Saturday, July 29, 2006

Daryl Cobranchi links to a piece by HSLDA Mike Farris, discussing parental rights and a line of cases apparently moving toward a loss of previously established parental direction of children's education in public schools.

One of these cases, Fields v. Palmdale School Dist., 427 F.3d 1197 (9th Cir. 2005), was much discussed last year. Read the opinion for yourself if you haven't before. In it, the Ninth Circuit held that parents didn't have the right to exempt their children from (or even be informed about) a survey on private behavior that included intrusive and sexually explicit questions. Farris compares it to Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools (1987), a case he litigated, in which the Sixth Circuit rejected the claim that requiring students to use readers that taught evolution violated the Free Exercise clause. His conclusion is that these cases demonstrate an abandonment of the principle that parents have some right to direct the education of their children, even within the walls of a public school, particularly when first amendment questions are involved.

Since the blog title requires it, here's my opinion. Mike Farris may be right about the direction of caselaw, but he's wrong to equate Palmdale with Mozert. Not only does it trivialize the creeping sexualization of children to equate it to conservative evangelical kids having to do worksheets on evolution, he's missing the key to the Sixth Circuit's opinion:

The only conduct compelled by the defendants was reading and discussing the material in the Holt series, and hearing other students' interpretations of those materials. This is the exposure to which the plaintiffs objected. What is absent from this case is the critical element of compulsion to affirm or deny a religious belief or to engage or refrain from engaging in a practice forbidden or required in the exercise of a plaintiff's religion.
The element of compulsion to engage in a practice forbidden in the exercise of one's religion is precisely what the Ninth Circuit got wrong in Palmdale. Forcible exposure to a sexually explicit and personally intrusive questionnaire is qualitatively different from exposure to information about evolution, in that it constitutes a behavior: one that, in old-fashioned Catholic terms, used to be talked about in terms like "custody of the eyes" and "giving scandal" and millstones around necks. The children were made to engage in a behavior--reading and discussing sexually inappropriate material--that is forbidden by their religious faith, in a situation that could be easily accommodated by the school (by informing the parents previously and having an opt-out, for instance). As far as I know, the plaintiffs in Mozert were not arguing that mere reading about and discussion of evolution was forbidden by their faith.

This is why so many parents, homeschoolers or not, were made uneasy by Palmdale; there's a gut understanding that destroying the innocence of children is a positive action, one which forces children to engage in an illicit action, and not a mere presentation of information, as the Ninth Circuit disingenuously characterized it. The parents were not objecting to what their children were being shown but to what was being done to them: a thing which could not, of its nature, be undone.

Of course, Daryl's wrong, too, in commenting

No, the courts ruled correctly. And there are two possible solutions. 1) Don’t enroll your kids in the g-schools or 2) Get yourself elected Governor or appointed EdSec and then you can dictate what you want taught.
I understand the temptation to throw up one's hands in I-told-you-so and world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket despair and say "See? That's why you have to home educate." But (1) home education isn't an option for everyone; and (2) the children of public schools who are forcibly sexualized at an early age are going to constitute the society that our children will be living in: their neighbors, their friends, their marriage partners. This is a fight worth having.

UPDATE: Seems the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy has a piece on how Palmdale eviscerates the application of the Meyer-Pierce line of cases (hint: that's some of the same caselaw we homeschoolers rely on) within public schools. Someone needs to explain to me now how the parental rights previously established through that caselaw can't be just as easily overturned in the instance of homeschoolers, if it can be tossed it so handily in the case of public schoolers. I extend my above reasons for caring about these cases to (3) if the courts can change their minds about the parental rights of public school kids, they can change their minds about ours.


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