“Dear Father, A friend told me there is a bill before the New South Wales parliament to protect the rights of parents in the education of their children, and she asked me to support it. Can you tell me what this is all about?”
The bill is the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, introduced into the NSW Legislative Council last year and to be debated and voted on in coming months. It is an extremely important bill as it touches upon a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching: the rights of parents in the education of their children. I say Catholic teaching, but it is really a right of all parents, of whatever religion, since parents are naturally the first educators of their children.
An Overview of Bill sets out its object, the first paragraph saying that the bill proposes “to clarify that parents and not schools are primarily responsible for the development and formation of their children in relation to core values such as ethical and moral standards, social and political values and an understanding of personal identity, including in relation to gender and sexuality”.
“As it is the parents who have given life to their children…They must therefore be recognised as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.” – Gravissimum educationis (1965)
The matter of gender and sexuality is of primary concern among the core values to be protected as indicated in the second paragraph: “to prohibit the teaching of the ideology of gender fluidity to children in schools.”
In one sense this bill shouldn’t be necessary.
Many years ago I heard the NSW Minister for Education say in a radio interview that the state’s public schools existed to educate children on behalf of the parents. This is the way it should be. After all, governments are formed by citizens, many of them parents, to provide for needs that the citizens cannot carry out by themselves, needs such as education, health care, police protection, means of communication, etc. But in many places today the education system is dictating the curriculum without reference to parents’ wishes.
The Church has always insisted on the rights of parents in the education of their children. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum educationis (1965) was clear: “As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognised as being primarily and principally responsible for their education. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (GE n. 3).
The Declaration goes on to clarify the role of the state in education: “It should recognise the duties and rights of parents, and of those others who play a part in education, and provide them with the requisite assistance. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, when the efforts of parents and of other organisations are inadequate it should itself undertake the duty of education, with due consideration, however, for the wishes of the parents” (ibid.).
Moreover, the Church insists that the state should not provide only one system of education which does not allow parents to choose a school that respects their rights and interests: “Parents, who have a primary and inalienable duty and right in regard to the education of their children, should enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school.
The public authority, therefore, whose duty it is to protect and defend the liberty of the citizens, is bound according to the principles of distributive justice to ensure that public subsidies to schools are so allocated that parents are truly free to select schools for their children in accordance with their conscience… In this, however, the principle of subsidiarity must be borne in mind, and therefore there must be no monopoly of schools which would be prejudicial to the natural rights of the human person and militate against the progress and extension of education, and the peaceful coexistence of citizens” (GE n. 6).
The principles are clear. But they are not always respected by state educational authorities.
Since, as we have seen, the state and its institutions, including the system of education, exist to provide for the needs of parents and other citizens, they should always be responsive to their wishes.
The present bill is designed to ensure that this is lived out in practice. It is of fundamental importance and it should be supported by everyone.