The Right of Parents to Raise their Children in Accordance with their Religion and Religious Beliefs

by William Walsh, Human Rights Counsel, Church of Scientology International

A recurring theme of extremists, governmental or private sector, who attack religions is that children should be separated from their parents to “protect” them from adopting their parent’s freely chosen religious beliefs. Such hateful and discriminatory messages hark back to the Dark Ages and other unenlightened times.

They also offend the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and fundamental international human rights law. The primary role of parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring universal right.

Numerous United States Supreme Court cases reflect the American people’s longstanding commitment to parental rights:

The values of parental direction of the religious upbringing and education of their children in their early and formative years have a high place in our society… this case involves the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the State, to guide the religious future and education of their children. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213 (1972).

International human rights law is unequivocal on the right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religion or belief. The UN Bill of Rights, composed of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, requires States to have respect for the liberty of parents and legal guardians to raise their children in conformity with their own convictions.

International human rights law is unequivocal on the right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religion or belief.

Children enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of their parents or guardians. Conversely, they cannot be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of their parents or guardians.

In exercising any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the State must respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.[1] Forced participation of children of religious minorities in courses that are designed to indoctrinate them against their particular religion or belief is prohibited.

Beware of bigots who claim they want to protect children from their parents’ beliefs. Such an approach, and the implementation of recommendations that flow from that approach, constitutes a clear violation of the right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs.

[1] Article 14, Convention on the Rights of the Child; European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1, Article 2; Handbook on European Non-Discrimination Law (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights jointly with the European Court of Human Rights).

Freedom of Religion Human Rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights Scientology and Children