Billings Republican Mike Lange wants to amend the Montana Constitution, adding the following:
Parents have the right to the custody of their minor children and the right to control and direct their education, religious training, social training and contacts, and general upbringing. These rights may not be infringed by the state or a political subdivision of the state without a compelling state interest of the highest order. Failure to mention a right of a parent in this section does not exclude another right of parents regarding their children. This section applies to parents whose marriage has been dissolved to the extent possible. The legislature may implement this section by appropriate legislation.
This is a bad bill, and it was a bad bill when it was proposed with almost the same wording in Colorado ten years ago. While the Legislature does not have the direct power to amend the Constitution, Lange’s bill and the apparent endorsement of the Republican Party demonstrate clearly that their priorities are not those of the people of Montana. What’s more, they are bad lawmakers, not to mention not terribly creative. This incredibly broad constitutional wording presents a number of concerns. The language of the amendment would place an incredible burden on state social service workers trying to remove children from abusive homes, open the door for religious practice that conflicts with the law, and decrease children’s access to critical counseling services.
The biggest impact will be felt in education. Though Lange tells the Billings Gazette that the proposed legislation will not impact the requirement of compulsory education, the bill will contribute to a hostile atmosphere in education, with parents constitutionally entitled to question and change any element of education they see fit.
The People for the American Way note that proposed legal changes like the Parents Bill of Rights are cover to attack issues that the right wing finds objectionable in schools:
The truth is that school districts around the country are already under great pressure to eliminate sexuality education programs and health clinics, as well as literature ranging from Halloween stories to works by such authors as Mark Twain and Maya Angelou…such efforts will be more likely end up in court or whether they will instead be resolved through intimidation at the classroom level to the satisfaction of schoolbook censors, neither alternative is particularly attractive.
The last thing we need to do is make it easier for the social minority to impose its agenda on the schools. They have already had a chilling effect on science, health, and even literature curriculum. Montanans would do well not to legally enshrine the rights of this minority to control our education.
Make no mistake, I think parents should be involved in education. Personally, I love having the input of parents and invite them to attend my classroom. That’s positive interaction. This proposed amendment, however, goes too far, giving parents essentially unquestioned rights to challenge educational materials, delivery techniques, and requirements.