Amendment Aims to Protect Parents’ Rights

A look at the Parental Rights Amendment and the concerns about the U.N. “Convention on the Rights of the Child” it seeks to address.

(photo: Shutterstock image)

WASHINGTON — All eyes are on Copenhagen and the United Nations climate-change treaty this week, but another controversial U.N. treaty has some Christian parents pushing back.

Proponents of the U.N.’s “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which establishes certain child rights enforceable by American judges, have urged U.S. ratification of the treaty since it was signed 20 years ago. Domestic and international pressure to ratify the treaty increased in recent years as most other countries ratified it, and the last holdout, Somalia, agreed in November to also ratify the measure. That would leave the United States as the lone holdout.

Even the Holy See has ratified the treaty — in 1990 — although it did so with a series of reservations. One reservation noted that the Vatican “interprets the articles of the convention in a way which safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights concern education (Articles 13 and 28), religion (Article 14), association with others (Article 15) and privacy (Article 16).”

In the U.S., those urging ratification include President Obama — during the 2008 campaign — members of his administration, U.S. senators and a sprawling coalition of child-welfare groups and charitable organizations.

Standing against this broad array of children’s treaty advocates is a small but growing group of Christian parents who warn that the treaty already has undermined parents’ rights in signatory countries to raise their children without micromanagement by the state. The efforts of the parents’ group has resulted in a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish for the first time parents’ right to raise their own child.

“In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother and father,” said Michael Farris, president of

The Virginia-based group, launched nearly three years ago with a grant from the Home School Legal Defense Association, has grown from a handful of parents to a 150,000-member group that launched a campaign to block the treaty and pass a parents’ rights amendment to the Constitution.

The amendment would effectively block courts from automatically implementing the U.N. treaty, which aims to establish rights for children to education, health care and protection from abuse. Its supporters said it has been used to improve child safety in some countries.

The constitutional-amendment effort is only the latest chapter in a push and pull over the controversial U.N. treaty that has been brewing at least since the measure was first signed. The treaty took effect in 1990 and has been ratified by 193 countries. Although the Clinton administration signed it in 1995, it was never submitted to the Senate for approval because some Republican senators voiced strong concerns that it would open the door to government interference in parents’ rights to raise a child as they see fit. The administration of George W. Bush also chose not to advance the treaty.

The lack of movement on the measure is likely to change under President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken positively about the treaty, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has urged action on its ratification. Ratification of the treaty would require two-thirds approval in the 100-seat chamber.

Treaty ratification “gives us a say in the international community on the protection of children,” said Nathan Byrd, director of operations for Latin America at Covenant House, which supports ratification. Proponents note that only countries who have ratified the treaty can sit on the international panel that oversees its implementation.

At least one senator would strongly oppose ratification over concerns that the treaty and the international panel that enforces it would undermine parents’ rights to raise their children.

“You wouldn’t think we need an amendment to let people raise their own children, but clearly we do,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Critics of the treaty highlight examples of countries throughout the world where controversial laws were enacted or contentious court decisions were handed down in an effort to comply with the treaty’s provisions. Among these efforts to comply with the treaty were requirements that parents allow children to choose their own religion, opt out of home schooling and obtain abortions.

The government of Scotland notified children that they have the right to choose their own “religion and beliefs.” The U.N. treaty-enforcement panel also has pressured multiple nations to ban all corporal punishment of children by their parents and praised court decisions in South America to loosen abortion restrictions for minors.

Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, which endorses ratification, said the controversial laws and rulings are local interpretations of the treaty and are not required by it.

“It’s not about criminalizing parents, but providing alternative methods to parenting and protecting kids from abuse and neglect,” said Coursen-Neff about spanking bans in other countries. Farris countered that U.S. judges would decide whether or not and how to implement the treaty, even without any related legislation. He noted the case of an Ohio judge who cited the treaty in threatening to permanently remove a child from his parents unless they stopped smoking in front of him. No state or federal law banned the parents’ behavior.

“The government can intervene simply if it thinks it can make a better decision — without any proof of harm,” Farris said.

The treaty is not yet legally binding in the United States, but it has been cited in amicus briefs in different cases, including two cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding lifetime incarceration of offenders who commit serious crimes as minors.

“You would think in this country that parental rights are one of those inalienable rights granted to us by our God, but the activist courts are proving us wrong almost every day,” DeMint said.

A spokesman for the Catholic Health Association — listed as a supporter of the treaty’s ratification on the website of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — said his group is not associated with the campaign. He did not know the association’s position on the treaty’s ratification and said it did not agree to be listed. The Association was calling the Campaign to be removed from its list of supporters, he said.

So far, the constitutional-amendment effort has garnered 127 mostly Republican co-sponsors in the House and seven in the Senate. But Farris said he was optimistic it would eventually pass if his group can convince 10,000 people in 85% of congressional districts to urge their members of Congress to support it.

Rich Daly writes

from Washington.