I was a very young lawyer when I got the call one Monday morning. Child Protective Services had seized a couple’s son on the previous Friday night. Island County (Washington State) Court would hold a hearing the following day.
The Court had given no advance notice. It was an emergency seizure, they believed. Courts reserve such ad hoc removals for the most serious situations, where the child is in such imminent danger that there is no time for a regular hearing.
The allegations were breathtaking—but not in the sense that the parents had done something serious. The charge? The parents took their son to church too much. They went Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.
It seems that the 13-year-old boy went to his public-school counselor to complain about church. He didn’t like it.
Again, he was 13.
The counselor called CPS, and it was obvious to them that an emergency was developing. After all, it was Friday, and Sunday was coming. And on Sunday, he had to go to church twice—surely a clear and present danger to the child!
At the time, Washington State had passed a law that directly parallels the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country except the United States. The treaty says that the “best interest of the child” shall control in every situation.
Christians need to understand why this standard poses a dangerous threat to the profoundly important parental rights given to us by our Creator.
“Best Interests of the Child,” Redefined
This innocuous-sounding phrase needs some translation. It is a 400-year-old legal phrase (originally used in family law cases) that once had a good purpose. The “best interest of the child” standard does not seek to determine “what” is best for the child; rather, it determines “who gets to decide.”
For hundreds of years under British law and American law, parents decided what is best unless they seriously breached their duties. Normally, the courts had to show that the parent had either abandoned or criminally abused the child before the court could step in.
The Washington law, like the UN treaty, is an effort to strip those basic decision-making rights from parents. At its root is a progressive view of law that divorces “justice” from absolute truth or historic precedent. This insidious contemporary view states that the best interest of the child shall control in every case. Simply put, the UN treaty and Washington law no longer presume that fit parents are acting in the child’s best interest—but instead empower courts to take custody of children when the parents have done no wrong.
Accordingly, the Island County judge got to decide that if my clients wanted to keep custody of their son, they would have to limit his church attendance to once a week. I wanted to appeal. But since I could not guarantee that the parents could keep custody during the appeal, they decided not to do so.
There are too many similar stories, such as a pastor who was threatened with loss of his daughter unless he let her go to the junior prom. Some of the most egregious situations arise in the states that enable children to seek so-called “sex-change” treatments without their parents’ permission, or which ban parents from seeking counseling for children struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.
A Bungled Case That Needs Redress
If your “inner lawyer” is yelling about constitutional rights about now, you have good instincts. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court’s legal reasoning runs contrary to that instinctive sense of what is right. In 2000, the high court decided a case that led to many of these difficulties, and it has yet to correct this wayward decision.
Troxel v. Granville dealt with a grandparent’s visitation rights—again in Washington State. Even though the Supreme Court ruled for the parents in the end, only one justice, Clarence Thomas, did so based on traditional, constitutional grounds (the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their child).
This split decision produced a total of six opinions out of nine justices. One justice even wrote that parents have no constitutional rights whatsoever because there is no parental rights amendment in the Constitution.
Because the split opinions obscured the fundamental simplicity of parental rights, the courts since then have been all over the map. A few properly take the strong, traditional view, as expressed in the 1920 decision of Meyer v. Nebraska (cited by the Troxel decision), which protected Germans who wanted to teach their native language to their children despite anti-German hysteria during World War I. But many other decisions have held that parental rights are a second-tier right and may be ignored if the government claims “necessity.”
The Heart of the Battle
The attack on parental rights is part of a larger movement to attack God’s role in our lives. It is no accident that this movement rides on the back of the near universal acceptance of evolution. By rejecting God’s creation, we eventually reject the family unit that is basic to his created order (Genesis 2:23–24).
This attitude goes all the way back to Eden. After Adam’s fall, wickedness and violence spread throughout the earth, requiring God to step in with a universal flood. After the flood, God set up a new social order in Genesis 9, where he expected mankind to intervene (ultimately through governments) to protect human life.
Respect for life has brought blessings to nations ever since, while violence and abuse of helpless citizens have brought God’s judgment (see Amos 1:3–2:3 among many prophetic passages). Yet government was never intended to replace or supersede the family, which remains the primary institution for raising children.
The Declaration of Independence formalized the United States’ aim to honor these basic truths, asserting that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights and that governments are instituted to protect those rights.
So “progressives,” who reject God and want a “more just society” made in their image, must remove meddlesome civil liberties. Indeed, many progressive judicial leaders, such as the new dean of Northwestern University Law School, Kimberly Yuracko, have vigorously argued to curtail parents’ ability to teach their children in homeschools or Christian schools. She openly rejects Christian values and wants to redistribute power so that she and her allies can make the educational choices for children.
Every one of us has been a child and many are parents, so this issue impacts literally every living soul. For Christians who understand that God’s family-centered created order benefits us all, it is right and proper to make every effort to ensure our government views its highest duty as defending family rights.
After all, the Bible teaches that God raised up governments to be his servants for “good” (Romans 13:1–4). Those that reject God end up creating fallible “gods” in the form of government officials who disregard and overturn the family, parenthood, and our roles as men and women, as we see today.
Defending our God-given liberties begins at home but must go further. For those who are directly attacked, it may mean taking a stand in federal court. And all of us can become better informed, educate others, vote for candidates who support biblically consistent laws, and support advocacy groups that further those goals. That way each of us will always “be ready in season and out” (2 Timothy 4:2) to stand for our civil right and to follow God’s design for the family and parents.