Key Facts: The Need to Protect Parental Rights


  • At Focus on the Family, we believe that children are a cherished gift from the Lord—and that parents are the ones primarily responsible for guiding and preparing them for a life of service to God and to humanity.
  • Parents have a God-ordained right and responsibility to determine what is best for their children.
  • In the majority of cases, parents and legal guardians are the ones who are closest emotionally, mentally and spiritually to their children and the most in tune with their needs. Given their intimate knowledge of their children, they should have the protected ability to direct and give guidance concerning their children’s educational experience.
  • This includes the ability to determine when, how and if their children are introduced to controversial sexual topics–as well as other educational philosophies that may conflict with families’ deeply held Judeo-Christian values and principles.
  • Protecting parents’ rights in education also protects a self-governing society by safeguarding against an intrusive government school system that can eventually infringe on religious freedoms.
  • We also recognize that these rights have limits, and we would never condone the abuse of any child—whether verbal, physical, sexual or emotional—or parental neglect.
  • We believe these principles are rooted in legal history, social science data and Judeo-Christian traditions.

Judeo-Christian Tradition

Scriptures such as these remind us of parents’ spiritual responsibility to guide and protect their children:

  • Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
  • Psalm 127:3 proclaims, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of a womb a reward.”
  • Malachi 2:15 asks, “Has not the Lord made them [a husband and wife] one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring.”

Legal History

  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the “liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925).
  • The Court declared that a child is not “the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations” (Pierce v. Society).
  • It also recognized that “choices about marriage, family life, and the upbringing of children are among associational rights this Court has ranked as ‘of basic importance in our society’ ” (M.L.B. v. S.J.J. , 1996).
  • The high court stated: “The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition” (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972).

Social Science Data

Research has shown that parents are one of the most influential factors in a child’s academic success.  Just to list a few examples:

  • According to a synthesis of research on parental involvement conducted over nearly a decade, “Many studies found that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, were more likely to:
    • earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
    • be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
    • attend school regularly
    • have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
    • graduate and go on to postsecondary education.”
  • A  U.S. Department of Education report also stated that, “Three decades of research provide convincing evidence that parents are an important influence in helping their children achieve high academic standards. When schools collaborate with parents to help their children learn and when parents participate in school activities and decision-making about their children’s education, children achieve at higher levels.  In short, when parents are involved in education, children do better in school and schools improve.”
  • According to Heritage Foundation researchers, “Children with involved parents have higher academic achievement. Not only do students score higher on tests but they are more prepared to start school and have a greater likelihood of graduating.”
  • Clearly, the data demonstrates that parents have a strong reason and right to be involved in their children’s education.

 Examples of Concern

  • We can all agree that our schools should be places of refuge and safety for children–and that schools should work alongside parents and respect their desire to protect, not only children’s physical wellbeing, but also their emotional and psychological development. Schools should respect parents’ desire to safeguard their children’s innocence.
  • But despite this reality—and the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has generally recognized parents’ constitutional rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children— this protection has not been affirmed in recent lower court cases that specifically address what happens in the classroom. There continues to be a dangerous trend of parental rights being eroded in our nation’s public school system.
  • Examples of this trend include:
  • Parents in a small Washington State community who expressed concern that a principal gave their fifth-grade children an explicit lesson detailing different kinds of sexual practices. “I didn’t appreciate them teaching my daughter—who is innocent of that—at all,” one parent told a reporter. “Basically, how I feel is, it’s just the same as raping somebody, but you’re raping their innocence instead of their physical being.”
  • Parents in Alameda, California, were told they could not opt their elementary-age children out of mandatory lessons promoting homosexuality and gay marriage, even if it violated their families’ most deeply held religious beliefs or they just didn’t think their child was psychologically or emotionally prepared for the topic.
  • Parents are discovering that explicit or invasive surveys have been given to children without their knowledge or permission. Read about the controversial sexual survey given to students in D.C. schools.
  • A survey with disturbing questions about suicide and drug use was also given to students in a Massachusetts middle school.
  • Meanwhile, lower courts have issued disturbing rulings that have weakened parents’ rights to give consent for these surveys. For instance, in a case involving a survey that included questions about “thinking about having sex” and “thinking about touching other people’s private parts,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a parent’s right to determine whether such themes are appropriate “does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.”
  • In Massachusetts, one parent even went to jail after refusing to leave school premises until educators promised to notify him before teaching his children about homosexuality. He never got that promise, even after a long court battle.
  • Whether it’s books promoting alternate forms of relationships and marriage to kindergartners, crossword puzzles introducing third graders to the idea of changing one’s sex, or graphic instruction about how to engage in homosexual behavior for middle school age kids—parents across the country have encountered disturbing incidents of radical advocacy and sexual experimentation being promoted in their child’s school, and against the will of the parents.
  • In recent years, there has been an unprecedented increase in these incidents across the country, and the growth of aggressive, nationwide advocacy movements to push the boundaries even more.


  • These increasing encroachments demonstrate why it’s so important to remain vigilant in protecting parents’ rights and responsibilities to be the primary educators and guardians of their children. That’s why we remain dedicated to speaking up for the protection of their rights in public schools.
  • What You Can Do: Visit our Take Action page and send your local school officials and/or elected officials a model parental right policy developed by national legal experts that strengthens these rights in schools.