Editorial: What’s the next thing you can’t say?

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On April 12, Jimmy Kimmel and Katy Perry vowed to dethrone the “Baby Shark” song and release a new nightmare on parents called, “Yum Yum Nom Nom Toot Toot Poop.”  They hope it’s the next big thing because, after all, farts and poop are always funny.

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

But, the next big thing is already here. It’s not a song, it’s not funny but it’s very catchy:  “Parental rights.”  It’s all the rave in legislatures and conservative kitchens. And we should know about it.

Let me first affirm that parents have rights. Not only that, but they also haven’t lost any.

Let’s go over them. Parents have the right to raise their children as they choose:

  • Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923). The US Supreme Court held that a statute forbidding the teaching of the German language impermissibly encroached on the liberty parents possess. The Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects this liberty, incorporating “the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.”
  • Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters,268 U.S. 510 (1925). In this case and given the above case, the Court struck down an Oregon statute requiring children to attend public schools. The court held that the Orgon Statute interfered with the right of parents to select private or parochial schools for their children. Moreover, the Court said that the statute lacked a reasonable relation to any purpose within the competency of the state.

Both of the above were decided nearly a century ago. On the question of whether parents have the right to make decisions about children:

  • Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972). The U.S. Supreme Court held that Wisconsin’s compulsory education law violated an Amish parent’s (in this case the father) right to take his 15-year-old children out of the school system to have them complete their education in Amish ways at home.
  • Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000). The Court found unconstitutional a Washington statute authorizing judges to order parents to permit more visitation between children and their grandparents against parental desire.

Let the last one sink in. Grandparents who are often the next of kin after parents or who often have the second most intimate relationship with children’s children do not have rights that superseded parental wishes.

But wait there’s more (and take a deep breath on this one):

  • Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982). The Court found a New York statute to be unconstitutional that authorized termination of parental rights based on a preponderance of the evidence. The decision holds that even after parents are found to be unfit but contested in court, they retain constitutionally protected parental rights.

These were not enough, apparently. Nor were other similar decisions.

Florida stepped forward and, under Governor Ron DeSantis’ insistence and leadership, passed the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” more commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It was signed by DeSantis on March 28.

The text of the bill says that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through [third grade]” or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in other grades.

The bill explicitly notes that parents “may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment” and a court may award damages and attorney’s fees if it finds that a school violated the measure.

Lawmakers in 9 other states are now inspired to do the same (thanks to NPR for compiling this list):

The bills collectively hope to protect parents from having their children indoctrinated into certain ideologies and end the practice of “sexualizing kids in kindergarten,” enabling schools to “‘transition’ students to a different gender,” and impose a “woke gender ideology” on first graders. The legislation will stop “different folks in school,” from telling students, “Oh, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.”

Let us ignore the fact that already happens. Children are being forced to engage in cisgender heteronormative behaviors and activities. Children are also being taught and rewarded for expressing sex roles consistent with patriarchal expectations.  Putting those aside, the bill is also replete with vague terminology like “age appropriate,” “developmentally appropriate,” “classroom discussion,” critical decisions,” and “third parties.”

In fact, Liberal legislators offered amendments to clarify the intent of terms by removing language that could target LGBTQ+ students and their families. Each amendment failed.

DeSantis announced in a video that “In the state of Florida, we are not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten.” He added that, “First graders should not have woke gender ideology imposed in their curriculum, and that is what we are standing for.”

When the governor signed the bill into law, DeSantis said, “We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”

None of this is happening.

The Florida Board of Education, by the way, has already noted that sexual orientation and gender are not part of the kindergarten through the 3rd grade curriculum.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of Equality Florida and Family Equality has already challenged the law alleging it violates First Amendment protections and other guarantees within the US Constitution.

The politics are transparent: create a boogeyman to outrage voters and bring them into the conservative ranks. It’s working but not without a few casualties. Florida state Sen. Ileana Garcia (R) apologized after claiming on the Senate floor earlier this month that being gay is “not a permanent thing.” and also affirmed her support for the law.

But there is more afoot.  Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s press secretary tweeted last month, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”

That sparked conservatives, including sitting members of Congress and cable news hosts to chime in some good ole boy bigotry using the phrase “ok, groomerto attack opponents of the law.

Naturally, because hate rarely puts on brakes, that expanded to all LGBTQ+ individuals. Old-fashioned homophobia is back.

Numerous studies have found that LGBTQ youth already experience greater health threats, bullying, and suicide risks than their cisgender or straight peers. When children and teens are given access to safe spaces, they report lower rates of suicide attempts, according to The Trevor Project.

Setting aside the damage this does to children of same-sex parents, LGBTQ+ youth, and the queer community, none of which should be minimized, this bill is about power and domination.

The delicious phrase “parental rights” has intoxicated the political conservatives like an earworm from a pop song. But this term relies on deep ignorance, digging up hate while protecting a right that is already secure and protecting children against a threat that does not exist.

It has also propelled DeSantis to being a likely presidential contender, and as a staunch advocate of free speech, a hypocrite.

David Brown, legal director for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, told NPR that these legislative activities represent a “continuation of a playbook that has been brought out again and again, repeatedly targeting the most marginalized groups in our society for political gain.”

Those marginalized groups are communities that experience discrimination and exclusion because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions.

That definition should sound familiar to us as a community of minority religions and spiritual and magickal practices. It also begs the question, what is the next thing you can’t say?

 


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