The federal government’s implementation of Common Core wages war on a number of freedoms, including educational freedoms and freedom of religion. Educational freedom is a broad topic, and in this article I will talk about a parent’s choice to home school or send their children to a private school. You will see why I brought freedom of religion into the conversation in just a moment.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression to all Americans. Freedom of expression means the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to petition the government for a “redress of grievances,” and the implied rights of association and belief. Freedom of religion guarantees to all Americans the right to practice any religion they choose, as they choose, or to practice no religion at all. Practicing any religion includes making educational decisions based on religious beliefs. Congress is forbidden to establish any religion as our nation’s official religion, and cannot favor any one religion over others, nor can it tax American citizens in order to support any one religion.
In addition, parental rights are implied in the Constitution and have long been upheld by the Supreme Court. In the 1925 decision of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, Court struck down a compulsory attendance act that required all parents to send their students to public schools, instead of private or religious schools. The court concluded that the act was unconstitutional because it “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” The choice to home school very clearly falls under this protection.
I want to return to the phrase “and the implied rights of association and belief” for a moment. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion both would not be possible with freedom of thought, logically encompassing accessing reliable information, interpreting and understanding it, thinking, forming opinions and acting upon it as one chooses, all fundamental to implied rights of association and belief. Freedom of religion and education are often intricately interwoven, and neatly compartmentalizing each one is impossible. Freedom of expression permeates every aspect of our society, including everything from religion and education, to how we dress and what we watch on television. And “the implied rights of association and belief” are the very fabric that make these freedoms real.
And that scares governments. Many countries go to great lengths to stifle freedom of expression, which drastically limits or completely inhibits freedoms in other areas, such as religion and education. Germany, for instance, never abolished the law enacted by Adolph Hitler that outlawed homeschooling, and the repercussions were seen just recently in the news with Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children. We also see the horror stories that materialize on the internet every day, stemming from efforts to control educational freedoms and freedom of religion from places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Egypt and Syria.
Yet, our government is attempting to limit these same freedoms here in America.
Fundamental rights are critical to our freedom as Americans, and because of this, the government must meet a substantial burden of proof in order to restrict those rights. They must prove that there is a government interest in restricting the right, and that the government has a specific interest in restricting the right of the particular parents whose actions are being challenged. In 2006, the Supreme Court used this very language when talking about violations of religious liberty. According to the Court, the government must “demonstrate that the compelling interest test is satisfied through application of the challenged law ‘to the person’–the particular claimant whose sincere exercise of religion is being substantially burdened.”Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 430-431 (2006).
In addition, in 2005 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a parent’s fundamental right to direct their child’s education ends at the threshold of the school door (Fields v. Palmdale, 427 F3d 1197, 2005), and the Court clearly determined that parents have the right to make reasonable decisions for their child, even in the public schools. It does not include any right to make decisions for others’ children or the school as a whole. The Court set a low standard that parents need to reach to make decisions for their own student, doing so to, again, protect parental rights. The government, however, would have to show that a parent’s request was unreasonable, putting the burden on the government, not on the parents.
Something else I found of interest is the fact that the United States has become part of many United Nations (U.N.) declarations and agreements, and one such declaration, in which the U.S. was instrumental in actually writing, is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. It specifically provides that the liberty of parents or guardians to choose for their children schools other than those established by the public authorities which conform to minimum educational standards shall be respected. In addition, Article 13 recognizes parents and guardians have a right to ensure the religious and moral education of their children according to their own convictions. Our constitution provides American citizens with these same rights. However, Common Core contradicts not only our own Constitution, but also the human rights laid out in this declaration. I do not see “except in the United States” noted anywhere in the U.N. document, and the Constitution does not say “except when the federal government changes its mind.”
Many people exercise their freedom to direct their children’s education by homeschooling them. Many do so for purely educational reasons, and just as many, if not more, do so for religious reasons. It is our right. I, myself, have been considering homeschooling my own daughter based on these two freedoms, and Common Core has compelled me to add several more amendments to the list of reasons. That, however, is a conversation for another time.
The federal government has taken giant steps to weaken these freedoms, with complete disregard for the U.S. Constitution, its beliefs proudly displayed for the U.N. and other countries, and human dignity. It argues that compulsion laws negate the right to home school, and has worked for years to erase God from public view, yet it so eloquently holds these freedoms up for other countries as basic human rights. How long will we tolerate this double-standard?
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