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What, exactly, is a family?

 

When I was a child, and during the years when I became a tween, a teen and ultimately an adult, at least in years, I do not remember anyone discussing the definition of family. People understood what that meant. The model for family was a core of father, mother, and children, with a halo of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws. We all knew families that were missing some of these elements because of death, divorce, or abandonment, but we still called them families.

We all knew in those days that parents were in charge of rearing their children, and nobody messed with parents. When my parents, for reasons that are irrelevant today, became outraged that my teacher made everybody try square dancing, the school administration respected their wishes and told my teacher to let me sit out. My parents were not scorned by school or community, even though some people really scratched their heads about it. Parents were in charge of the children, and nobody disputed that important role.

As the twentieth century wound down and the twenty-first was born, many parents completely removed their children from public schools for reasons much more consequential than  square-dancing. Parents who held religious convictions that two genders are required for a marriage and two genders are best for bringing up children could not stomach an education that included readings from a book entitled Heather has two Mommies. They did not so much question the skills of the teachers as the content of the teaching. They chose to make a great personal sacrifice in time, energy and money to homeschool their children. They elected to pay the price of their own moral convictions. They did not ask anyone to subsidize them. They did not ask for any special privilege. They simply accepted the obligation to assure that their children received a good education by giving their children that education themselves.

In recent years, many parents have chosen this option because both the skills deficits of teachers and the content of the curriculum in their local public schools were unacceptable. Whatever the reason, the parents have been willing to pay the price of their own convictions, investing the time, the money and the energy, considering the abandonment of personal career ambition to be a price worth paying for the good of their children.

It has been the American way since the founding. Even state laws ordering compulsory education have routinely been interpreted to be satisfied by homeschooling as surely as by any privately funded institution such as a parochial school. Long before anyone advocated that parents take back their taxes paid for education in the form of vouchers for “school choice,” government at all levels in the US respected a parent’s right to determine where a child would receive an education.

The right of a parent to determine where a child receives his education is under attack. In fact, the very definitions of parent and family are under assault, and with that assault comes an assault on the rights of parents to assure the inculcation of their religious convictions. Parents whose religious convictions define family as being built on a heterosexual union and its offspring do not want their children confused by being told that two men can be parents of one or more children, all living together as a family. They do not want their children to be taught how homosexual sex is practiced, and they do not want their children to be told to experiment with their gender identity and their sexual orientation. All these things are part of public education in the USA today.

Parents in the US are accustomed to believe that their right to homeschool their children is one of their rights as parents. It is just normal for parents to make the decisions about the education of their children. They also are accustomed to believe that if their decision is based on their religious convictions they are protected in their right to express those convictions in the education of their children. Even the Supreme Court has ruled that the right of free expression of religion protected by the First Amendment is an individual right that parents can claim as individuals rearing their children.

The Justice Department of the USA recently issued a statement that puts parental rights to homeschool at risk, no matter what the reason is behind their choice. In the case Romeike v. Holder, where a German couple is seeking asylum in the USA because the government of Germany will not permit them to exercise their religious convictions by homeschooling their child, the Justice Department argues that “Germany did not violate the Romeike’s human rights because the ban on homeschooling is a ban for all, not any specific group. Since German law does not prevent, for instance, only evangelical Christians from homeschooling, the Romeike’s are not being persecuted for a religious reason.” The fact that this universal ban directly suppresses their right to express their religion does not seem to matter to the US Justice Department.

The government of the USA is steadily increasing the pressure to abandon many traditional values that this culture has upheld since the founding of the nation. The definitions of family, marriage and even religious liberty are being reworked to conform to an obviously secular standard. If the culture were truly dominated by secular thinking, and if the dominant definitions were at odds with religious teaching while the Constitution retained its protections for freedom of religious expression, Christians and adherents of other religions that reject the definitions of family and marriage that grow out of secular issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity then there would be much less cultural stress. However, as the definitions associated with the most fundament institution of human culture are being rewritten, the culture is also shredding the Constitution in practice, even though the document is hauled out regularly for dissection.

This problem is not uniquely a problem for Christians. Contrary to a great deal of politicalspeak, the men who founded the United States of America were quite aware that the country had already become a melting pot of ethnicities and religions, even in 1789. They wrote the Constitution to protect freedom that they considered to be integral to being human. The Constitution is anything but the bigoted, selfish fortress of privilege alleged by much contemporary politicalspeak. The Constitution respects human beings and respects both their right and their ability to govern their own lives with minimal interference from government. The Constitution assumes that government is a necessary evil, best kept within tight boundaries to prevent it from running rampant over fundamental human rights or from plundering the productivity of citizens. Parents who believe they have rights today must speak up for them and insist that they be recognized for all parents, including immigrants who flee from other governments that deny the rights of parents so that the state can inculcate worship and reverence for the state. The Constitution protects the right of every citizen to choose whom he (or she) will worship.

The Obama Justice Department appears to believe that both the right of parents to educate their children and the right of freedom of religious expression have been cancelled. Will they next remove the word parent from the vocabulary and simply make the state the source of all power over children?