A bill currently on the desk of the governor of the state of Washington would, if he signs it, allow homeless shelters and youth homes to hide runaway youth from their parents, if those parents will not help them obtain gender-based medical interventions. The law would not require shelters or law enforcement to investigate if parents are abusive or neglectful, or if the young person is in danger. All that would be required is for young people to claim that their parents do not support their intent to take cross-sex hormones or obtain dangerous surgery.
This is the latest and most alarming example of an often-portrayed conflict between the rights of a child and the rights of parents. Increasingly in fact, parental rights are seen, by school boards and other state officials, as perhaps the greatest threat to the rights and wellbeing of children. This is not only a dangerous and misleading mistake that places children and their rights at risk, but it also places the state as the adjudicator of this conflict of rights and the primary protector of children.
How human rights are defined depends, first and foremost, on who we believe humans are and what we believe humans are for. In our culture, it is widely assumed that humans must determine their purpose, which is not based on any shared plot about what humans are. As a result, “human rights” are abstractly defined as something akin to autonomy, the ability to self-determine who we are and how we should live.
Defining human rights this way doesn’t work in reality, however. Not only will our respective autonomies inevitably conflict, limiting someone’s ability to live what they choose, but we’ll continue to bump into reality itself, in which there are givens about humanity that we cannot ultimately deny.
Nevertheless, children’s rights have been defined down to autonomy, enforced by adults who have a vested interest in children claiming only those “rights” that further their own self-determination. In other words, children’s rights means that kids should be able to do anything they want and be anything they want, and to not do or be anything they don’t want.
Understood correctly, human rights are fundamentally the right to be fully human. This requires knowing, to some degree, how we were made and what we are for, especially if these things were, to any degree, built into reality. In this framework, the most important right that children have is the right to be cared for and looked after by those who should care the most for them, whose choices brought them into the world in the first place. In other words, children have a right to their parents, and parents have an obligation to look after the health and wellbeing of their children. Only when these rights are violated and these responsibilities neglected should another authority step in to protect a child’s heart, mind, or body.
Many of the supposed “rights” today are no such thing; the right to so-called “same-sex marriage,” for example. Other things identified to be “rights” are, in fact, disordered rights, and therefore create conflict. The so-called “right” to absolute sexual autonomy is a disordered view of human freedom and thus creates irreconcilable conflict with religious and conscience rights.
Rightly understood and rightly ordered, human rights are complementary. The rights of parents and children are complementary if properly understood and ordered. Parents maintain the right to raise their children as they see fit, as long as they respect the rights of their kids to life, health, and wellbeing. Parents must lose their rights if they’ve failed to prioritize these rights of their children. If the state steps in for parents, it must be a drastic last resort, not a flippant policy that turns on nothing more than a runaway teenager’s word.
As little human beings, children have the right to be human and to be children, which is not the same as getting everything they want or being sheltered from all discomfort. Children are often treated as if they are small adults who possess all the maturity and knowledge to self-determine. However, there is a reason that we call people unable to delay gratification or think through the consequences of their behavior “childish.” Treating kids as if they are adults puts them in danger and undermines their rights to life, safety, and protection. Or, to say it more clearly, kids have a right to their parents and to all the care, protection, and love that this implies.
This is why the Colson Center joined a coalition of like-minded organizations to promote the Promise to America’s Children and the Promise to America’s Parents in 2021 and 2022, respectively. These public commitments guard and protect the rights of parents to be parents so that children can be children, protected from adults who claim to “know better.” For more information, including a toolkit for parents, please visit promisetoamericasparents.org.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Maria Baer. If you’re a fan of Breakpoint, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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