Every Parent, Every Child: A Pastoral Statement on Parental Rights in Education

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Every Parent, Every Child: A Pastoral Statement on Parental Rights in Education

September 3, 2002

A pastoral statement on parental rights in education by the Catholic Bishops of New York State

Children are our most precious gift and represent our greatest hope. Parents have a unique and primary responsibility in the rearing of children. By providing a loving home, instilling faith and values, and directing their children’s education, they are rendering an invaluable service both to their children and to the greater society.

Of course, parents must not shoulder this burden alone. Faith communities, government and schools all play significant roles and bear significant responsibilities for the development, protection and education of children. It is the parents, however, who are accountable in the end, and it is they who must be empowered to make the best decisions in the raising of their children, particularly when it comes to education.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II reminded a gathering of Catholic educators in New Orleans of how the Second Vatican Council articulated the central role of parents:
Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3) “In comparison with the educational role of all others, their role is primary; it is also irreplaceable and inalienable. It would be wrong for anyone to attempt to usurp that unique responsibility. (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 36)

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court affirming the legitimacy of programs aimed at allowing parents to direct their children’s education is a most welcome development. The case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, is important for the momentum of the parental rights movement and it lays to rest the argument of some that such programs are somehow unconstitutional. However, the decision is not surprising. The Court previously has acknowledged the central role of parents in the education and formation of their children. The Court’s unanimous decision in Pierce v. the Society of Sisters [268 US 510] struck down an Oregon law that would have required all parents to send their children to government schools. In this 1925 case, the Court agreed with the contention that the statute seriously abridged and impaired the very essence of personal liberty and freedom, stating:
The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governmen