who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump.)

Anything that vague is bound to be problematic. Indeed, interpreted broadly, the amendment could have given parents a legal right to receive tax funding to pay for private religious education; it might also have allowed them to demand that certain materials be removed from public schools – usually anything perceived to be LGBTQ-friendly, but it also could have wreaked havoc in science classes by encouraging creationists to assail books that emphasized evolution.

Today’s advocates of “parental rights” use the term to mask their real agenda: getting certain books banned from public schools, insisting that schools adopt policies that decimate the rights of transgender students or undermining material that they believe casts America in a negative light or that fails to parrot inaccurate “Christian nation” mythology.

Genuine parental rights are important (and are already broadly protected by U.S. law), but like all other rights, they have limitations. When your “rights” start controlling the lives of children who are not your own and restricting their ability to learn, explore and grow, they’re not really rights at all. At that point, they can and should be curbed.


Americans United & the National Women’s Law Center file suit to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans.

Abortion bans violate the separation of church and state. Americans United and the National Women’s Law Center—the leading experts in religious freedom and gender justice—have joined forces with thirteen clergy from six faith traditions to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans as unconstitutionally imposing one narrow religious doctrine on everyone.

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